Of Learning and Assessment

6 Dec

Our learning is not restricted to schools, and even within the schooling system, a significant proportion of our learning is via informal processes and peer learning networks. Schools, at whatever level they operate, are essentially an attempt to give structure and speed to our learning processes. In exchange, we demand from schools proof that such structured leaps have been achieved and the tool most commonly used for this is an examination system.

Defining a structured learning process is not the only job of schools. Its key role now is to manage the process of proof – the assessments. Measurement often decides what we decide to progress, the tools and metrics of this measurement, giving us our bearings and milestones. What we measure is what we do. The purpose of learning within the system then becomes the achievement of these metrics – and teaching is geared to the test. This is commonly seen as detrimental to the process of holistic learning as it skews efforts towards what can be immediately measured.

There is a lot more that a teacher needs to encourage and foster that will stand the students in good stead for years to come – teamwork, the ability to learn from mistakes, and the simple ability to give and take within reason – among others. None of these, and many similar skills, can ever really be measured satisfactorily. Others, such as good manners, ethical behaviour and self control can be observed, if not measured satisfactorily. These too form a part of the structured learning process at schools, but never really form part of the structured assessment process.

Teaching to an examination is certainly a limiting way of encouraging structured learning. And yet, it is seen as the way forward to successful completion of the school year. What this really tells us is that we need to reflect on what we assess, and why. And the value that we assign to that assessment.

Let us acknowledge that everything that is valuable can never be assessed. And everything that is assessed is not necessarily valuable. Much of the learning that we truly value will come from diverse teachers – that journey to the sea, that day when we taught our friend to ride a cycle, the day uncle’s pocket got picked, the day we made our first cup of tea and of course the everyday play where we share so many of our lessons. Many of the lessons that did stand us in good stead did come from the classroom too, but there were many outside it too.

Informal learning processes are now being captured in the new tools of learning, such as game based learning and peer learning networks, among others. The learning in these is often assessed, for example, points scored in a game measure if key learning objectives have been met. Other learning networks offer loose measurement tools that are useful only as feedback to the learner and have no role as proof of learning or skills.

Assessments have a key role to play in the learning process, not least of all as a feedback to those participating. Without tests, how would we know? The question now is: with tests – what do we know?


This is the blog post I wrote on the Times of India blog published on October 5, 2011



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: