Reflections on the past, present and future
Education is considered as the process of ensuring desirable changes in learners’ behaviour in a direction stipulated by individual and societal goals in form of a curriculum. This is attainable in the formal setting as operationalised through teaching. Teaching, across school levels, is seen more as facilitating learning than merely transferring knowledge, skills, habits. But rather it, first of all, prepares learning materials from the curriculum, prepare the learners to receive it, and after the transfer, follows up to make sure that the materials which are transferred have been received. However, we must note that the learner doesn’t operate like a computer transmission, as far as knowledge and skills acquisition is concerned. As such learning in the 21st-century ushers a new shift inclined towards the discovery of others, and on another, as well as complete fulfilment of a man.
Fundamentally, the effectiveness of ensuring desirable changes in the learners’ behaviour and character depends, to a great extent, on how well the initial behaviour and character is identified and understood. The cognitive, affective, and psychomotor behaviour of the incoming child is supplied by assessment. This information is necessary for the understanding of the child as an input into the teaching-learning process, and serve as the starting point for an effective process of educating the child. Thus, assessment is anything done to find out and describe what behaviour a learner does or does not have, acquire, or develop; before, during, and after instruction or a classroom lesson. For this reason, we can validly and reliably do an assessment, only if we consider and align to the content of the curriculum as stipulated and valued by society. In other words, we suppose to teach what the curriculum tells us to do and similarly we ought to assess the learning progression or achievement with respect to the curriculum and society needs.
Historically, Botswana is an administrative compliance examinations country. These examinations compliance have brought some teaching practices and instigated tension between formative purposes of assessment and summative purposes of assessment. Teachers are often under pressure to prepare learners for external examinations, which have to do with administrative compliance purposes and judge learners’ achievements. So, the mandatory school-based assessment (SBA) in the form of continuous assessment (CA) does not serve its purpose to guide teaching and learning for the betterment of learner to be better human being for the prosperity of their society. The negative impact of the current ineffective teaching practices affects learners’ comprehension and long-term understanding. Thus, teaching to the examinations promote rote memorisation and suppresses the learners’ strength for creating skills, interpersonal skills and growing abstract-thinking ability. This external examination burden is, in fact, seem to be a cultural legacy and intentionally embedded in our society for a long time and that has led to a devaluation of the teaching profession. Our society is much stagnant and focused on comparison and accountability based on one snapshot of the external examination results to closely interrogate whether these results have risen or fallen. Each year there are questions within scholarship cadres that challenge our trust in the so-called gold standard examinations because PLSE, JCEs or BGCSE have the potentials to either close or open doors for (some) young people and their teachers’ profession progression.
Currently, the risk of our examinations system has placed our society where it is at the moment and lots of individuals potentials and innovations among young people’s minds have not been fully tapped in the last 55 years. Not at all, that our learners cannot meet their academic potential development at the school, nor they are unintelligent. The truth of the matter is more complex and it boils down to our social class placed in our society in relation to performance, progression and policy in the educational system and assessment context (These three PPP is shall be discussed in detail in a different article). Lack of fairness and conservative in our educational practices have for many years, have hampered societal desirable learning opportunities for our diverse and dynamic young people, hence we have denied them the chance to see if they do more and better in other perspectives of learning domains.
In focusing on the future, transformation in the educational system and assessments should seriously be taken into account and must strike a balance between the majority and monitory individuals’ learner in the classroom and society as far as bias, fairness, equality and ‘sensitivity’. Specifically, the multi-minority/multi-cultural like in Ngamiland district, since independence, the district had suffered and continues to experience minority perspectives on educational assessment in totality. Thus, they are multi-lingual and their languages got no foundational basis in classroom settings, their diverse cultural practices not seen in the classroom setting, and social class/social status recognised and non-recognised minority tribes exacerbate the already fragmented teaching and learning for minority learners. This practice defeats the maximal developmental potential of the minority learners; hence they cannot compete well in the education space in any form of assessment. However, there is a hope through the anticipated implementation of education reforms among others is the General Education Curriculum and Assessment Framework (GECAF), that may consider minority perspectives on assessment who wish to be assessed along with majority learner or assessment practices to acknowledge differences, or more control over assessment practices including the developing, trialing, and standardizing tools within their own populations, even both perspectives.
Most importantly our education transformation must focus on the alignment of curriculum, pedagogies, and assessment. This notion has currently been practised in Asia for instance Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong; North America (Canada); Nordic countries (Sweden, Demark, Norway, Finland) as well as some States like New Zeeland and Queensland in Australia. Most of the aforementioned countries do not/ or have few on the mandated external examinations in their schools, however, their learners’ are best placed in academic achievements and positive learning attitudes as revealed in the regularly administered international large scale assessments like Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) Programme for International Student Assessment, (PISA) when compared with their cohort learners in most of the African countries including Botswana. Yet, we are among the top high-stake examination nations with very poor learners’ academic achievement.
Moving forward, it implies that our society must retrospect, prospect and introspect towards trusting and empowering teachers as professional and their classroom practices; lessen or discontinue some external examinations and Botswana Examination Council should focus other roles such as monitoring and auditing; upskilling of our teachers into a new paradigm shift of diverse assessments practices aligned to the curriculum in term of purposes (mostly formative to teaching and learning), formats (learner-centric), and quality requirements (valid and reliable) expected to learn knowledge and skills as well as the societal values and shaping the positive attitude of every child whether from a majority or minority perspectives. These proposals are cost-effective and shall enhance learners’ learning towards new awareness based on an understanding of growing interdependence, joint analysis of the future risk and societal challenges, cultivate the spirit to joint projects and business efforts, and collective efforts in solving economic problems and social conflicting issues intelligently and peacefully.
Sello E. Moyo
Educational assessment and measurement specialist