assessment tests for children considered harmful…


Some notes and then, further down, a transcript of a rather sad email exchange…

Some notes:

Every now and then we receive mails (from well intentioned young men and women, who are but cogs in some random machines) asking for our ‘help’ with respect to the earth shaking problems of how to assess children, what ‘education’ means, how they should deal with their children etc etc – not that we are some hip cats in education or even reasonably conversant with the universe of ‘education’ or, god forbid, even some reasonably good parents! Hmm… But, of course you know that these latter factors have never prevented me from pontificating on topics in which I haven’t even a passing knowledge, yeah?

Sometimes, these young folks are from entities which conduct these assessments – and their revenue model stems from spreading some paranoia about how bad the  ‘misconceptions’ in the children are with respect to science  (and to some extent I agree with them) and math and languages – and then proceeding to address them etc etc. Of course, there are willing (and paying) groups of paranoid & clueless parents and enough number of  ‘jumping into the bandwagon’ type of Public / IB /International /IGCSE / ICSE / CBSE / StateBoard affiliated random schools that gruesomely sacrifice their rather fledgling children at the altar of assessment tests. Sheesh!

But, I deeply regret (and reject) the idea that the children of just 7-8 years of age will have to be tested and bench-marked. Dammit, this is NOT ‘catch them young.’ It is ‘throttle them young.’ I may reluctantly agree if the ‘testing’ happens for some specific purpose, for young adults, post at least 15 years of age, but then…

Here goes an innocuous sweet mail (asking for some information) and the mail response from the resident bull in the china school– because the bull feels that the little children should not be bullied…

I am publishing it (after removing all the personal references) because, I believe that the arguments presented here  could probably be of use in combating the insidious malaise of rather early and infructuous benchmarking.

On Mon, Sep 6, 2010 at 11:07 AM, [name redacted] <email id redacted> wrote:
> Dear Ram,
> I’m [name redacted], from the Science team at [name redacted]. I’ve written
> to [my spouse’s name redacted] too.

Hello [name redacted], greetings.

I am responding, rather philosophically to your email query. You may not have any direct answer to your questions in the following text. But these are my considered views and so please do feel free to take them or toss them. But you should remember that, you really asked for my ideas! :-)

[my spouse’s name redacted] and I are generally busy (there are household chores and those related to the school); however, off and on we do discuss things such as this and evaluation / test / exam etc and I think, [my spouse’s name redacted]‘s response would not be far removed from this response. So consider this as a reply from the both of us. (but her reply, if she chooses to reply, would definitely be very polite, devoid of emotional outbursts and may be to the point too – unlike that of yours truly!)

At the outset, I would say that – if one has to ‘set’ question papers for children, then one should have followed the ways in which children typically learn – like sponges with absorbing minds. One has to have a considerable experience in dealing with the children from the age of say 22 days into conception to say 16 years. One has to spend a considerable amount of time listening to them, reading the basic ideas on how children learn (there are at least 12 books (‘bibles’) here that I could strongly recommend), looking at the cultural variations in the concepts of learning; since what we could learn are always lessons in the history of our pasts, one has to be a very good historian of ideas too. This could take anywhere between 10 to 15 years. It is hard work, and any honest profession or dogged pursuit of ideas would anyway be so.

Otherwise, if this kind of due diligence is not done, I strongly feel that there is this macabre cognitive dissonance that creeps in – that is not likely to be helpful to the ‘little’ elementary children at all. In fact, we should clearly separate the following two modes of approaching the testing ‘tests’ and assessments:

1. OUR need to assess the child – stemming from the ideas that we create / plant in schools/parents/children that they need to be tested and ‘bench-marked’

2. The child’s ACTUAL needs – which are mostly developmental (of fine honing of work ethics, meta learning skills, self-directedness, ‘marching to their own drum’ etc) rather than random skill sets (such as Newton’s loss of loose motion)

I sincerely feel that if we are not at all looking at #2, then perhaps we should rather refrain from embarking on the notion that the children need to be tested right from the time they emerge from the womb. O tempora! O mores!!

