The Messification of Assessments – where do we want to go from here?

Today I decided to post my views on an article I just read on the Times of Malta. The issue was really quite simple; our national board responsible for the local benchmark standardised exams, MATSEC, issued a rule – no beverages allowed during the examinations sessions – and after a few hours, during a weekend (which says quite a lot!!) the board issued a statement saying that it has revised this decision and thus reverting back to the original exam policies.

Now to be honest I don’t feel I should get into the merits of whether this is just or unjust. I find that real life may be far more unjust than a decision not to allow drinks during a mere 3-hour period.

Now I, for one, believe in flexibility and allowances. I wouldn’t work well if I didn’t eat or drink frequently. I am hypoglycemic – still I guess I never drank or ate during exams. I am sure I would have been hyped up before and after exams. But then again I always took exams very seriously.

Yet I am very sure that at many workplaces, very few people have the luxury of eating and drinking all the time, especially in a productivity environment. Check out those people working in manufacturing industry! I am also sure that surgeons wouldn’t be able to break off an operation to drink during the actual surgery – possibly before or after the operation, it would be quite sensible to eat or drink but not during. The same applies to plenty of other professions, so why should the student ‘profession’ somehow be exempt from so many other inherent rules that are built within our society.

What worries me the most however, are the comments and the remarks which one can see emergent from the Times’ long string of ad hoc commentators…first of all I have to say, that I find, very sadly, and at the cost of generalization, that the overall quality of many crowd sourced comments lacks (to put it mildly) – not just in terms of the argumentation posed, but also in their use of grammar and vocabulary of the language used. I saw one particular comment, which accused the decision taken by the board as being racist(!!???) – duh!! – racist for enforcing some disciplinary measures, and which as built on my previous arguments, many such work places also enforce? I find these types of comments not only unjustified but also unacceptable.

However I would also like to highlight some of my views on these assessment methods. Now I have to stop for a moment and specify that I am not living in fairy tale land and therefore I know that some form of benchmark assessment practices, in a country, are needed. Yet the way that we are shaping the whole Education system around these blessed Matsec exams is ridiculous. Teachers, parents, administrators, even students… many are of the belief that these exams will definitely show how able or not they are, to live and work in today’s world. This is in my opinion, our downfall.

It doesn’t mean at all, that if one passes these Matsec exams, one has a sound or a critical mind, that one is able to solve problems or that one is knowledgeable about certain topics. It doesn’t even mean that people have a good mastery of the English or Maltese language – let alone other subjects. At higher Education, much of the talks amongst academics concerns the poor level of academia which many of our students seem to show. When one sees the outcomes, then maybe one can discuss whether today’s exams are “harder” than exams which we sat for 20-30 years ago. I am sure they were different, they were suited to those times probably. I continue hoping that the exams have changed from those times, to suit what society needs from us in today’s world. What I really invite people to think about and consider, is that of the importance of young people to demonstrate what they know throughout their schooling years and not just in the 3-hour exam frame. What young people need to concern themselves with, is not that they have to protest to be able to drink during 3 hours, but they have to protest about the ways in which they can be given the opportunity  to generate enthusiasm for learning to be able to do something good. Without being too cynical I find that a good portion of today’s generation, are too self-centered to believe that one day, they can use some of the knowledge which they gather by living, from their schools, from their elders, and from the games they play, for the good of the world – to achieve something better for whoever will come after them.

Maybe after all, we are to blame because we are really spoiling our younger generations; by failing to fight our own battles and trying to fight our students’ battles instead – the magnitude of which is relative to whoever is fighting it.

We need to wake up really. What do we want to get from our younger generations? Where do we want to go? This – no drink during exams issue – is really the tip of the iceberg. The undercurrents run much deeper.

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