We should broaden our understanding of success in school

It is that time of the year that my media colleagues often refer to as the silly season. This is the time that examination bodies in our countries announce the outcome from the previous year’s national examinations.

It is that time of the year that my media colleagues often refer to as the silly season. This is the time that examination bodies in our countries announce the outcome from the previous year’s national examinations. The ritual is always the same. It starts by a story telling us that the results will be announced the next day. The announcement is done at a press conference with the examination boss handing over a heavy file with the results to the education minister.

Then we get a summary of what is contained in the huge file. Once again girls performed better than boys, district X had the worst performance, English was the worst done subject and results from a few schools were withheld for exam malpractices. The press conference does not have to end before energetic young journalists show up in the homes of the top students to capture the excitement of the students and their parents.  

Even before the press conference is even done, media houses would have already deployed their foot soldiers to go and capture the excitement of the top students. Photos of joyful parents lifting or hugging their children and watching in awe as the children tell the press that it was because of hard work and prayer and how the top performer wants to become a neurosurgeon.

The debates on the side-lines are what intrigue me the most. You hear people wondering what will happen to the scores of children who have failed the examination. Others will go on about how girls are over doing it (succeeding that is) and how it is time to also empower the boy child too. Some will point out the need to reduce our reliance on these exams as the only determinant of the future of our children.

It is commendable that our governments have committed to delivering education to all. However the challenge remains that the formal education set up takes the shape of a pyramid. At the lower levels we have high enrolment figures but as you move up to secondary and tertiary levels the numbers drop significantly. In fact these exams are partly aimed at cutting down those numbers to get just the people that can accommodated by the scarce education resources at the top.

This tense situation is what makes parents joyful and others sad when their children do not make the cut. It also because of this that we beat other gifts out of our children and tell them to focus on preparing for the examination. The time they would have spent bettering their sports skills for example is all reserved for reading more and more. And yet ideally the school environment ought to be one where our children can learn different life skills and not simply a place where they are trained to pass that crucial final examination.

Learning is about discovery and mastering different skills, attitudes and knowledge. Not all of that is examinable or should be. However we should not ignore everything and focus on just the exam. I think the public and media in particular do a great disservice to those in the school system when praise and space is only for those how passed the national examination. We should celebrate others who excelled in other fields be it in student leadership, in sports, dance, drama and so many other areas. 

Why should one who scored As in the exam make it to the front page of a newspaper and not the one who made the national rugby or cricket team while still a secondary student? Our story telling around success in school should be more inclusive. This can only happen when we broaden our understanding of success in school. There is more to education than passing exams and all those who excel at something deserve to be celebrated.

Each time we focus on just those who passed exams and splash figures of those who failed we are unknowingly condemning so many of these young people to believe they have failed at life. And we all know in the real world success goes beyond what your pass slip says. I know someone who was condemned by a head teacher for performing poorly in academics as a result of his love for a certain game. A game he later played at the world cup level and is now a coach for his adopted country, Canada. Success in school is something we need to revisit and broaden.

Views, expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the New Times Publications.


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