Reports that Grade Three pupils will sit national tests under the competency-based curriculum is puzzling, given that the new system was meant to de-emphasise examinations.
In a country where national examinations are usually a do-or-die affair with regard to progress in the education ladder, having eight-year-olds sit an exam to determine if they can proceed to the next level is unhealthy and undermines efforts to make education less burdensome.
The young minds are not remotely prepared for a situation where they have to sit a test in a tightly controlled and secured environment and then go through a torturous wait to be told whether or not they are good enough for Grade Four.
In marketing the new curriculum — which will replace the 8-4-4 system — to the public, the government has been extolling the virtues of the 2-6-3-3 syllabus with the most significant argument that it will mark the end of summative exams.
However, last week’s announcement that national exams for Grade Three pupils will start on September 16 and last for four days dashed all hopes of having an exam-free curriculum.
The announcement also seems to point to more exams in the new system than in the 8-4-4: The same Grade Three pupils will sit another test to determine if they can go to high school and then another to test their suitability for higher education. Given this context, all the CBC’s advantages, including getting rid of competitive exams, become seriously questionable.
The Education ministry needs to clarify why it seeks to examine Grade Three pupils and what form the tests will take and whether they will not justify a renewed focus on rote learning and a single-minded focus on passing exams at the expense of quality learning and a mastery of skills.
If Grade Three pupils must sit the exams, then the testing system needs to be overhauled to make it friendly, suitable for young minds and even fun. We must avoid exams that cause competition, trauma and trepidation to the little children.
Still, teachers need to be thoroughly trained on administering and grading the exams — lest they resort to creating an intimidating environment, which will end up being counterproductive.
Above all, the government owes the public an explanation on the justification for the exams, especially how they will be different from those under the 8-4-4. Since the basic role of an exam is to assess how much learners have acquired, what will happen to those deemed not to measure up to the required standards?
The Grade Three tests risk creating a competitive education system that negates competence development.