Exams and contemporary learning – it’s all upside down!

The original image was accessed from article “Trainees granted exemption to sit RACGP exams” written by Francine Crimmins and published 4/2/2021

Among all the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity since June of this year, I have been thankful that we did not have students sitting the HSC in 2021. Those completing the HSC have been put under unnecessary pressure to undertake examinations when many, possibly the majority of students have already established their post school pathway. Those leading education in this state had a wonderful opportunity to reimagine a far more contemporary approach to the New South Wales Higher School Certificate as an exit credential. Unfortunately, under the influence of 20th century thinkers, they let that opportunity slip by.

School exams don’t prepare teens for the real world. As Jehan Casinader writes, the sad truth is students were forced to participate in a ritual that has become meaningless”. 24/7 access to information via the internet means the need to memorise information for exam conditions is no longer required. Our most necessary skill when accessing information from the world wide web is to ensure information is from a valid and trusted source.

When considering the place of exams in the context of contemporary learning, it is all upside down. Education change agent, Ted Dintersmith regularly asks, ‘Are our children prepared for the future of work?’ (3 mins). Ted Dintersmith continually reminds schools that employers no longer require employees to know or memorise information. Robots are increasingly doing the jobs which require rote memory. The need for workers today and tomorrow will be to ‘apply information in context’ in responding to challenges, develop improvements, and even transform services or products. This will be done by collaboratively working with a team, or teams of people across disciplines. The reality is, end of school examinations are taken in single subject disciplines and are a very individual pursuit with no collaboration allowed!

Please do not mistake my comments to mean subject disciplines are no longer necessary. They are. The message is that we no longer need to memorise long lists of subject facts or knowledge. Much more important is the ability to apply subject knowledge by trialling and testing new projects and processes in real world situations in addressing real world challenges.

As principal of St Luke’s, I challenge students to answer three questions:

  • Who am I?
  • What can I do?
  • What problems do I want to solve?

You won’t find any one of these three questions on a HSC paper. I dare say that none of those questions appear in any examinations for school systems across the world. However, in answering these three questions throughout their time at St Luke’s, students are more able to understand their SIM (strengths, interests and motivations), engage with concepts such as ‘flow’ and ‘purpose’, and therefore enter a post school world with confidence by knowing where they can contribute. This allows them to do more than just work; in fact, it enables them to lead a lifestyle of fulfilment and contentment because they…

  • Deeply know who they are;
  • Are confident in what they can do; and,
  • And are enthusiastic to solve problems and respond to challenges.

By ensuring the teaching and reliable assessment of our 6 Pillars of Learning remain at the forefront of what we do, and by maintaining a commitment to work with students through their Careers Expo in Stage 3 and Life Design in Years 7-10, St Luke’s will continue to nurture faith filled curious students to become creative contributors and innovative problems solvers for a changing world.

Comments, questions and feedback are all very welcome.


One thought on “Exams and contemporary learning – it’s all upside down!

  1. Thanks Greg. Interestingly the State government paused NAPLAN in 2020 and the world didn’t end and learning continued. The Covid19 lockdown would have afforded the State government with the opportunity for an HSC alternative yet they didn’t take the option. Sadly they refused to listen to the overwhelming majority of principals calling for a cancellation. 2021 has however provided the greatest number of early Uni offers ever – no HSC, no ATAR required. If the HSC’s main purpose is to gain tertiary education entry, it’s again been proved obsolete. If our universities can operate with it, why do we waste time and effort and subject our youth to undue stress and anxiety? If our State government can’t be the prime mover to abolish HSC, it’ll be our tertiary institutions who will lead the way and force a reimagining of what more real assessment looks like for our students. The St Luke’s Pillars and the Uni of Melbourne’s New Metrics program are creating not just alternative outcomes for learning but new focuses for the purpose of education. Thanks for sharing you thoughts Greg.

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