You & Your Family

Another look at tests and appraisals

Dec 2012    

THESE DAYS, it is as if Darwinism has returned with a vengeance – though it is no longer “survival of the fittest” but now “survival of the smartest”. is thought drove home to me when I wondered why the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) has become such a big national event.

Am I exaggerating its importance by elevating it to a national level? How would you rate an event when it affects about 50,000 households every year?

Many parents of children who are taking the PSLE use part of their precious annual leave to coach, monitor or offer moral support to their children as they prepare for this period of academic trial. Many of these same parents heave a collective sigh of relief when these examinations are over, and there is a mini-exodus of parents who take their children on holiday as a reward for having endured the ordeal. When this happens, I sometimes wonder whose efforts were being rewarded.

All this does not even take into account the years of preparation teachers put in to get their students ready for this test. Nor is there a way of accounting for all the stress that teachers, heads of the graduating level and principals have to endure to ensure that the school rankings do not fall.

I am not an academician and cannot discuss adequately the merits or demerits of sitting for a major examination like the PSLE. Instead I want to use this as an opportunity to reflect on the danger of using one set of tests to assess a child’s potential and worth.

Before some parents voice their protest and deny that they are doing so, let me ask two questions. Firstly, without seeing the results of the PSLE, do they have a sense of their child’s strengths, potential and worth? Some parents may surmise that even with the benefit of the PSLE results they are unclear of these.

For most parents these results only help us know how our child fared compared to children in the same cohort. ey may be aware that their child’s scores in English or Mathematics fall within the top twentieth percentile of his year. But this is certainly not a complete picture of all of the child’s strengths.

We all know of examples of people who do well in school but fail miserably when it comes to daily living. Secondly, do these parents think that academic results are a good predictor of the child’s potential? Certainly in a society like Singapore, we seem to think that good academic results will determine a good future for our children. But every now and then, we encounter examples that say otherwise.

These results and their accompanying predictions also do not take into consideration those who develop later in life. My Secondary Four Form Teacher declared unambiguously that with my results, I could “go nowhere”. To give her the benefit of the doubt, perhaps she was referring to the fact that with my grades, I could not proceed to any junior college or pre-university school. She saw and pronounced the end of my formal education. Thankfully, things turned out differently.

How then are we to take such tests? Do we turn our backs on them? Start a counter-movement to end all examinations and appraisal?

I think Hebrews 12:1-2 can give us some guidance. It starts by drawing our attention to the fact that our actions are constantly being scrutinised by a “cloud of witnesses”. is being so, we are asked to “run with perseverance”. I understand this to mean that no matter the test or task that is set before us, the Christian is to do it diligently and to the best of his God-given ability.

The verses do not stop there but go on to say that we must always be “looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith”. is reminds me to take a fresh perspective with regard to whatever test lies before me. If I am walking in His Will, I can see these tests as coming from God and are ultimately there to perfect me. It does not mean that we will do well in every test, but even in failure, God works to perfect us.

If we submit ourselves to Him, the results are a foregone conclusion: God’s Will being done, knowing that His Will is ultimately good for us. With this new lens, we need not be over-awed by tests or appraisals but can take comfort that our lives are determined by His Will and not by a grade, or by an assessor.

Benny Bong is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church, is a family and marital therapist.

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THE COUNCIL ON COMMUNICATIONS (COC) wishes to thank all who have supported its ministry of disseminating information widely; enhancing the Methodist family spirit and its connectionalism; and educating the constituency on matters of faith and ministry.

Under the leadership of Mr Peter Teo (Editor) and the late Mr Earnest Lau (Associate Editor), Methodist Message (MM) has been a blessing to our readers with its news reports and articles for faith development. MM has set a high standard of prompt delivery each month and has also made an impact internationally. We especially thank Peter for his commitment and professionalism for the past 15 years and wish him well as he retires at the end of 2012.

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Finally, we thank Bishop Dr Robert Solomon for his support and encouragement for the communications team, and we pray that God will continue to bless this important ministry as we commence a new quadrennium.

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