In these testing times, have
we forgotten about children
being children, asks Sandra
I’m a former high-school teacher, my husband is a university professor, and we have five children spread between three different educational establishments. So, as you might imagine, we value education. But more and more I’m troubled by the emphasis placed on testing and exams and how the idea of children being children and having fun seems to be overlooked. I’m writing this in the wake of NAPLAN (National Assessment Plan – Literacy and Numeracy) tests, half-yearlies and piano exams. While none of my three who sat NAPLAN this time was overly traumatised, I am concerned about how much time was spent preparing for these tests. Going over and over some aspect of the curriculum until it clicks may well have it’s place, such as the learning of times tables, but what about the music, drama, history, geography and art neglected in the mean time?
Often the pressure of exams can switch a child off completely and create an unwilling learner. My oldest son recently sat a piano exam that reduced him to tears of relief when it was over. He can play beautifully, and was accepted into the accelerated music program at school, but when exams are around the corner he gets tense, which shows in his playing. Practising becomes a chore and causes arguments. He has spent the last six months playing the same three pieces he will no doubt never want to hear again. We’ve decided he will no longer sit exams unless he feels it will help. And will instead play for the love of playing.
This is the boy whose favourite teacher at school is his English teacher, because she always goes off on tangents. She teaches them the curriculum, but more importantly takes them way beyond it. She stimulates their imaginations, encourages debate and gives them an enthusiasm for learning that will hopefully last a lifetime. The best teachers inspire children to learn, to ask questions, to think carefully about their answers and to become independent learners. They tell stories and encourage their students to do the same. I don’t think anyone would disagree that formal education is important. I’m thankful for the opportunities I had because of a formal education, but equally what children learn outside of school from parents, extended family and the wider community is invaluable. As a wise friend said, “school is one part of education, not the be-all and end-all”. Education is also about learning values from parents, teachers and peers; developing an awareness of the wider world around us and how our actions affect others; learning the value of physical activity; and expressing ourselves through music, stories, art, acting and dancing.
We went on a four-day camping holiday with friends in January, during which there was a total gadget ban – no mp3 players, no smartphones, no tvs. The kids wailed and begged, accused us of child cruelty and said they weren’t coming. In the end they swam, ran, chased, climbed, played football, played with kites they made themselves, painted each others’ faces, painted glass jam jars and used candles to light up the site at night when we strummed guitars, chatted and played games. They read books, hunted for crabs and learnt to look after smaller siblings and friends without causing tantrums. They had a ball. That’s the kind of education our kids miss out on too often these days.
I hope my tribe does well at school. The harder they work the better their qualifications and the greater their options in life will be, but I hope this does not come at the expense of their wider education. I will continue to introduce them to books I think they’ll enjoy, and keep ‘letting’ them beat me at tennis. My husband will keep showing them “important and significant” films and take them to play and watch football. We will continue our lively debates on all manner of topics around the dinner table, and subject them to an eclectic mix of music in the car when no-one can escape, and hopefully we will pass on a love of education and learning that will last their lifetimes.