My daughter has always enjoyed school but since entering Primary Six the pressure seems to have increased enormously. She gets very nervous about the frequent tests and has started grinding her teeth at night. She is already worried about the Standard Assessment Tests at the end of the year. The amount of homework has also increased. I did not expect this sort of pressure until the upper years at secondary school.
Teacher Julie McGuire responds:
This situation may be a result of primary teachers being pressured to achieve good test results. The more emphasis put on tests by education leaders and authorities, the more teachers may feel they have to pressure their pupils. It is a vicious circle that some teachers are not happy with.
The crucial question that needs to be asked is, if teachers are constantly teaching to tests, do they have enough time to do real teaching, that is, activities which encourage enquiry based learning, foster creativity and imagination and develop critical thinking skills? This type of education will produce pupils who have initiative and can think out of the box, risk takers who are willing and able to use trial and error to solve problems.
These are all vital skills that children need for life and society will need in a generation of future adults. Some children, often the very academic ones, can thrive on being pressured but it can have a negative impact on others. The curriculum and the way it is taught needs to be engaging, challenging and at times rigorous. However, children generally do not learn best in a stressful environment.
Enjoyment and motivation tend to be the best tools for learning. Pressure on children also comes from home because parents fear that their children's test results in Primary Six will dictate their secondary stream. This means that parents are hiring tutors and sending children to extra lessons after school. And so the vicious circle continues.
I recently met a very distressed mother whose Primary Six daughter had turned from being a calm, level-headed and affectionate girl into someone she hardly recognised, who lashed out hysterically due to imminent end of year tests. To avoid this type of situation with your daughter give her as much support with schoolwork as you can. You could help prepare her for future test situations by doing quick 10-minute tests at home and revising work she has recently covered, so she gets used to working within time constraints. Help her so she has a good life/work balance.
Children can become lonely and withdrawn, lacking in social skills and emotional intelligence if their whole lives revolve around schoolwork. Do not over schedule her outside school and encourage her to take part in activities she enjoys rather than extra lessons or tuition.
Physical activities also help to alleviate stress. When discussing test results do not make comparisons with other class members and make sure you praise the effort she has put in and her individual progress. She should not equate test success in any way with winning love or approval.
Society itself is becoming more pressurised. Adults are more accountable in their jobs and working longer hours. Stress is now considered to be one of the biggest strains on people's health. All this is to come for our children. Do we really want to rob them of their childhoods and produce a generation of stressed children? Parents will only change this trend towards testing if they challenge education leaders.