The pressures to achieve high levels of academic success are destroying children’s ability to enjoy their education and making them anxious and depressed.
All types of testing and judgement paralyse these children with anxiety, driving them to avoid attending school at all if they can avoid it. Truancy rates are being driven up and up, not by young delinquents who are trying to be deliberately disruptive to their education and that of others, but by children so afraid to deal with the pressure that is being put on them that they would rather risk suspension, expulsion and arrest.
Many within the education system lay the blame for this increase in tension firmly at the feet of PISA. PISA stands for the Program of International Student Assessment. It is a global standard of testing in areas such as reading, maths and scientific literacy. While standardised testing has always been used to judge the quality of education that a child has received, PISA made a high rate of scoring into a diplomatic and political contest between nations all competing to show the highest scores and prove the superiority of their own education system. Ironically this has created many of the same problems across all of the countries that adopted PISA as education policy has shifted the focus from giving children a solid grounding in the subjects being taught to trying to maximise test scores. This narrowing focus has removed much of the enjoyment that can be found in education.
Finland’s model of education is being held up by educators worldwide as a tremendous success precisely because it avoids all of the things that PISA provokes. Academic competition between students is discouraged, testing is kept to the bare minimum to ensure that students are understanding their coursework. By removing the pressure and anxiety theses schools actually produce students that do better in higher education and employment than those in competitive schools.
The final twist is that in Finland there is very little variance between schools in the quality of education received. By making their schools stop competing with one another, and refusing to base funding on how successfully a school’s students pass exams they have actually made their entire school system one of the best in the world.
Meanwhile back in Australia students are talking about how they feel that huge sections of their life have been stolen from them as they desperately competed to get the best grades only to discover that there were no jobs available after they had graduated due to the changing economy.