Beyond exams: Fill gaps in new testing competencies in schools
Glaring gaps of implementing how these competences will be tested do not augur well with the curriculum.
The vision should shape the programmes for learning and teaching as well as policies, priorities, plans and procedures.
The learning curve protracted in new competence-based curriculum is designed to emphasise the significance of developing skills and knowledge and also applying those to real life situations, including critical thinking, problem solving and creativity.
Testing competencies will help teachers to spend their time well without exams. The public will also be able to judge teachers without making reference to how many students have passed or failed in an examination. The current system has reduced education simply to what can be recalled on a particular day. Exam scores not just test children, but also teachers, parents and schools.
But the glaring gaps of implementing how these competences will be tested do not augur well with how curriculum is defined, planned, implemented, and evaluated, crucially influencing the quality of education being provided. Varying the structure of years spent at various levels of schooling and a few content areas is not good enough as there is a huge arena of implementing, providing resources and training teachers in colleges and universities. Curriculum change should provide teachers with targets, vision for their children; mental picture of a preferred future, which is shared with all in the public domain. The vision should also shape the programmes for learning and teaching as well as policies, priorities, plans and procedures.
Even with the go-getting euphoria of testing competencies, the risk of maintaining the status quo of ranking schools after national examinations will persist with the perverse incentive it creates for schools to teach to the test and off-roll students in order to improve performance. This is so because conventionally, tests and exams were developed to generate evidence about individuals for certification and selection rather than to provide data on the system as a whole. These developments beg some severe questions about the logic, practicability, and actual impact of testing and intervention strategies: Are children acquiring competencies? If so, how? If not, why not? What exactly do we mean by competencies? And how might changes in assessment assist in improving the quality of education in our schools?
The assessment framework in any country helps schools to raise standards. The learning curve protracted by testing competencies is difficult to measure due to challenges related to its implementation. Parents are likely to take a different curve of going ahead to get “pretty good education” for their children. They are also likely to continue paying exorbitant amounts of money to take their children to “good schools”, hoping to improve their life chances. The distraction of the administration of national schools by increased enrolment, cutting budgets, too much emphasis on technical education with inadequate resources and at the expense of arts-based courses, point to a disconnect in the curriculum with what actually matters to families.
Children from the majority low income families will find themselves competing for places in public schools. Access to education will be divided into three tiers unless this trend is reversed. The widens the gap of access to education.
The inequality will create generations of elite who simply do not understand the realities or experiences of other citizens. A three-tier education will create a pool of professionals such as politicians, lawyers and doctors who are graduates of private schools and much adored national schools. This trend is unlikely to reverse in the near future.
Although the ranking of schools has been criticised as punitive; in the absence of adequate resources needed to test competencies, the learning curve will take a different dimension altogether. What will be measured is not what matters and to measure quality education will remain the testing and ranking of students.
Mr Kindiki, a professor of international education management and policy, is a visiting professor and researcher at Oldenburg University, Germany.