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Exams do not accurately measure the knowledge a student has accumulated. (© China Daily China Daily Infor/REUTERS)
Exams do not accurately measure the knowledge a student has accumulated. (© China Daily China Daily Infor/REUTERS)

Evolution 2.0

How to banish mark inflation? Cancel exams Add to ...

The world has changed, yet our education system remains stagnant.

Education will sooner or later go through an irreversible, monumental shift directed by technological and entrepreneurial breakthroughs. This will force institutions to restructure their teaching methodologies.

Since its inception in the 19 th century to meet the needs of industrialism, the model of education we have today has made negligible progress. Students get bucketed in age-based cohorts where information is delivered at a predetermined pace, regardless of whether each student can keep up.

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Educationalist Sir Ken Robinson says, “Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the Earth for a particular commodity, and for the future it won’t serve us.” Our culture has fostered an education system that places an emphasis on repetition, memorization, regurgitation, and extreme risk-aversion. In order to facilitate change, this traditional system must be replaced with a model that stimulates innovative and practical creative thinking, coupled with an appreciation for accepting failure.

This shift may be possible through an entrepreneurial model of learning, a powerful example to follow. This model revolves around personalized content, portfolio-based assessments (evaluations of students’ systematic collection of works that depict their achievements, progress, and creativity), self-directed education (teaching students to learn how to learn), practicality, and a just-in-time learning approach. The principle of memorization being a vital tool for learning has been rendered almost obsolete in the 21 st century, where consumers have access to Google’s superpowers, 24/7.

We’ve heard about online learning initiatives that challenge traditional lectures. Through initiatives like Khan Academy, Knewton, Coursera, Imagine K12, edX, InstaGrok and many more, course content can be viewed, paused, and repeated on your own time in the comfort of your own home, until you master the concepts.

Replacing exams with portfolio-based assessments are another way to encourage creativity. Examinations foster fear and are an inaccurate simulation of the real world. The entire purpose of an exam is to achieve the highest possible score in a specified amount of time. But if you are a doctor performing a surgery, an accountant filing important paperwork for a company, or a lawyer preparing a client’s case, you are expected to take the necessary amount of time to complete the task at hand. If you don’t, the outcomes could be detrimental, for both you and the other stakeholder.

Contrary to examination scores, a portfolio is living proof of a student’s work. It may consist of past projects, special assignments, employment experience, and extracurricular engagement. For example, a candidate pursuing a career in marketing may be required to submit evidence of past experience in conducting marketing campaigns for small businesses, in addition to any 3 to 4 portfolio items that are relevant to the job. The implications of this are vast: Candidates are no longer assessed by an identical exam written by hundreds of other people. Instead, they gain the freedom to differentiate, not only in the employment process, but also in schooling, encouraging students to think differently and creatively.

This is a win-win assessment method. Students do work that has tangible relevance. Employers are able to make better recruitment choices because they can more accurately gauge a candidate’s proficiency to practically perform the required duties of a job. While examinations primarily test theory, portfolio works test practicality. Students can only perform well practically if they have a complete grasp of the required theory. This implies that someone with a strong portfolio is likely to have a thorough understanding of the necessary theory, making examinations unneeded instruments of measurement.

Portfolio-based assessments may also address academic inflation. Several decades ago, a job that required a bachelor’s degree now requires a master’s. The continuity of this trend can be avoided if companies start placing more emphasis on the portfolio work of students, instead of letting academics dominate the meaning of intelligence. It is pertinent that employers become advocates for this transformation because they play a significant role in directing a student’s motivation and energy. If we put more emphasis on non-academic achievements and initiatives, there is a possibility of changing the schooling culture from one that revolves around a constant desire to avoid failure, to one that embraces learning through taking risks and making mistakes.

President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers reported that global spending on education is $3.9-trillion, or 5.6 per cent of global GDP. Clearly, there are enormous efforts underway to change education for the better. But these efforts are not enough. Fixing education isn’t about focusing on trivial issues that discomfort universities and public school systems, it’s about rethinking the way we teach, learn, and evaluate.

Afraj Gill is a student, senator and Chancellor’s Scholar at Queen’s University’s School of Business.

Follow us on Twitter: @Globe_Education

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