Do we need more PLE stars? (Part 3)

Wednesday February 17 2010

By Charles Makanga Sendegeya

In the last of a three-part essay, Charles Makanga Sendegeya argues that over emphasis on passing exams leaves non-core subjects unaccounted for.

I n the last section we shall consider the impact of over-emphasis on passing exams on the curriculum and the way schools meet student needs. I have so far argued that although high-stakes testing presents an opportunity to hold teachers accountable to their employers and motivate them to teach better, it often leaves non-core subjects unaccounted for. The race to produce a very high number of first grades may also have adverse effects on the quality of core subject teaching.

Researchers, Prof. William Boyle and Joanna Bragg, carried out a study in 2006 in which they examined policy intentions behind efforts for a rich, well-designed and broad curriculum in English primary schools that regards English, Mathematics and Science as ‘core’. They referred to this as a politically-valued core curriculum because it can be tested. This, they posited, has reinforced shallow teaching and learning practices like teaching to the test. You will find that many primary schools do not teach music or fine art as all the time is given to drilling children in preparation for PLE.

Teachers tend to focus a significant portion of their instructional activities on the knowledge and skills assessed by final exams. These exams then serve as a powerful curricular magnet drawing all teachers and students’ school time.
Even within bounds of exam-driven content, there may be ‘dumbing-down’ of instruction resulting from neglect of concepts and subject structure. Teachers will concentrate on teaching to the content of past Uneb exams to see that more students pass examinations.

No acknowledgement
Parents and policy-makers, who witness this, conclude by saying high grades are statements about students’ proficiency in given subjects. Those who preside over the examination preparation and administration may not intend this extension but are sometimes not willing to acknowledge the fact.

The more schools focus on raising numbers of first grades, the more instruction is distorted and the less credible are the scores themselves. So what do schools need to achieve whole-school performance without neglecting individual student improvement?
There is need to distinguish between performance and performance character. Performance is the examination scores whereas performance character has personal qualities like industry, honesty and order that ensure that a student will continue to excel in life.