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Should Sri Lanka Eliminate Exams?

2018 Jun 13

The National Child Protection Authority (NCPA) has come forward with a proposal that will have many of our Lankan students filled with exceeding hope – to eliminate all exams until children reach 17 years of age.

The NCPA claims exams are responsible for the increasing level of chronic anxiety amidst our youth. This stress has also been recorded to affect brain development and consequentially, adult life. You probably called this at some point during your studies. Frankly, Sri Lanka is heavily exam-oriented. Pressure from parents and teachers tend to reach all-time highs close to exams-often affecting performance. It would also seem the education system is often concerned with getting the highest scores to contribute to its reputation, and tends to neglect the actual learning process. You’ll find that this is backed by various research.

To include just a few, a study involving 800 students found 69% to be overburdened by their exams and 67% of which had to seek out extra tuition. In a more recent study on a local school, 28% of the student population suffered from severe anxiety and 19% also tested positive for depression. This brought about increased signs of aggression as well as lowered self-esteem. The reason was found to be due to examination pressures. These are intolerable numbers. Our education system definitely needs work. But is removing examinations the right step?

The NCPA encourages people to debate on the matter and come to their own conclusions.

This isn’t a foreign concept. Many other countries have tried abolishing exams – the biggest success story being Finland. Its transformation began 40 years ago and has since become one of the best educational outcomes in the world! Its success rate is well reputed. How is this possible? By removing exams and incorporating a teaching approach that considered not only academic interests but personal passions and other non-academic concerns, Finland managed to create a well-rounded education system that children actually enjoyed! Whereas, in exam-dependent countries, you would usually find students hating school and their studies, despite having the potential to excel. In this case, records also show an increased inclination to drop out (26% of Australians tend to drop out of schools for this very purpose).

A generation barely passed and Finland got their results – statistics already showed a 7 percent drop in reliance on parental income. Scrapping standardized tests had resulted in students being able to focus more on practical measures to apply in their lives. This is a thought often voiced by many people- why should their ability to succeed result in a test completely unrelated or containing a completely singular aspect of what they wanted to do?

Regardless of this Finnish success story, many other regions in countries such as Australia, Kenya and Singapore have since tried and failed to implement such a change.

Which brings us to the opposing view of this debate.

While some see exams as an unnecessary source of stress, others see it as the perfect training for our future endeavors. Dealing with exam stress tends to act as the perfect way to prepare skills to cope with pressure, which people argue students will undoubtedly face as they become adults. There is also the fact that in exam-oriented countries you’ll often need good exam results to get anywhere (unless you have some quality work experience).

Dealing with exams is also said to be a memory strengthening process as we are constantly searching for and retrieving information. Finally, examinations often give some students a chance to demonstrate their skills while pinpointing the weak points of others.

Is Sri Lanka is too dependent on exams? Considering parental and school pressures and the various statistics of health impacts, yes. It would seem we are a tad bit too focused on paper based results rather than practicalities. Perhaps we could scrap standardized tests and find middle ground. But do you think all exams should be eliminated until children turn 17? Well, that’s clearly up for debate.


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