Evaluation currently plays a key role in the ‘perception’ of the quality of education received by students. So far we have measured the quality of education by the ‘grades’ received by students. The question is, are we evaluating or grading the correct things? If education is supposed to get students ready for the world outside of school and in this world information is ready and ‘on tap’ does it not make sense that if we have to continue to examine our students that we should have ‘open book’ and ‘open google’ exams?
Evaluation should offer insights into where students have strength, where they may need assistance, as well as how teachers can improve their instructional approach. Evaluation should help strengthen the core of what we learn and how we learn. The goal of any evaluation system is to provide feedback, but the essence of that feedback needs to be qualitative rather than quantitative; students need to understand how they can improve. Unfortunately, the evaluation system most commonly employed is that which is mostly quantitative.
Grades are the ‘carrots and sticks’ of today’s education system. Students are expected to slog to memorize learning materials and perform well in tests, which is the general standard of their education. Anyone who has watched Daniel Pink’s Ted Talk on motivation knows that this sort of carrot and stick is counterproductive.
Students, today, are in a competition to achieve good grades, but this focus on competition has altered the way students learn. Education has become a race and its purpose has changed; students are taught to fit into a mold that is shaped by a predefined meaning of success. So, why do we place our children in learning environments that are dictated by examination systems which encourage students to compete for higher grades?
We need to break that mold and the system that promotes such a counter-productive evaluation process. Below are a few reasons why grades are harmful to the education process.
• Students who Study for Grades Lose Interest in Learning
Owing to the rigid system of examinations, students are forced to study, not to improve themselves and learn more, but to get better test scores and clear examinations. This redundant process of studying to get higher grades often ends up with students losing interest in the subject material and more importantly, the interest in learning itself.
• Studying for Grades means Students will Memorize more Information
Examinations that cover large portions of the syllabus often push students into memorizing information, instead of understanding it, to score higher grades. Unfortunately, this type of memorization is only effective for short-term learning. It is a sheer waste of childhood, as the shortterm memory, after being regurgitated for a test, is promptly deleted.
Additionally, memorizing information that the brain cannot make meaningful connections with will not only be difficult but also cause the students to experience stress. In fact, stress levels go higher and the development of the brain is lower when the brain feels disengaged from the information being memorized.
“The goal of any evaluation system is to provide feedback, but the essence of that feedback needs to be qualitative rather than quantitative; students need to understand how they can improve”
• Grades deter the Interest to Learn for the Sake of Learning
The conventional system of schooling does not promote curiosity and a search for meaning, which is why students seek only to learn what is asked of them. Students must then labor through disconnected subjects and reams of information that become a hindrance to engagement with the learning material. The pitfall of such a system that has inflexible learning requirements and packed schedules is that students get less time to explore and understand their learning material.
• Grades Trigger the Urge to Cheat during Exams
The issue with examination systems and grade requirements that label students based on their performance is that students feel the need to overcome their incapacity to perform well through any means possible. This often results in students attempting to cheat in exams to overcome the shame of failing, which should be considered a failure of the education itself.
• Grades Eliminate the Opportunity for Self-Evaluation
A hallmark of modern pedagogical approaches is the implementation of student-evaluation and flexible evaluation systems. It allows students to reflect on their effort, helping them understand what is important to them and give their learning meaning. Unfortunately, grades do not promote the same quality of introspection that gives value to learning. The current system does not help students understand how they can improve aside from memorizing more and scoring higher.
Grades while not entirely bad become a priority in a system that emphasizes passing over learning. Furthermore, it encourages competition between peers that is akin to a race of clearing examinations and scoring higher.
In the documentary ‘Race to Nowhere’, Vicky Abeles emphasizes that this race that students must run in the name of education can irreparably damage their mental and physical health. She reiterates that we, as parents and educators, need to bring about a change.
There should be a higher purpose for the education we give students than just studying for exams and clearing papers. We need to move beyond grades and focus on preparing the students for future success. It’s about raising global citizens that are intelligent and aware of the conditions of the world around them. This will depend on how students make use of the knowledge and information that they receive today. How we educate students may be more important than what we are teaching them. To that end, if we allow the current system to continue, the focus of education will remain on high grades with no thinking involved and students will fail to gain the skills that are required for future success. It will garner a distaste for learning rather than promote the beauty of it.
Lina Ashar, Founder
Lina Ashar is an Indian educationist, entrepreneur, and writer based in Mumbai. She is the chairperson of Kangaroo Kids Education Limited (KKEL), an education chain that runs the schools. She is also the founder of Kangaroo Kids International Preschool and Billabong High International School. Lina has received numerous awards for her work. The most notable award she has received is the Lifetime Award for Achievement in Education by Education World in 2014.