Removing the Pressure That Exams Create for Children

Updated: May 20, 2021

I never cease to be stunned and unnerved by the amount of academic, exam-driven pressure being put on childrens’ shoulders today. No wonder statistics on childhood anxiety, self-harm and depression are on the rise. I understand HOW it has come about - league tables, teachers under pressure to ‘produce the grades’, childrens’ education becoming more and more wrapped around ‘exam scores’, like performing monkeys. The bit I don’t understand is WHY?

We know that children develop at different rates and that early ‘performance’ scores are not necessarily the best predictors of future performance, whether academic, sporting, entrepreneurial etc. Moreover, we know that it is possible to overcome many of these difficulties, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADD, difficulty concentrating, slow reading and writing, some autistic symptoms, provided the right 'key' or stimulation is provided to the brain.

My own four children are currently going through the wringer of exams, interviews, assessments and really believe that if they don’t do well, their futures will be bleak. We cannot let their self-esteem and confidence be eroded in this way. My teenage daughter was actually able to take this thinking all the way from “if I don’t do well in this exam”... to “I’ll end up homeless and starving!!”

But this is simply NOT TRUE! Success is not linear. Sometimes the perceived setback and, more importantly, how well you cope with it, can be the more defining part of education, which equips you to do well in life (however you choose to define that).

As an example, at a recent school reunion (I won’t tell you how many years!) it was the somewhat skinny, not particularly academic kid who has ended up far and away on top, selling his company for a fortune and now running his second Fortune 500 company. His business moves show a tenacity, creativity and self confidence, rather than the mind of an academic genius.

Interestingly, the education system is really good at teaching convergent, analytical thinking. However, it seems to me that this is precisely the sort of thinking which computers can be programmed to do. Surely we should be encouraging the lateral, divergent, creative and empathetic parts of our children’s brains - the parts which would be extremely difficult for computers to replicate, as a more sensible way to ensure a brighter future?

I think we need to go out of our way to explain this to children, so that they don’t buy into the linear, pressurised approach at school, which is becoming all too common. Of course we want to encourage them to do well, but we must not allow them to believe that there is only ever one route to this.

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