Striking a balance in the pursuit of marks

Striking a balance in the pursuit of marks

Grades are needed to assess students. but the focus should be on knowledge

By Arthur Chan, Li Po Chun United World College

This week marks the beginning of the International Baccalaureate Examinations.

For those who are not familiar with the IB diploma, this is the curriculum of most international schools in Hong Kong. The level is equivalent to the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examination.

The IB diploma is becoming more popular in Hong Kong because it is seen as a more innovative curriculum.

The local school system is often criticised for its rigidness and its focus on exam techniques rather than actual learning. The teaching method is often compared to "filling a duck", as books and notes are crammed into the brains of poor students.

The new 3-3-4 education reform is expected to bring a change to the system. But hopes of a more innovative teaching curriculum may be too high, as the reform might evolve into another 'filling a duck' programme.

There is an obstacle that stops the reform from achieving its purpose. It is the same threat also haunts the IB diploma, the GCE and other systems - competition.

Ten years ago, students sat in the library studying extensive material on their subjects. Today, students flock to tutorial centres. All this is a result of assessment.

In any assessment, there must be a standard or a set of criteria to judge the candidate. In most exams, it is the marking scheme. The problem with the marking scheme is that it highlights where students can score points. Students know where to look to do well in an exam. Why should one dig around the island of knowledge, study the whole syllabus and read extra books when one can simply go straight to the treasure?

Some might ask, why not eliminate assessments? Unfortunately, the very reason that most students even get on the island of knowledge is because of the grades that lie in the end.

Furthermore, assessment is needed for society to find people with different skills and abilities.

This is not to say that every school curriculum is doomed to the fate of becoming another 'duck-filling' system. There are certain measures that can steer students away from exam techniques.

The first one is to make the standard of assessment as unpredictable as possible, and to change the form of exams and the syllabus more often.

By making the knowledge island itself the treasure, the pursuit of grades will be in line with the pursuit of knowledge.

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