> We’re making a paper for class 3 Science paper right now and want to get
> some idea from people about the kind of concepts/observations that are
> important for students in class 3 to understand and imbibe.

I personally feel that towards the end of the elementary level learning, the cognition of the compartmentalization of knowledge realms start in children. Only at that time – say, around 12 years of age when children get into some adolescence mode – they could even begin to appreciate the compartmentalization, even as they continue to be the children of the universe, looking at the whole world (nay, universe) with awe and wonder – while beginning to get puzzled about how they are going to fit in to the larger world and as to what they can contribute to it, etc etc. They collect tidbits of internally and externally consistent universes and in their own ways, analyze and synthesize them.

Premature and local optimizations are always harmful, not only in computer science, but also in life. They are so painfully ad hoc, and ill formed! So premature testing is perhaps a bad idea!

In any case, all these ASSessment tests pretend to ‘test’ only a fraction of the capability of the cerebrum – that is the ‘reasoning’ capacity based on some memory/recall and ignore all the other fantastic capabilities of the cerebrum – such as the imagination, will power, intelligence, emotions and what not!

Now, let us think about the plight of the child who will be ASSessed by adult, based on the notions of the adult… Let us imagine how a child would view a ‘test’ at the level of 2nd standard skills (whatever they are) – it will simply be akin to asking you (assuming that you are an impressionable young lady now) as to how your post-menopausal problems are going to be solved by you.

Further, I would say that you will be assessed on your answers and a suitable (be)rating would be meted out to you now itself! Let us say that, this is because I want to judge you along these axes of moronicity (because  I think they are important because I  believe that, in 40 years’ time the BIGGEST problems that the world would face are PMS – Post Menopausal Syndrome related issues, not the petroleum running out!) rather than on what you would like to pursue or know! I would like to benchmark you, so you better take the test for your own benefit, whatever that is!

Of course you would be outraged at this silly notion (validly so) but the 2nd / 3rd standard child cannot afford to feel outraged. It has already learnt to succumb to the asinine expectations of the parents and the so called ‘peer pressure’ – ably aided by the paranoia of the testing outfits!

> What key ideas/observations do you think should students at this level be
> tested on? It could be the physical world or plants/animals around them,
> etc..

I have personally dealt with children who are merely 5 or 6 years of age who have gone to the real depths with respect to the principles of flying (they have even internalized the Bernoulli, mommeee!),  how the lever principle works, how gears systems can be explained in terms of simultaneous equations with a minimum of two unknowns, the entire systems of phyla / binomial nomenclature etc etc. At least one 9 year old child I know had finished (and digested) more than 1800 (good sized) books of various genres/types! So, how are we even going to begin to assess them?

The solution does NOT lie in assessing them on what we adults (in our ripe old age) think we know (now) and so what we think these children should know (now)! Leave alone compassion or sensibility towards these hapless children, where is even an iota of logic here??

Again, the children that I referred to earlier are not at all geniuses or ‘spelling bee’ winning automatons. They are normal. In fact, I believe that ALL children have the potential to be ‘normal’ like this.

In fact, we want to make sure that the new next-generation beings (children now) are as colourless and insipid as we are now – conforming to our ideas, notions and opinions! Why would we inflict random tests on the children otherwise?

I would say, the children in this offending age band have to be tested for NOTHING – as we are incapable of assessing them. What we want to do is to  stereotype them and squish them into blocks of our notions of what they should know.

In other words, they can very well do without our bench-marked and erudite assessments.

> Do send in anything that comes to mind. Also, it should be something that
> would come in their curriculum for class 2 and not 3 itself, so it’s not
> newly learnt at class 3.

8-) I am just going to send ‘everything that comes to my mind’ – I have already typed it out.

> Thank you!
> Regards,
> [name redacted]

Thanks, if you have managed to read till this far! And, I don’t even know you and mean no personal offense to you at all – I hope you understand that. But, even if you don’t, that’s fine by me too!

