Studying merely for the sake of passing tests and achieving dozens of A+ is a terrible experience. By introducing two more national exams, Primary School Certificate (PSC) and Junior School Certificate (JSC), we are asking our kids to gather many more dozens of A+. But what these kids are supposed to do with these millions of top grades, if the education fails to inspire them to learn, explore and be curious? Or even worse, what if the kids try to pass the exam by memorising only instead of understanding topics properly?
The PSC and JSC exam results for this year have been published. I guess most of the kids who took part in this exam are fairly relaxed and enjoying their time now. But perhaps some are in a sorry state, with their parents roaring on them, all for the reason that they have missed A+ in a particular paper. But what makes A+ so valuable? Can good grades in exams really define a child of ten or eleven years as an excellent student?
In the present era of GPA system in Bangladesh, students follow a straightforward regime to get A+ in all subjects. Although this formula is thoroughly successful in bringing a student dozens of A+, the output of applying this formula is not ultimately worthwhile. The acute problem of little understanding does not make it easier for a student to accomplish success in the long run.
Generally, examinations are designed with certain structural question patterns. To pursue the shortest route, students usually go through certain processes. First, with the help of their tutors, they sort out the recurring topics from old question papers. Once they become familiar with this pattern of questions, then they follow some selective suggestions from private tutors perhaps. Next, they try to memorise the answers to those questions and practice writing them a couple of times. Lastly, they disgorge these answers on the exam scripts for the last time and often the outcome is just another A+ on the certificate.
Following this process, any student may able to get the best grade. It is hard to deny the fact that when students forcefully learn a topic for passing exams, often forget the substance of that topic after exam. This problem happens because they do not possess much curiosity in grasping lessons. The framework of examinations demands from students to study harder and they do so. But excess of this examination procedures do not excite students to comprehend lessons aptly, learn new skills or extend their learning capacity. As a result, they gradually get away from the aptitude to be a creative person- which is extensively valuable rather ensuring A+ on certificate only.
The PSC exam, specifically, is more problematic because it puts excessive stress on children who are too young – ten or eleven years old mostly. This situation is precarious in the sense that this incredible pressure may succeed in killing their enthusiasm for learning entirely. The bigger picture is that a generation is experiencing four national examinations before enrolling in graduate school; thus it perils the efficacy of learning and brings up serious questions about the quality of education in Bangladesh.
Surprisingly, there seems to be a sheer contradiction in our education system. We have introduced creative question methods at the secondary level which I believe are meant to encourage students to grasp more ideas rather than memorising things. But at the same time, we have confined their scope to be creative by setting up more exams like PSC and JSC.
It’s not as though PSC has not faced any criticism. Educationists across the country have harshly condemned the leak of question papers this year. We’ve even heard of parents collecting these question papers themselves, worried that their kids would fall behind others.
But the first question our educationists should have asked is how the kids have benefited from such frequent exams. The PSC examination certainly has not been successful in showing any sign which might inspire our children and make them think.
At this point it becomes obvious to ask ourselves whether or not we should care how far our kids would be able to apprehend issues rather than sporting dozens of A+ on certificates. Noam Chomsky once said that a person could do “magnificently well on every test” but understand very little. We repeatedly see many examples of this statement around us. So rather than supporting a system where children memorise things like parrots, we should foster an environment where they will be able to learn and understand. We need to allow and encourage them to ask more questions to feed their curious minds.
For developing such a system in Bangladesh, it is not enough to set question papers following creative methods. We need to apply innovative methods of teaching to the very place where kids begin to learn formally, that is to say, classrooms. We should find out the appropriate teaching strategies in classrooms that will create a friendly environment for learning. To do so, conducting research on how students learn efficiently in our environment is indispensable.
Therefore, understanding lessons accurately is far more important than exhibiting A+ only on certificates because the former fosters learning capacity in children. Thus, the parents who have been worried whether their kids will obtain A+ in the PSC examination may think twice before yelling at those young stars, even if they get a poor grade. Grades do not matter; grasping lessons and nurturing a curious mind matter in the long run.
Asmat Islam is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Jagannath University and Graduate student at the University of Nottingham.