State exams are a rote learning memory test and aren't serving our children's future needs

Our education system must deliver a quality education that prepares each child for their future lives, writes Geoffrey Browne.

THE CURRENT SYSTEM primarily based on ‘one-off testing’ – namely Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations – reflects more as a memory test suited to rote learning rather than genuinely assessing a student’s learning, knowledge, ability or acumen for a subject.

Many studies and informed discussions suggest that on-going assessment has a significant value towards students learning and engagement while also being a better tool to establish the true depth of a student’s knowledge.

Through nurturing a student’s strengths and interests, our education system can create self-motivated thinkers who learn and understand the benefits of discovery through research and evaluation.

Assessment methods should enable and examine a student’s true depth of knowledge, overall ability and critical thinking on an on-going basis.

‘Exam anxiety can be devastating’ 

The current system of evaluation maximises stress on students who often memorise to regurgitate in a moment and then forget. It does little for many towards assisting their learning or retained knowledge.

Once-off examination can be brutal instruments undertaken at a particularly stressful time in most children’s lives and does not sufficiently assess a student’s overall performance and learning during their time at school.

From the calls received from parents and students it would appear that exam anxiety is a very common reality in teenagers and can be quite devastating.

Significant stress in teenage students occurs as a result of the anxiety caused by the current method of assessment and the pressurised study regime that derives from it.

Educational or work opportunities associated with the outcome of the exam, the students’ self-esteem with regards to their grades and judgements from friends, family and teachers in relation to their performance are amongst the main causes of stress in teenagers reported to us.

Comparisons to friends and siblings based on once off exam results are also feared. Let us not forget that the stress the students are under can and does reflect on their families as well.

‘Current system not fully serving our children’

Some changes have already been made and certain subjects already utilise forms of continuous assessment and project works and, where this is the case, there is wide acceptance of the benefits towards fairness and better evaluation.

Our curriculum and method of assessment should be evaluated on an on-going basis to ensure that our education system is fit for purpose and delivering fairly.

Changes, when made in subjects, curriculum and assessment methods etc need to be regularly reviewed to ensure that they actually deliver the benefits as envisaged and will require constant updating to retain relevance in today’s rapidly changing world and to ensure that Ireland remains to the fore in quality education.

The current examination methods are not fully serving our children to their maximum potential.

Our education system, curriculum and methods of assessment must be reviewed and changed where recommendations are identified to incorporate continuous assessment and to ensure that it is delivering what every child in our country deserves – a quality education that prepares them for their future lives.

The changes cannot happen overnight and significant investment will have to be injected in developing continuous assessment methods, teacher training\CPD whilst also ensuring the continuous assessments completed by students are free from plagiarism, are transferable for students changing school mid-cycle and are carried out in modern and fully equipped school environments.

For continuous assessment to be successful further investment in education is necessary. We owe it to our young people to ensure that best practice is continued to be employed in our assessment methods of their learning which ultimately benefits all the people of Ireland and our nation as a whole.

Geoffrey Browne lives in his native Donegal with his wife and five children is the President of the National Parents Council post primary  (NPCpp).


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