In ancient times, particularly in Imperial China, memorization was the single most important skill when it comes to school or civil service examinations.
Sadly, more than a thousand years on, things have remained largely unchanged, with today’s schools still placing overriding importance on memorizing the material in textbooks when it comes to exams.
Thanks to this millennium-old approach, school kids today are still struggling desperately to memorize all the “knowledge” printed in their textbooks instead of actually learning and understanding it.
And as a result, just like students in ancient times, they have lost both themselves and their creativity.
Back in the old days, having a good memory did make one’s job easier in the workplace – to a considerable extent.
However, in today’s digital world, all you need is a computer, or even just a smartphone, and you can have whatever information and data you need at your fingertips.
Simply put, no matter how awesome the memory power of the human brain might be, it is still very much behind the computer.
Perhaps it is time for us to rethink a fundamental question: should our school exams still continue to emphasize rote learning when human memory power is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the age of the internet?
In my opinion, what we must do immediately is to drastically reform the way our school exams are carried out.
First, schools should start adopting open book exams. The goal of modern education should be to enhance students’ ability to understand, analyze and infer rather than just memorizing things.
By letting students refer to textbooks during exams, they are relieved of the burden of memorization and regurgitation, and are allowed more time to ponder the questions in the exam paper.
Second, I suggest that students should be allowed to choose between written and oral exams.
Traditionally speaking, school exams have been predominantly carried out in written form, and students would often find it very stressful to have to sit their exams in a venue under a quiet, tense and solemn atmosphere.
On the other hand, oral exams, which put more emphasis on students’ ability to think, organize and express, allow for more interaction between examiners and students as well as allowing teachers to assess more accurately students’ comprehension of the exam questions.
In a nutshell, the way in which schools are currently conducting exams has already proven outdated, so what’s the point of sticking to it?
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 14
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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