According to a collection of Danish books for teenagers I used to read, “Not for school, but for life” is the motto of many secondary schools in that country. I have always remembered that sentence.
During the latest teachers’ strike, one of the main concerns was that the government seems more worried about exam results than about the children’s education. Of course results are important. However, are they the best way to measure the success of a school?
In primary school, I had a teacher of English (as a Foreign Language) who was a genuine control freak. She expected us to copy to the letter the notes she dictated (she even specified the number of squares of separation between the lines). She stubbornly refused to teach us vocabulary she had not prepared for the lesson (“It is not for your level”, she would say). To make matters worse, if we had learnt any English outside the lesson, she forbade us to tell the others. Her argument was: “I am not going to ask you in the exam, so you do not need to know”. It seemed to escape to her that we were not learning English to pass an exam. Moreover, she was not encouraging us to be inquisitive and to research things by ourselves. Years later, I met a similar teacher on my first job. She was not concerned that the Spanish textbook the school used was full of incorrect vocabulary and made up words (even my city was misplaced in the map). “It is in the book”, she said, “They have to learn it”. It is as if it were more difficult to recognize that the book had mistakes than teaching the children properly.
Learning is not only memorizing for an exam, it is also learning to make questions and being able to look for the answer. It is about nurturing the children’s interests so that they can decide what they will do in the future. When you visit a foreign country and need to speak the local language, nobody will care if you passed an exam. What it counts is your ability to apply your knowledge and your interest about learning more.
Exam results are a practical way to assess a school, but by no means indicate how successful it is. Success is meeting a former pupil and being told that they are at university or found that job they like. Unfortunately, that cannot be measured.
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