Thursday, September 24, 2015

“Do exams provide an Effective Way to Measure Students’ Achievements?” : An essay


“When you need inspiration, see how far you have to go.
When you need motivation, see how far you have come.”
-          Anonymous
Born to Grow, and Compete
Imagine the situation of a runner who is let loose on a track to run. Now imagine ten runners sent forth on the same track to test their mettle. And here is the catch: let this track be without milestones. How do you imagine this situation to culminate? Initially, there will be a joy in running. The thrill of feeling the wind on one’s face, of beating muscle cramps with sheer grit, and the undeterred delight in pushing one’s boundaries.
But gradually, in lack of a standard and agreed system of measurement, the situation will degenerate. The solo runner might lose charm in the sport, or might end up a mediocre, considering he will have no yardstick to measure his progress against. In the case of multiple runners, the run might recede into chaos over establishing the supremacy of runners – for it is in human nature to compete – against oneself, as against others.
Implicit in this example are two innate traits of human beings. First is Growth, second is Competition. Growth happens when one maximises one’s undertaking to its fullest extent. It is a widely acknowledged fact that setting goals actually aid in achieving incredible success. Even where the purpose is purely spiritual or internal, the seeker of growth must set a goal to reach it. Learning, however, does not stop at growth alone. Most of the world’s achievements are driven by the desire to beat the previous best, that is, to compete. Look at all the wonderful innovations around us, and you will find the inextricable bond of growth and competition embedded in them. And behind them is the inevitable and uncontested system of objectively determined measurement mechanism.
Drawing from the quotation stated above, in absence of standardised measurement, it will be but a vapid world, with nothing to inspire, or motivate.
Measurement of Achievement
Whether for student or for professional, achievement acquires substantial weightage and comparative relevance, when measured. Measure is the only way to end arbitrariness and subjectivity in any activity. There is difference in being a good Karate player and in being a ‘Third dan’ Karate player. The vague scale of ‘Good, Bad & Ugly’ is discretionary, and hence, contested. Can we imagine history without dates? Inventions without milestones? Cars without odometers? Destinations without distance? Sports without stop-watch? In Olympics, even a lag of a mili-second means a medal lost. The point here is simple. Measurement is a pointer to the extent and magnitude of one’s work. It is therefore imperative to have a specific system of measuring one’s achievement, namely, exams.
Like love, exams come in many forms. While there is no one-size-fits-all formula to approach the entire gamut of examinations, the education system has evolved several types of exams to test various parameters of learning and achievement. Ranging from multiple-choice to hint based questions, from oral to open book exams, students across the world have measured not just their success, but also their penchant, through this mode. An Indian playback singer once stated in her anecdote, that the reason why her father moved her from a conventional school, to a music-focused school, was because her results determined very early in her life that she was suited for performing arts, and not applied sciences! Thus, examination captures both the actual and the potential of a candidate.
It is true that conventional exams have not shown sterling progress in capturing the aptitude and approach of students. Often in life, the attitude of examinee holds more value than his skill and knowledge, for that reveals his latent potential. The educational and professional assessment mechanisms have started acknowledging this fact. The rise and rise of psychometrics validates this trend. Even in this instinctual and attitudinal sphere, it is measurement that has come to the rescue of students, by lending it quantifiable dimensions. And we have reasons to believe that exams will evolve to incorporate such measures of assessment in near future.
Missing the Woods for the Trees
It must have been after considerable thought and debate, that after centuries of its existence, exams came under the lens for scrutiny. Such debate is crucial and healthy, for that determines the direction and ideology which must be adopted to measure students’ achievements and progress.
Not without a reason, critics of examination system decry the ill-effects of exams on pupils and their families. In India, in a survey of 1500 school and college students conducted by NIMHANS, it was found that 11% of college students and 7%-8% of high school students have attempted suicide.  In an earlier survey of 800 teenagers conducted by the same organisation, it came to light that 20% of children suffered from subclinical depression, while 30% suffered from mild to moderate depression. These disturbing figures point to the alarming state of stress caused to school-going children, and exams are labelled as chief culprit behind this trend.
Since the matter is very grave, it calls for a deeper social analysis into the malaise. A system of measurement should not be held responsible for the evils of mindset which surround it. Families are known to inflict immense pressure, draw humiliating comparisons, and dictate choice of subjects to unwilling students. A fair system of assessment and evaluation, which was meant to promote healthy competition and elicit right choices, falls prey to misguided and over-ambitious parents.
The purported negativity in exams, therefore, is rooted not in exams per se, but in its callous treatment by insensitive societies.
Exams Can, and Must
Left to its own devices, exams not only accurately and effectively measure students’ achievements, but also prepare them to face the grind of an ever-evolving world, and select the right options among the limitless possibilities of human potential.

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