Teaching, Knowledge and Assessment

Are exams a good thing or bad thing? It depends on whom you speak to. As children grow up and enter the academic world of school, they enter periods of testing and exams and homework. Most people would agree that exams to a certain extent are good, because they give the students something to focus on and apply their knowledge. A lot of school involves the dissemination of knowledge and facts, particularly in the early year of Maths and Science, but the sole memorisation and replication of these facts does not necessarily guarantee a wise student – merely one who is good at parroting back information.

The problem with exams and test is that schools and other education providers can get too involved with literal facts and the accumulation of them. The students are judged by how much information they have soaked up and can reproduce. But that is not necessarily learning; it is learning for assessment. And teachers end up teaching to the test – in short, teaching about things that may eventually be used in an exam. It is a very narrow-minded method, of selectively teaching information that is going to be assessed, rather than giving a broad range of education.

Why do they do that? Well, when you are choosing a school for your child, what do you look at? You look at its Ofsted ranking and its GCSE results, or where possible, how the school ranks in terms of SATS tests achievements. Better results suggest that the school is better – although they may only be teaching towards the test. In many schools, there are exams, and then there are mock-exams to prepare for the exams, and then a further round of mock exams. The students sit a battery of tests and are expected to find out why they made mistakes, and then plug the missing information into their brains. Learning for examination, and learning by examination. Schools have to do this because of the political game of attracting enough students to qualify for funding.

Learning a skill puts this style of learning into perspective. If you are learning a musical instrument like the piano, you have to work out reading the notes, hand-coordination, and develop that sort of fluency by going slower and being comfortable to doing many things at once. And once you have managed that, then you think about doing piano music exams. If a piano player were to learn and sit for an exam the same way as the school system seems to be going, they would merely be playing the same songs over and over again, entering themselves for exams over and over again, and hoping to pass – rather ineffective.

We should consider removing too much assessment in the school method, giving teachers the freedom to teach knowledge for its sake, rather than teaching to the test! The knowledge gained is more relevant, has more meaning and is likely to stay with the student for a longer period of time..

Taking care of vision

Could it be true that the more educated you are, the more likely you are to be short-sighted?

The NHS website seems to think so. It cited a piece of research involving over 67,000 participants which surveyed their educational levels and correlated them to their vision.

The result was that individuals who had higher levels of education were found to be more short-sighted.

Does this mean that if we wanted our children to be educated to at least university level, we should be prepared that they will be Specsavers customers in the future?

Maybe we should start investing in company shares for Vision Direct?

Before we jump to conclusions, we should perhaps think rationally about these claims.

The reasons why eye sight deteriorates can be due to various factors: diet, lifestyle, too much close focus, among others.

When we read to our children, or encourage them to read, we must help them establish good reading habits.

These can include adequate lighting, ensuring no shadow on the book, or not too close focus.

Unfortunately, before bedtime, we tend to do bedtime stories in dim lighting, ostensibly to calm children down, and read in poor conditions.

When a shadow is cast on the book, the eyes have to work extra hard to pick out the words and come under strain.

The same is if we read in the lazy position of lying on our back while holding the book up towards the sky, arms outstretched.

If we lie on our stomachs, propped by elbows and read a book too closely, the focus of the eyes is narrowed and over time the eyes get lazy and this leads to myopia.

Many of the above positions for reading seem normal and it is hard to accept that they are bad, but we have become habituated to them that we just have to pause and consider what we are doing to ourselves and our children.

Being educated does not lead to myopia. But the development of bad habits, exacerbated through the pursuit of knowledge through education, does.

In other words, if you have poor reading habits, then reading more books to gain educational qualifications means you will develop myopia.

What we can do for our children is to encourage them to develop good reading habits. We can also encourage them not to spend too much time on close focus. For example, if they are taking up a musical instrument, such as learning the piano, then make sure the music is lit without shadow, not too glaring, and also that the children break off after some time and do not prolong their close focus. We can encourage them to play outdoors. It is a myth that the colour green is good for the eyes; it is just taking the time to focus of long-distance objects that resets the balance in our eyes.

We can also encourage our children to use less electronic devices and watch less TV, both because of the glare and prolonged close-focus.

We only have one set of eyes to last a lifetime. Those of our little ones have to last a lifetime while being bombarded by things that demand their attention. We can help by guiding them through the growing years and making important decisions that they are unable to conceptualise for their good.

Managing phone reliance

´╗┐´╗┐Media mogul Simon Cowell has reportedly ditched his phone for over ten months, and has been quoted to say the withdrawal from technology has been good for his mental health.

