TOP MARKS: Is Australia's education system failing young people with standardised testing?
TOP MARKS: Is Australia's education system failing young people with standardised testing? Steve Debenport

Learning lost in tests

IS THE purpose of education to measure children's academic achievement?

It seems like this has been the focus for years. How is that working for us?

Our NAPLAN scores have flat-lined and our kids are stressed and anxious.

Our politicised and bureaucratic forms of accountability are not working for our children or our teachers.

Measurement has become an end in itself, instead of being one of many tools for supporting understanding about children and young people.

Last month, New Zealand decided to stop focusing on national standards and to stop the barrage of simplistic tests and comparison scales that were accompanying these standards.

Instead of policing their teachers, New Zealand is deciding to go back to trusting teachers to use their professional judgement.

Australia needs to do the same.

Professor of Education Gert Biesta believes we need to spend some time on the question of the purpose of education and consider what is at stake.

What do we want for our children and young people? Currently our focus as a nation has been solely on the transmission of content.

Our education system has forgotten something very important: education involves human beings.

We have forgotten the people. We have forgotten the importance of the good teacher: the teacher who works in relationship with the child every day; the teacher who knows the importance of nurturing the whole child including well-being, interests and thinking.

We have forgotten the whole child and forged on with an excessive emphasis on academic achievement, which in turn is causing severe stress for our children and young people.

Biesta says "one-sidedness always comes at a price and the current emphasis in many countries and settings on just enhancing academic achievement comes at a very high and potentially too high price”.

It is time to give some thought to how our education systems and ways of working are supporting, or in Australia's case challenging, our children's formation as human beings.

Friedrich Nietzsche believed the true role of education was about the human being and about self-discovery, and bringing forth our gifts, and recognising our uniqueness.

Nietzsche saw the power of education to be a space to cultivate the marvel of every human being.

Wow, an education system that seeks to cultivate the marvel of every human being. Imagine that.

If this is the true role of education then we have become completely disconnected from what matters.

Long-time educator Parker Palmer talks about the spirituality of education, which is not about dictating ends and outcomes against which a student is to be measured.

He says this kind of "end-focused” education is "no education at all”. And, as a parent and educator, I can attest that this is true.

Many children in Australia are not experiencing an education that is meaningful to them, and our standardised curriculum and testing focus means that few teachers have time to marvel at who children are or at their unique ways of knowing and being.

Ends and outcomes and comparison and benchmarks currently permeate everything.

They are killing the character of education, and killing our children's curiosity and love of learning.

So, what is the answer?

John Dewey, one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century, offered some suggestions that are sorely needed for our broken education system.

He talked about supporting individuals and engaging children in methods of inquiry which develop their lively minds.

Dewey (like Ken Robinson) talked of the importance of tailoring education to finding each child's "element”, of harnessing each child's natural ability and curiosity.

I don't want one-sided education anymore. Do you?

Let's follow New Zealand.

It is time to trust our teachers and to recognise the power of education to cultivate the marvel of each and every child.

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