May be I should go to sleep, instead of sending mails like these at this unearthly hour! I ought to know better, but then…

Warm regards:

ram, the man who nuked too much. ;-)

The lyfe so short, the craft so long to lerne.
– Geoffrey Chaucer (The Assembly of Fowles)

JournalEntry: 18th September, 2010

2 Responses to “assessment tests for children considered harmful…”

  1. Venkatachalam Says:

    நல்லவேளை நான் உளவியல் படித்தேன். ஏகதேசம் நீங்கள் என்ன சொல்ல வருகிறீர்கள் என புரிந்து கொண்டுள்ளதாக நம்புகிறேன். ஆனால் சராசரி தமிழனுக்கு – தான் சாதிக்க இயலாததையெல்லாம் தன் பிள்ளைகள் மூலம் சாதிக்க! வேண்டும் எனக் கணவு கானும் தமிழனுக்கு தான் வாழாத ஆனால் ஆகாயத்தின் அளவுக்கு வெளியில் ஒரு வாழ்க்கை இருப்பதாக நாக்கில் ஜொள்ளு ஒழுக்கிக் கொண்டு எதைச்செய்யலாம் யாரைப்பார்க்கலாம் ஐயோ ஒன்றும் புரியவில்லையே என மண்டையைப் பிய்த்துக்கொண்டு இருப்பவனுக்கு உங்கள் கடிதத்தைப்படித்தால் வரும்பாருங்கள் ஒரு இது. . . வேண்டாம் விட்டு விடுகிறேன்.

    ஏன் சார் யாராவது உளவியல் பரிசோதனைகளை தன்னுடைய பிள்ளைக்கு செய்து அவனுடைய திறன் இன்னதென . . . இருங்க. . . இருங்க. . . பணம்/பதவி கொழிக்கும் இந்தத் திறன்/ அந்தத்திறன் என்று ஏதாவது என்னுடைய பிள்ளைக்கு இருக்கவேண்டுமே கடவுளே. . . இல்லையெனில் மேல் மனது கீழ் மனது ச்சீ ஆழ் மனது என எதையாவது தட்டிக்கொட்டி எப்படியாவது அதைக் கசக்கிப் பிழிந்து குறைந்த பட்சம் ஒரு நல்ல பிளேஸ்மெண்ட் கல்லூரியில் ஒரு இடம்பிடித்து அதைவைத்து ஆகாய/அசகாய வேலையைப்பிடித்து பிறகு பணம் காய்ச்சி மரமாக ஒரு சம்பந்தத்தைப்பிடித்து ஒரு ’நிறைவான’ வாழ்க்கையை வாழவேண்டுமெனத் தவியாய்த்தவிக்கும் ஒரு மனிதனுக்கு (உங்களுக்குக் கடிதம் எழுதியவரை நான் சத்தியமாகக் குறிப்பிடவில்லை. கடிதத்தை தாங்கள் பகிரங்கப்படுத்தி இருப்பதால் அது தற்கால தமிழர்கள் எல்லாருக்கும் தாங்கள் எழுதி இருப்பதாக எடுத்துக்கொண்டுள்ளேன்.) தங்களை நம்பிக் கேட்டால் இப்படி வயிற்றெரிச்சலைக் கொட்டிக்கிறீர்களே. நிற்க

    உங்கள் எழுத்தில் கிரியேட்டிவிட்டி நடனம் ஆடுகிறது. ஒன்றா இரண்டா எதைச்சொல்வேன் எப்படிச்சொல்வேன். அனுவனுவாக ரசித்து மகிழ்தேன். உங்கள் உள்ளத்திற்கு மிக அருகில் சென்றுவிட்டேன் என நம்புகிறேன். என்னுடைய மனமார்ந்த பாராட்டுகள். உங்களோடு தொடர்பு கிட்டியது என்னுடைய நல்லூழ். நன்றி வணக்கம்.

  2. Anand Uppili Says:

    Could you please give the list of “bible” books you mentioned about how children learn? Thanks

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