It's that time of year when many households are bristling with stressed students frantically trying to study and prepare for exam season. And every-time exams are on, with all the associated stress, it makes me wonder how blunt an instrument of measurement exams are.
Ben Fogle, adventurer, documentary maker and wilderness conqueror.. the climb Everest, row the Atlantic, race across Antarctica type of guy says of exams.. that he failed them, but that they also failed him.
He says he finds it “astonishing that in 2020, we are still fixating on exams as the medium of defining peoples intellectual potential and capabilities.” He quotes Einstein’s famous line.. “everyone’s a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will live its entire life believing its stupid”.
He makes the point that similarly, some people have the ability to retain knowledge and information and regurgitate it under exam conditions, while others fall apart under pressure. He says exams are heavily weighted to perpetuate the continued opportunity of the few.. not the many.
From his own experience, he says he’s spent a lifetime healing from the wounds of early childhood failings, and that believing that you’re a failure leads to a slippery slope of self loathing which strips you of your confidence and self esteem.
Having watched, and continue to watch, our 5 kids and their friends go through the school and University system, it’s very true that it's easy for some, and an absolute uphill battle for others.
Some of the least bright kids are the most empathetic, the most creative, or personable people you’ll ever come across.
Some of the smartest are the least empathetic, creative or socially aware.
So does that make some of them better than others? Of course not.
But it’s true that those who believe they’re ‘dumb’ at school or who have to work a lot harder at it, have a lower sense of self worth. Because the only yardstick, the only measurement being made on these kids between the ages of about 13 to 18, and even longer if you’re at Uni, is an antiquated grading system based on how you perform under pressure and what you can recall.
A school principal famously wrote to parents saying, ‘please remember that among the students sitting exams is an artist who doesn’t understand maths, an entrepreneur who doesn’t understand English, a musician who can’t do Chemistry an athlete who doesn’t get Physics. If your child doesn’t get top marks, don’t take away their self confidence or dignity for them.. don’t judge them.. it’s just an exam.. your children may conquer the world, a bad exam mark won’t take away their talent.. and remember that doctors and engineers are not the only happy people in the world..’
This year in particular has been enormously stressful for students, so we need to make sure now more than ever, that we don’t let them attach their self worth to an exam scorecard.