Our pursuit of excellence began almost 2.6 million years ago, when we found a way to turn a piece of rock into a tool of trade. The desire to improve our craft in pursuit of a better life has never stopped since. Today, technologists work on perfecting cutting-edge technology for a better world. School teachers work on improving education to support the next generation of leaders. Students strive to do their best in their exams to move forward in life. This collective reach for perfection has always moved us forward as a society.
In recent times, psychologists are highlighting what they call ‘unhealthy perfectionism’.
Unhealthy perfectionism is an extreme fear of failure and a sense that mistakes are unacceptable. This mentality is often observed in students - both the top students and those who struggle to keep up.
One thing that contributes to this is an assessment method that many education systems still rely on. Exams.
The main assessment methods are summative or formative. Summative assessments lean towards traditional exams. Formative assessments focus on discovering students’ learning styles. With the latter, teachers can adjust their teaching approach and provide what students need. Yet, exams continue to be the main focus of many schools. This benchmarks students and teachers against a one-dimensional standard of evaluation. It's a cause of stress for everyone involved: teachers, parents, and especially students.
In Session R of The HEART Course, the founder of Thrive Well and child psychologist, Elisha Othman talks about how students feel pressured to get a perfect score in exams. This can have a negative impact on students’ mental wellbeing. It puts pressure on students without considering their socioeconomic background and different learning styles.
The prioritisation of exams also affects teaching quality. Teachers spend less time getting to know what motivates each student. They miss out on the opportunity to identify and nurture their unique strengths.
Focus on exams doesn’t seem to be the answer. So let’s explore alternative assessments and how it benefits students and teachers.
Assessments that acknowledge progress instead of perfection can help build students’ self-esteem. This approach allows students to see how far they’ve come and identify what they did to get to where they are. Instead of making them feel less than best, it encourages them to keep being consistent in their efforts.
Traditional exams may have their place, but teachers can apply different assessment strategies throughout the year. This provides a more inclusive platform for students, whose strengths and communication methods may not fit within the traditional test format.
Fear of failure is real. No one looks forward to a test. So how can we change that perception? Teachers can mix up styles and be creative about assessments. This helps students view assessments as a fun challenge to look forward to each time. It reduces stress and promotes healthy mental well-being for students so they have more positive feelings towards tracking their learning.
Instead of benchmarking a student’s worth to a number on a report card, formative assessments provide in-depth feedback of a student’s situation. This helps the teacher identify different areas which the student may need help in. With this knowledge, the teacher can then guide that student in a way that is suitable to their needs, making the teacher more effective at their job.
Applying alternative assessments also serves as a constant reminder that there is always more than one way to tackle a learning challenge or to understand a child. Teachers who practise this are able to develop an insightful approach to their teaching, which could potentially attune them better to their students’ needs.
Creative assessments can create memorable moments for teachers and students. Teachers get to share different hands-on and creative interactions with their students. This helps to build trust and better teacher-student relationships in the process. After all, a truly enjoyable education experience is one that is enjoyed together.
Traditional assessments have been around for a long time. To see change in existing systems, we need to make incremental adjustments to our daily decisions. As society continues to find ways to hone their craft and improve life, we in education can do the same. It starts with having conversations that spur us all towards a better tomorrow for education.
To support educators in starting meaningful discussions with each other, we launched The HEART Course - a free online course which creates a space where educators are excited to connect over ideas in education and start conversations that bring change to their classroom, school, and community.
In five sessions you can WATCH discussions and best practices from global thought-leaders following five themes in education. There also conversation prompts to help your group of educators DISCUSS ideas after each video, and toolkits to APPLY what you have learned. Each session also has a growing curation of resources from over 30 education partners in Malaysia and beyond. Educators like yourself can CONNECT with these partners to bring students’ learning beyond the classroom!
Get started with The HEART Course here.