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11-Plus not be-all


11-Plus not be-all

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AT THE HIGH RISK of being cliché, I delve once more into this vexed national issue known as the 11-Plus Exam.

Yes, let me say it for you: every year around this time we get the same old talk. That is true. It should also be true that those to whom we look for leadership in educational matters have resolved that change is something to which they are irrevocably opposed.

I am by no means one of those afflicted with 11-Plus phobia; I would just like to see some kind of rational thought brought to the thing.  

My comments this time around are motivated by the submission of Ms Marsha Layne on the VOB call-in programme Brass Tacks on Wednesday last. If you missed it, Marsha was saying that with the examination coming so early in the term, those children taking it would lose valuable teaching time, since apparently they don’t do anything else after the test (my summary). 

If this is true, then we really need leadership badly in the education system. To tell me that once the 11-Plus is over there is nothing left for children to do is to tell me we have a visionless notion about education.

First of all, this exam is woefully overrated. It does nothing but give parents a chance to select the school their child will go on to. Whatever school that is, he/she will get the same quality of education. I will admit that the school environment is the key factor.

So this test cannot be the be-all and end-all of primary school education. What about a reading project? Our children don’t read nearly enough. You get them to go to the library, borrow books and read them. Then they will have to write a summary of the story and say why they think it is a good or bad story.

What about elocution programmes? Speaking is a particularly weak aspect of our children’s – and indeed our people’s – personality. This can be helped with verse speaking and drama lessons.

What about music? Studies have shown that music helps to develop the intellectual capacity of children.

The possibilities are endless – garden projects, art and craft, and field tours to places of interest.

How can we justify a primary school education programme that is focused almost exclusively on a test to give parents a choice of which secondary school their child will attend? For it is clear that this is the only purpose.

Those students who score below acceptable levels go on to schools with the same syllabuses and teaching as those who score highly.

There is no provision for remedial tuition for the ones who are slow, so they end up in a secondary school where they are expected to write the same examinations as those more advanced. We have records of how that plays out: over 60 per cent leave school without adequate certification.

This issue – like many others in education – cries out badly for leadership, something which obviously is beyond the people who now administer education in this country. And it is not helped by misguided reporters and presenters who feed the national neurosis by their misguided treatment of the examination.

By what stretch can the mass media be justified in describing this exam as “the most important day in the lives of children”?

Why is it important? Because if they don’t pass they will not be able to have a secondary education? 

And what is it with all the pictures of children praying before the test, and parents waiting anxiously outside the exam centres? What is happening here? Are these children about to be executed? 

And when interviewers tell children not to be nervous, isn’t that just the cue that there is something to be nervous about?  

One day, perhaps, we will all come to terms with it.