Cowell expressed how irritated he was with the quality of interaction he had with those around him, and how – ever since he ditched it – he was more aware and paid more attention to the world and people around him.

Researchers have gathered data to show that the addiction Cowell had with his phone is not limited to him only. In fact, it is so widespread, that more than half of phone users check it within 15 minutes of waking up. Four in ten people believe that our partners use the phone too much, so much so that it becomes a point of contention.

Cowell has a young son and it might have been that he realised how he was breaking off playing to check his phone everytime it beeped.

It is also not good for children to see the adults around them swarmed by technology. But it is not easy for us to ditch the phone altogether.

Employers demand their employees time and attention outside of the office by sending documents with the expectation that they will have been read by the next meeting, and then expecting things have been dealt with, or demanding their response with a text message.

Many of us, unlike Cowell, do not have executive assistants to deal with such matters on our behalf, or to filter out emails and text messages. We do not have buffers. So while we don’t want it intruding, but we can’t exactly do without it completely, we need to navigate the disconnect that proves difficult, or else our children will adopt our bad habits as the norm.

What can we do? We can try to limit the time we handle emails and text messages to specific moments in the day. Having twenty minutes twice or thrice a day to deal with all these matters does not mean a reduction in overall time, but does mean that the time away from these periods is not tainted by work-related matters and the feeling of being on-call all the time, especially when we are with our children.

When we are with our children, give them new areas of pursuit. This can be listening to music, such as Baroque music. Classical music is said to be good for the mind, while Romantic music stirs emotions. If children are not into that kind of music, other forms of music might also provide a welcome distraction, both for us and them.

Just make sure it is playing from a normal radio or similar device – not a phone!

Teaching our children new skills to cope

According to Seth Stephenson-Davidowitz, a data scientist who uses data to draw insights into human behaviour, people are less inclined to tell the truth face to face or in a survey, because of perceived reaction and perception. This means that they are afraid of what people might think of them and hence try to soften or cushion their words. The problem with this though is that information around us is hence not necessarily the best source. The data scientist believes that because there is a higher perception of anonymity afforded computer users – people believe they are anonymous when they are not, but that is a post for another day – many go on Google to search for answers to thoughts and hence the data trends are more accurate.

One of Stephenson-Davidowitz’s research on data trends has focused on depression. According to data searches, August 11 and Christmas Day are the happiest days of the year – there are less searches for the word depression, while depression is highest in April, the month called the “cruelest month” by poet T S Eliot. Google data also suggests that climate matters a great deal. But also highlights that money is the perhaps a strong underlying cause – searches for depression are less in areas which a large percentage of people are college-educated, which – for those of us in the UK – means they have degrees, and are not to be confused with sixth-form college.

While we all know that money underpins a lot of our concerns – those who have financial freedom, and power, a BBC report revealed the extent to which it can affect us. A young man who took up a job as a delivery driver found himself in debt because of traffic violations, and that, coupled with the low-paying job he was on, meant he earned next to nothing and this mental stress caused him unfortunately to end his own life prematurely.

We all have worries about job security and for many adults that live from paycheck to paycheck with huge financial commitments, we must be careful that this stress does not impact on our children. Children that live in such households where there is latent stress grow up to be more negative and resentful, and fearful of life, instead of embracing it.

What can we do in such situations? After all, the modern world for most people creates tensions for us, and increasing demands of work, family, commitments and family and personal needs all never fit into of what a friend of mine calls the Tetris of Life.

We can find outlets of expression for us and for our children. Music is often seen to be a good outlet because it only costs a device (a phone which most of us already have) and some bandwidth. But listening to music is passive, involves mental processing and receiving input, and when they listen to more music, they are already cramming more into their minds and suppressing more mental triggers which want to manifest themselves in activity.

Instead, encourage them to try doing some activity instead. Take up a skill like learning to draw or playing an instrument like the piano which will give them outlets of expression. And these are activities they can do indoors in colder season (climate is another trigger for searches of “depression” in Google).

Like many other composers in the past, children can learn music to channel their inner emotions and give them an outlet from the stresses of their life and those that we may inadvertently transfer onto them.

Learning a musical instrument is not just a good idea for children, but for you as well, for the same reasons. Learning the piano activates different parts of the brain which relieves the pressure on the cortex and the word-processing part of the brain and gives you some form of mental escape – instead of being lost in the maze of Google searches without a way out. And speak with someone too, and try to dissipate the stress of the environment around you.