Will theory-only exams add value to already weak education system?


RECENTLY, the Ministry of General Education and the Examinations Council of Zambia (ECZ) agreed to remove practical examinations from the curriculum and announced the introduction of Chinese language in our secondary schools.
I would like to share my personal views as a practical academic person on the above-stated two important national issues. Abolishing examinations in practical papers in the current state of our schools is an unforgivable mistake. I say so for various reasons; our schools do not have effective tools for monitoring continuous assessment.
The aim of assessment should be ‘to educate and improve student performance, not merely to audit it’ (Wiggins, 1998, p.7).
When everyone is prioritising practical skills in education, that’s when we are busy putting emphasis on theory education. Why are we so bad at knowing what is good for our country?
Assessments do not function in isolation; an assessment’s effectiveness in improving learning depends on its relationship to curriculum and instruction. Ideally, instruction is faithful and effective in relation to curriculum, and assessment reflects curriculum in such a way that it reinforces the best practices in instruction.
Theory teaches you through the experience of others, while practical knowledge assists us to attain the exact techniques that become the tools of our jobs. Practical knowledge and application skills are essential to survive in today’s competitive world. It is important to understand how things actually work.
It’s an open secret that our teaching in secondary schools is more of theory than practical. This is due to various reasons, like lack of specialised rooms, lack of resources, no practical equipment, poor funding, congested curriculum, poor record keeping, no skill impartation from teachers, and no proper school monitoring systems.
Examination was the major monitoring system. It compelled school managers to buy materials and equipment, and made sure work was produced by the learners themselves. Now, without practical exams all these will be a thing of the past. Most work meant for assessment will just be bought outside schools by learners, or will be produced by other people (proper leakage).
Practical learning makes a person to experience things, not just to get a hands-on understanding of the subject, but also learns in a faster and easier manner.
A pupil’s personal mode of learning is in fact through experiencing what is happening and recognising things through practical approach. This makes the learner enhance his/her speculative knowledge and he/ she is able to judge in accordance with the facts.
The learner’s practical knowledge paves the way of knowing about things. For example, the teacher may say if one is building a bridge out of concrete and steel, one should use such and such a formula to measure the load. She can produce a technical drawing and she can show a student how to calculate the depth of the foundation. But what would really come in handy is to actually let the student work on a model of a bridge, to let them build one from scratch, so that they are able to put the theory into practice.
So, be it building bridges or making a documentary film, a student should be given the opportunity to explore and gain knowledge acquired through practice.
Practical knowledge is that which is acquired through day-to-day hands-on experiences. In other words, practical knowledge is gained through doing things; it is very much based on real-life endeavours and tasks. On the other hand, theoretical knowledge teaches the reasoning, techniques and theory of knowledge. Practical knowledge is better than theoretical knowledge.
It’s strange that when the whole world is moving its education towards skills enhancement, Zambia is busy theorising learning.
One of the major reasons why we are so backwards academically is that we allowed the University of Zambia to train its students for employment instead of training them to go and create jobs.
I feel pity for the young learners who will be fed on memorising theories after theories which usually end up being on examination question papers, with nothing to take back to the society.
ECZ and the Ministry of Education were supposed to pilot this experiment and carry out a comprehensive research before making political announcements which will take our education 48 years backwards.
I make an earnest appeal to all well-meaning academicians, especially practical educationists, to give advice and truthful opinion on this serious academic plunder of this millennium.
The author has over 30 years of being a practical teacher.

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