Oi, government! Increasing the number of exams isn’t making Australian students smarter.

It has been almost 10 years since I sat my Higher School Certificate (HSC) exams in Sydney. I can remember all the pressure that started in Grade 11 – I was constantly reminded by my teachers, family and society that Grade 12 was all about the HSC exams and that my grades were going to determine what I could do with my future.

I can still remember the countless hours I spent preparing for those October exams. For some reason, the stress only really kicked in the night before results were released. I was 100% convinced that I had failed. I locked myself in my room and had a meltdown, looking up alternate colleges and bridging courses to salvage my future.

Of course, anyone who knew me knew that was a ridiculous response because I was going to be fine. It wasn’t until years had passed that I realised I would have been fine even if I didn’t do well. But no one really told me that.

Since my generation only really sat the HSC exam, it was sort of reasonable that we spent a year gearing up for exams that would help us get into university and follow other career paths. The stress was manageable.

This year, for some inexplicable reason, NSW thinks it’s a great idea to get kids in year 9 to sit a ‘pre-qualifier’ exam to then be eligible to sit the year 12 HSC exams in 2020 – that’s right, three years away.

2017 was the first year that this abomination of an idea was unleashed on a generation that is more anxious and suicidal than any before it, and SIXTY PER CENT of them didn’t get the required results. Without the right results, these students can sit the year 12 exams in 2020 but they won’t obtain that all important certificate. The NSW Education Department says that it’s okay if kids don’t get the required results – they can just resit the exam every year until they get there. Apparently, some genius in government thought that it’s a great idea to subject kids to almost four years of pressure to finish high school with a certificate…

If you’re thinking ‘what the freakin’ freak???’ or ‘why the hell are 60% of kids not reaching the required standard??’ just wait – it gets better.

The OECD’s latest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results showed that Australian students are about two years behind their peers in science, reading and math problem-solving skills. The results seem to get worse with each testing cycle. Our students were outperformed by Singapore, Slovenia, Vietnam, the Netherlands, Estonia, New Zealand, Japan, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Ireland and Canada.

Dr Sue Thompson from the Australian Council for Education Research said

“Basically what’s happening there is everything’s sliding backwards if you like — our strong kids aren’t as strong as they were and our weak kids are actually weaker than they were.”

Is this because we’re not testing kids enough? No.

I don’t need studies to tell me what’s going on here – Australian teachers are being stretched with bigger classroom sizes and fewer resources. They’re being asked to take on more and more complicated children and teenagers who have the world at their fingertips yet feel more isolated; children and teenagers whose education isn’t supported by the efforts of parents (trust me, I was a tutor!) all while trying to prepare students for more and more demanding, nonsense exams so that they appear competent. Australian teachers are being paid a bullshit, low salary to prepare our children for the future and deal with these mounting pressure. This means that less people are taking up the profession and more are leaving – and I don’t blame them.

This is a numbers game where everyone loses.

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Students don’t need more exams because students shouldn’t be spending their time rote learning to pass a stupid exam. What students need is a well-thought education system. One that provides all schools with the resources that they need. I can still remember sharing textbooks or having my name in a ballot to get a textbook because our school wasn’t going to be able to afford to get books for us all. I remember our classrooms being kinda shit and in need of an upgrade, but there was no funding for it. I know for a fact that almost every teacher I had in high school paid for supplies and resources out of their own pockets to make sure us poor Westie kids had a half-decent chance at getting through school (and it’s obviously not a unique experience with 1/10 teachers spending $2,000 a year on supplies). Students need teachers who want to keep teaching and don’t need to worry about spending a bucketload of time writing bullshit report cards that reduce students to numbers

And all of this makes a difference. The reason our students are doing so poorly isn’t because we don’t test them enough – it’s because our classrooms aren’t providing them with environments that are conducive to learning. Students are being disrupted by other students who just aren’t being engaged with our out-dated, boring as shit curriculum – one that is increasingly about getting to the next exam instead of, y’know, learning stuff.

I’m sick to death of out of touch politicians thinking they’re saving our youth by subjecting them to more exams. Go and speak to the teachers, students and parents, and give them what they bloody need.

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