Flaws of exam-driven assessments

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LESOTHO’S education system is facing several challenges.

These include the assessment of students and how examinations are conducted.

They also include issues of curriculum design, spread and purpose as well as school proprietorship.

We also have problems with infrastructure, teacher qualifications, funding and monitoring of schools.

I have discussed some of these issues in detail in my new book entitled Tips For Managing Schools in Sadc and Africa – A Handbook for School Principals, Deputy Principals, HoDs and Teachers and Education Pre-service Students.

It is important to recognise and appreciate the efforts
made by the government of Lesotho through several initiatives over the years in an attempt to provide “quality” education for all.

We are aware of several programmes Lesotho has engaged in with the assistance of her development partners to provide functional education.

Nevertheless, it would not be wise to applaud these initiatives without a critical look at methods used to offer education for Basotho children.

In no way do I attempt to discredit our system; but it is important to mention some of the issues that hinder progress.

In this article I would like to tackle the issue of assessment and examinations with regard to Lesotho’s education system.

It is a foregone conclusion in all countries of the world that education by its nature is political.

It is intended to provide solutions either negative or positive for those who hold the reins of power.

In the process, the systems have a tendency of affecting the population also either negatively or positively.

In education, assessment examinations are good tools to monitor achievement.

However, these tools have a potential of being used, mostly covertly, to control another section of the community adversely.

Satterly (1989) argues that educational assessment is an omnibus term which includes all the processes and products which describe the nature and extent of children’s learning, its degree of correspondence with the aims and objectives of teaching and its relationship with the environments which are designed to facilitate learning.

In short, Satterly is saying assessment should be used to ensure that learning takes place.

Is this the case with our system?

Over the years, while I worked as education inspector in the Ministry of Education and Training, I have experienced several bottlenecks that hinder the use of assessment for educational objectives.

In most cases, assessment results are not recorded or used as a reference to improve teaching and learning.

This is more so because there is no national policy regarding the use of assessment results for promotional purposes.

In other words, nothing compels the teachers to assess learners with the aim of providing them with knowledge and skills.

Some people use the terms assessment and examinations as though they mean the same thing. They do not mean the same thing.

In the context of Lesotho, assessment is that activity that teachers use in the classroom to help them with teaching and learning.

Examinations refer to that activity of testing that takes place at the end of a grade (from A to B to C) and also at the end of a level (Primary School Leaving Examination – PSLE, Junior Certificate or COSC).

The primary aim of the examinations is to discriminate among learners and to rank them according to “ability”.

While examinations may serve a good purpose of ranking, they also affect learners, their parents and the national economy negatively when the learners fail.

Lesotho’s education system depicts a pyramid-like structure which is wide at the bottom and narrows down to a sharp point at the top. This means that examinations are used to ensure that a certain percentage of learners stay behind at every level.

This scenario, which is covert in nature, affects the unsuspecting learners, parents and the nation negatively.

In most cases, those who are affected tend to blame their own poor upbringing, genes and other reasons that put the blame onto themselves, rather than blaming the system.

Usually systems go scot-free year after year.

Because of our system, we are compelled to load learners with many subjects that they must master simultaneously.

We forget that each learner is an individual with individual strengths and weaknesses.

For example, my cousin’s daughter was not able to choose a career she likes because she did not pass Mathematics at COSC in 2010.

The career she is wired (naturally) to choose has little to do with calculus and the only Maths she requires should have been the functional one in that career. 

Some learners are not admitted to do engineering because they failed English Language despite the fact that they passed other subjects whose medium of instruction is English.

My argument is that our exam-driven system of education has over the years defeated the pronounced purpose for which education is provided, but has served to maintain the status quo between the haves and the have-nots.

It has promoted an unequal society of the majority who lack and the minority who are affluent and controlling. 

This is a national problem that requires drastic changes in curriculum design and the mode of assessment and examinations driven by eagerness to help promote the learners’ God-given individual talents and trades.

Given an opportunity, I would like to challenge my colleagues in education to debate on these issues.

I hope to further discuss some of the challenges I have mentioned above next time and would like to hear some supporting or opposing views from Basotho colleagues who have also had similar experiences in the field of education in our country.

S’ikhulumi Ntsoaole is a former education management inspector and author  

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