I started as a teacher in 1987. I began as a high school Maths teacher in Jamaica, then worked as an EFL instructor to teenagers and adults in Poland, South Korea and Thailand. I trained as a primary class teacher in the UK and France, taught primary from Year 4-6 in the UK, France, Thailand and China, and then home-schooled my own children through IGCSEs and A-Levels.
Gary John Ilines
BA Honours, CTEFLA, PGCE Modern Languages, MA International Education
The question that is usually asked about assessment is: How should children be assessed? Or: What form of assessment do you use? This presupposes that we have already asked the question: Should children be assessed? And arrived at the conclusion that, yes, they should be assessed.
But that's not a question you ever hear, although it is an extremely important question because, even if you arrive at the conclusion that children should be assessed, in answering the question of whether or not they should be assessed you will have understood why they should be assessed and that will inform the decision of how to assess.
I would like to address here the question of whether or not children should be assessed.
To begin, I looked up the word 'assess' in the first dictionary which came to hand: the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary:
Assess: to estimate the nature, quality or value of sb/sth.
Fair enough. In fact, based on that we could end the discussion right here: all children are wonderful human beings with the capacity to be infinite consciousness and all have equal value. Anyway, let's continue.
Under 'assessment', the example given - and I'm not making this up - is:
"The judge ordered the child to be removed for assessment."
Now, based on these definitions alone, would you like your child to be assessed by a complete stranger, possibly wearing a white coat? The word 'assess' seems such a negative one. When do we normally use the word? It's not usually a good thing, is it? "I assessed the damage." "A tax assessment." Or it's usually about a valuation or a judgement about something. In general it tends to be used as a subjective way of deciding how bad something is. I personally find it very offensive to see this word juxtaposed with the word 'child'.
In schools, children are usually assessed according to how well they have learned the curriculum that has been delivered by the teacher. They are then ascribed a level of some type, usually a letter or number of letter/number combination. This level is then compared to a standard or expectation or average and everyone - including the child - can see if this child is normal, successful or failing. The more I think about this, the more offensive it seems to me. Obviously, a child who is 'failing' will feel demotivated and inferior and this will negatively affect his or her self-image and possible future academic progress. This will also bring enormous pain to a caring parent. That's self-evident. But what about the children who are successful? What do they gain?
I put this question to a parent in the UK whose child is receiving successful levels. I asked: What has he gained from the 'success'. Her answer was that he has been given a sense of success and achievement and he has learned that hard work is rewarded. Both of these answers scare me.
Firstly, every child should feel a sense of value and success, not just the ones that soak up the curriculum and produce in a way which can be subjectively assessed as 'good'. Children should be taught that success is doing things that you love, that make you happy, being part of a loving family or community, knowing what your personal and individual mission is in life and fulfilling that potential.
The second answer is even more scary: the imposition of the idea that success comes from working hard according to what someone else subjectively believes is important. In other words, the 'successful' children are learning that success is working hard for someone else, being a productive member of the work force, being a good little slave.
One might argue that, if we don't assess children, then how can we assess teachers? I would make the same arguments as above for adults. Lazy teachers who don't care and don't want to be part of a school community should be moved on. But I don't think you can judge how good a teacher is by how well the children have reproduced a curriculum.
The only conclusion I can come to about all this is that children should not be assessed. Children should be taught values which include love, empathy, community and family and that the most important thing in life is to be happy and that the path to happiness is through love and respect, which includes self-respect which is not enhanced by assessment - whether you are a success or a failure. Children should be taught that if you are not happy and part of a loving community or family then there is something broken in your life that needs to be fixed and they can be shown ways to fix it and skilfully directed towards their own unique and individual mission in life. My feeling is that most children, if not all, already know what that is and that subjective external judgement does them absolutely no service whatsoever.© Copyright Gary John Ilines.