International schools

Exam-obsessed education system is like an industrial production line

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 January, 2012, 12:00am


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I write to support Vanessa Cheng Wat-kwan's letter ('Spoon-fed system bad for pupils', January 11). Her complaints about examination-based education are justified, and not restricted to Hong Kong's local schools.

I am also in my final year, and I am studying for the International Baccalaureate (IB). Although a less traditional diploma, IB still places more emphasis on exams and grades than any other aspect of education. It conforms to a system of education that is modelled on the industrial production line. Students are poured into standardised moulds, and at the end are subject to rigorous quality control (exams). They are then labelled with a place and date of manufacture (a diploma).

This is a broken system. The world has lost sight of the true goal of education. The growth of human intellect, the quest for knowledge, and the development of critical thinking - pursuits that make us human - have all been forgotten. Instead, we embrace a sterile, inhuman model based on students' ability to regurgitate facts, figures and technical vocabulary, in an artificially clinical and eerily silent environment. Such 'knowledge' is then judged against a quantitative, dogmatic stencil known as a marking scheme. This could not be more abstracted from reality.

To pragmatists who argue that good grades are required for students to find work in an increasingly competitive job market, I pose this question: what do employers and universities really look for? Do they really need people who can memorise and regurgitate without talking or thinking? I think employers look for people who are more than machines. They want individuals who can think and interact with the world around them.

My generation is inheriting massive problems, ranging from economic crises to an endangered environment. The very fact that we are inheriting these issues suggests to me that education has failed to equip previous generations with the capacity to tackle them. Current students are indeed equipped only with an extremely fallible capacity to memorise 'course content', simply because they are conditioned to. Students are not motivated to pick up newspapers, read books or care about the world, because they are not awarded higher grades for doing so.

My school's motto is 'Educating the International Leaders of Tomorrow'. The challenge to educators, governments, employers and parents is to make this a reality for all.

Mark Chang, Tai Tam