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#3: The Impact of Traditional Teaching & Standardised Tests on Children's Mental Health

Updated: Mar 8

"Limiting learning to chalk and talk is like colouring with only one crayon. It restricts imagination, stifles curiosity, and dims the hidden talent within each child."


Education plays a vital role in shaping our children’s lives, yet our teaching methods have hardly evolved over the years. Most of our schools have traditional teaching methods. These methodologies have potentially adverse effects on children 's mental health. Let’s delve into them below.


Traditional Teaching & Standardised Tests


Chalk & Talk Approach



teacher teaching in a traditional classroom setting

  • Most schools follow a teacher-centred teaching approach. The teacher plays a central role in educating and teaching the concepts, and children are passive learners. It has less student engagement, and more focus is on memorisation and rote learning.


  • There is no focus on application to real-life situations, so students just memorise for the sake of an exam. Think about your own childhood. Do you remember the chemical formulas you learnt by heart in the school, or do you remember the poem or your teacher who passionately taught you something?


  • In traditional schooling, children have less scope to demonstrate their critical and creative thinking. It tends to suppress the unique talent in the child and leads to frustration. It impacts their mental health.


The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery.” [1] Yet, most schools do not endorse this approach. While few schools and boards have indeed begun experimenting with alternative methods like project-based learning, we still have a long way to go.


Standardised Tests



students in an exam hall taking standardised test.

  • Everyone is evaluated on a uniform scale in a standardised test. Most of the time, it is the only criterion to judge a child and their capabilities. In standardised tests, the main focus is on test scores.


  • Even teaching slowly moves from understanding the concepts to how well you can score if you answer in a particular manner. The whole purpose of learning is lost.


  • As children move to higher grades, the pressure to perform well in these tests increases. There is a highly competitive environment as students are pitted against each other. It leads to comparisons and self-doubt in children.


  • Children who struggle to perform well foster fear of failure and develop low self-esteem, in turn impacting their mental health.


While a few schools have begun to experiment with alternative approaches, there is often resistance from parents who fear that their children may miss out on standardised tests. This fear of change leads to stagnation in teaching, and schools are pressured to get back to traditional ways. Standardised tests are good for accessing certain skills, but they should not be the only way to define educational success.


Competitive Exams



a student solving a competitive exam paper.

In addition to the pressure of school exams, children today face the additional burden of various competitive exams. Multiple organisations host these exams, which have risen in the last decade.


  • These exams add pressure on children to excel. There is a constant race to outperform peers and receive recognition.


  • Competitive exams help gauge specific knowledge in a subject but do not give a broad perspective. The narrow focus can limit a child's overall development.


  • The pressure to excel in multiple exams, juggling schoolwork and extra-curricular activities takes a toll on a child’s mental health. When results are not as expected, it impacts a child's self-esteem.


  • Children lose the joy of learning due to the overwhelming demands of these exams. There is no curiosity about knowing the subject matter or exploring with interest, as the focus is more on test preparation and excelling in the exam. Children start losing enthusiasm to learn, thus hindering their overall emotional and intellectual growth.


These exams help recognise and reward talented children, but the excessive burden might burn out young minds. Therefore, it is crucial to strike a balance between academic achievements and the overall well-being of children.


Alternative Methods


Student-Lead Learning



a student lead learning where students are working with teacher

Education should move to a student-centred learning approach. It helps seek active participation and leads children to collaborate with their peers. As children take ownership of their learning journey, it makes them independent and builds their self-confidence. It gives them an open platform to nurture their creativity and explore hidden talents.


  • Project-Based Learning: As children are involved in hands-on learning, they get to understand real-world situations. It helps children understand the relevance of what they are studying and how it relates to their daily lives. It helps develop a deep understanding of the subject matter. Project-based learning is usually interdisciplinary and builds the 4 Cs of 21st-century skills, i.e., communication, collaboration, and critical and creative thinking skills.


  • Inquiry-based learning: It encourages students to explore, ask questions and research. As children learn to build their research skills, it builds their critical thinking skills and pushes them to become independent thinkers. It fosters a love for learning as it nurtures curiosity and exploration. It helps children become life-long learners.


Comprehensive Assessment


students study group

Schools can adopt a wide assessment framework wherein children are tested on all aspects of their growth throughout the year rather than only through selective tests. It will help schools recognise and accept diverse talents in children.


  • Assessments should mirror real-life scenarios. Students should be tested on how well they can apply the knowledge. A test can be in the form of a presentation, a group task or any other innovative method. It need not always be restricted to paper & pen. When children are tested in different and innovative ways, it allows them to explore their creative side. It also helps them work on their life skills.


  • The emphasis should be on a child's progress over time, as learning is a continuous process. It is essential to integrate the evaluation of 21st-century life skills as they are necessary to thrive today.


  • Children have a wide range of talents, and we should encourage them to explore them to their full potential. Some might be good in sports, and some in art. Both should be celebrated equally along with those excelling in academics.


  • Children should be provided personal feedback that will help them grow, not just test scores. When children know their strengths and areas of improvement, they can channel their efforts in the right direction. Receiving feedback and working on it fosters a growth mindset as children learn to take ownership of their learning journey.


Summary


Traditional teaching & standardised tests put undue pressure on children and can impact their mental health. Children get anxious before tests, leading to increased stress levels. We should all look into alternative approaches to teaching and learning. By fostering a love for learning, curiosity, and deeper understanding, alternative teaching methods can enhance students' ability to excel in tests and beyond. The focus should be the holistic development of our children rather than just scoring in an exam. It will help us build better relationships and nurture creative & critical thinking. Let’s create a safe and secure educational environment that supports the mental health of our children. Let’s empower our kids to become lifelong learners.


References:
  1. Mark Van Doren (a literary critic and English Professor quoted in Stewart's Calculus) Steed, Anthony. “Teaching Economics as a Non-Specialist: 10 Tips for Survival.” Teaching Business & Economics, vol. 18, no. 1, Economics, Business and Enterprise Association, Apr. 2014, p. 6.


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