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Are exams the best way to test our teens?

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Are exams the best way to test our teens?

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Do final exam results really matter? Is a disappointing mark truly the end of the world? Obviously it is not, so what is the point? For many families the exams season brings huge stress and worry. So could we do without them altogether or are they an important evaluation of students’ progress? In which case, how can people cope with the stress? This edition of Learning World examines exams.

Chinese torture

Every year millions of Chinese students sit marathon nine-hour university entrance exams, some of the toughest in the world. In an effort to revise and prepare for the exams some students will go to any lengths, including private tutors and dietary supplements. The Gaokao, China’s university entrance exams, are dreaded for their ferocity, but they open a magic door to opportunity, and have become a national obsession.

Last year, a set of photographs of students from Hubei collectively receiving intravenous drips to replace energy while studying for the Gaokao attracted attention all over the world. Despite its many flaws and difficulties, the Gaokao gives all bright teenagers the opportunity to become engineers or surgeons. No matter if they are poor or rich, if they come from the city or the countryside, if the students pass this exam they can become what they want.

English patience

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, 15 and 16 year olds take GCSEs – General Certificates of Secondary Education in anything up to 10-11 subjects. Obviously the more subjects you take, the more you have to work, and it is often said that the stress can be debilitating – or do some students overstate the case?

All 16-year-old students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland go to school to take exams for their GCSE. Even if two years later these students will have to take other exams to get their A levels, GCSE results can affect their future. But, surprisingly, success at university, it seems, depends more on your results at 16 than 18.

Exams, what are they good for?

Ready or not, stressed or not, final exams remain a fact of life. But are disappointing results really the death knell for career success? And are exams the best way of testing achievement anyway? Could we not just abolish them and chill out? OECD education analyst Eric Charbonnier, ( notes that many countries copied the French “baccalaureate” model, created by Napoleon in 1808, by introducing final exams at the end of the secondary cycle. But some include continuous assessment and many different systems exist side by side, so is it still relevant to keep the baccalaureate as an international reference? The OECD experts think so.

There are 34 OECD member states : Germany, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Korea, Denmark, Spain, Estonia, United States, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, Noway, New-Zealand, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey.

According to OECD reports on education, the cost to individuals and society of young people leaving school without a qualification keeps rising. The OECD calls for “all means” to be taken to “avoid the risk of a lost generation”.

Across the 21 EU countries covered by the OECD report, an average of 75 per cent of the population aged 25-64 has at least an upper secondary education, compared to an OECD-wide average of 73 per cent.

The best-performing EU countries were Finland, Ireland, Portugal, Slovenia and the UK, where secondary-school graduation rates all equal or exceed 90 per cent.

Young women are more likely to complete upper secondary education than young men in all EU members of the OECD except Germany.
Based on current graduation trends, 82 per cent of young people in the OECD today will complete upper secondary education, but those who fail to do so will face ever-greater challenges in entering and remaining in the job market.

For instance, unemployment rose much more dramatically during the crisis among those without upper secondary qualifications than it did among degree holders.

OECD researchers conclude that government budgets benefit from investment in education in the long term because the better-educated are less likely to need unemployment benefits or welfare assistance, and pay more taxes when employed.

And what about you, or your children? How did final exams go? Did you panic or was it a walk in the park? Join us on our social media pages – don’t forget, our Twitter hashtag is learnworld.

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