With the SA2 looming, I found myself saying this to a friend recently, "I can't wait for the exams to be over!" Isn't this a deplorable situation, that at Primary 2, a kid has to sit through a major exam where each paper is worth 50% of the whole year's marks?
I said major as the marks will determine what kind of classes the children go to in Primary 3. I have been looking at J's revision papers and feeling concerned about each careless mistake. He keeps spelling John as Jhon and missing capital letters. He spelt friends as 'freinds' even when the correctly spelled word was part of the question.
A friend commented that if a child's ability is not up to standard, why pressure him to get into a high-ability class? My thoughts are these:
1) I have mentioned before that at 8 years of age, careless mistakes are commonplace. A child who is not streamed into a good class may miss getting into one by a very small margin and due to careless mistakes rather than low IQ.
2) Teachers tend to have pre-conceived notions of the ability of their pupils if they are banded. Those teaching high-ability classes will probably conduct more enriching and interesting activities. Also, when the better performing pupils are streamed into good classes, the remaining mixed ability classes will have higher percentages of low progress pupils, thus slowing down the pace of teaching in such classes.
3) I have done some reading up on ability banding and some studies have found that banding is beneficial only in certain subjects such as mathematics. In some cases, it affects the self-esteem of children who are not classified as smart. Banding does make classes easier to teach for teachers, since the abilities of their students are more homogeneous, but at what cost? Unfortunately, I could not find any local studies on ability banding, so I am not sure if the findings can be applied locally.
4) I was heartened to hear from a friend that banding at the end of Primary 2 has been done away at a particular school. I sincerely hope that other schools would follow suit.
5) What is the purpose of education? Is it for competition or to pursue knowledge? If it is the latter, then mastery assessments should suffice and schools will not need to set difficult exam questions to distinguish the weak students from the cleverer ones at such an early age.
Finally, I was reminded that most of the stress experienced by children comes from their parents. While I made sure that J did his part in revising Chinese, we still had some fun over the weekend celebrating his sister's birthday and visiting the Flower Dome. I told J that I was happy with his attitude towards Chinese revision today and that if he continues to be positive when preparing for his exams, I will be pleased regardless of the marks he obtains.
May God grant peace and resilience to every child who is preparing for exams and may God help every parent to focus on building character rather than on test scores.