Moving beyond test scores in education

By Long C Right 鄭志隆  / 

Wed, Nov 15, 2017 - Page 8

The English listening comprehension test held on Oct. 21 marked the official start of the annual university entry selection process. The streams of cars and scooters ferrying students to exam venues and the crowds of parents accompanying their children and catering to their every need give you some idea of how much of a part parents play in this matriculation contest.

Taiwanese parents are always on hand. They affectionately take their children to elementary and high schools each morning and pick them up at the end of the day. They deliver school stationery to their children whenever it is needed, arrange their after-school extracurricular classes, choose their coaching and cram-school classes, and help plan their voluntary activities.

Having supervised their children’s applications for college admission, they go on intervening in their lives at university. In so doing, they are typical examples of the “overparenting” described in the book How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.

The book’s author, Julie Lythcott-Haims, served as dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising at Stanford University.

She says that when parenting involves keeping children safe and sound, arranging and providing opportunities, hovering over them like a helicopter and succumbing to the warped competition to matriculate and move on the next school, the result will be that children are deprived of their intellectual and emotional freedoms, and their ability to evolve in their own ways.

This is psychologically harmful to children, who miss the chance to learn how to become a complete person, she says.

Our unconscious preconceptions and stubbornness, arising from misplaced kindness, vanity and fear, have prevented education reforms from alleviating this phenomenon. Eventually we see things like depression among high-school students and college students harming one another over emotional issues.

The college entry ploys are another thing that exacerbates the aforementioned phenomena.

The top universities have blind faith in elitism and maintain their reputations through unreasonably high thresholds for admission and equally unreasonable ranking systems, but they end up producing what William Deresiewicz calls “excellent sheep” who suffer from low self-confidence and fear of failure, Lythcott-Haims said.

Surely a school’s ability to care for children’s lives and prevent them from hurting or killing themselves or each other should be a more important aim of schooling than achieving impressive exam results and test scores, getting a high proportion of students into university or achieving high international rankings.

Why it should be otherwise is a mystery. How can educators and parents keep turning a blind eye and remain unconcerned that children can get into such awful situations?

Are universities such hallowed grounds? As the perennial matriculation war gets under way, how many families will be living in anxiety as they wrangle with the calculations, gameplays, hesitation and fears involved in exam preparations, college applications and participation in placement tests?

To prevent the matriculation arms race from spreading to elementary schools and kindergartens, let us hope that well-known colleges and high schools in Taiwan will have the compassion, courage and wisdom to reform their admissions procedures.

Only if schools can assess applicants’ true abilities and character and preserve their reputation as good schools under an acceptance strategy that involves lowering standard test scores can they really be called “elite.”

Long C Right is principal of Datan Elementary School in Pingtung County.

Translated by Julian Clegg