Mark Horneff, Managing Director, Kuato Studios

#RethinkingAssessment: The tide is turning 

Covid-19 has completely transformed the educational environment for students of all ages. However, while homeschooling has largely dominated the agenda, there has been another interesting trend slowly coming under the spotlight.

At the beginning of this year, Harvard University announced that it will “allow students to apply for admission without requiring ACT or SAT test results”.

The university went on to say that they encourage students to ‘send whatever materials they believe would convey their accomplishments in secondary school and their promise for the future.”

This unprecedented move to reduce the burden on students and simplify the application process is encouraging and undoubtedly a step in the right direction to reduce the pervasive social inequality present within the education system.

Harvard’s announcement was followed just a couple of months later by Children’s Laureate, Cressida Cowell, who wrote an open letter to the UK government criticising the curriculum’s focus on testing grammar, spelling and punctuation when it should be fostering a love of reading and writing.

Cowell went on to highlight that exams can be demoralising for children, making them feel like a failure and causing many to go on to develop behavioural problems to compensate for this.

The implications of failure - developing a growth mindset

Test-based progress metrics favour the privileged and those who have the resources to address learning difficulties or challenging subjects with additional tutoring, time and technologies. This unfairly impacts huge swathes of the population who do not have access to this additional support and it is something that has been further exacerbated by the pandemic.

A recent survey revealed that 60% of private school teachers had the infrastructure to maintain the same content and pace of learning when moving to homeschooling, compared with only 14% of those from state schools.

There are plenty of studies that demonstrate the attitudinal problems that develop among adolescents and adults when they have not experienced a nurturing or supportive educational environment.

With nearly 75% of the prison population having a learning difficulty, or having experienced school expulsions, it is clear that something has to change – and fast.

For me, this change needs to start with primary school children and begins by redefining the concept of failure – or rather promoting the concept of ‘failing successfully’. This simple mindset shift opens up a world of opportunities for children and students and enables them to use so-called ‘obstacles’ or ‘failures’ as rich and fulfilling learning moments throughout their education.

Meeting them where they are

Technology also has an important role to play across the board when it comes to children’s development – from primary age through to further education – as it gives its users an active role in their learning. In other words, EdTech resources give children and students more autonomy and encourage continuous learning rather than being limited by test-based outcomes.

Numerous studies in child psychology have shown that when the playful and fun elements of learning are removed from education, children find it harder to process information effectively and struggle to commit key learnings to memory.

This speaks to our own experience, which has shown that the key to engaging children is to mirror the environments they are already familiar with in their personal lives. This is particularly important from a digital perspective as today over half of 10-year olds own a smartphone.

By replicating the experiences children are familiar with – whether that’s through apps, gaming or technologies that enable real-time communication – we can start to remove the barriers to learning and create positive associations with failure.

The pandemic has forced us to rethink the ‘normal’ way of doing things. As the evidence between children’s progress and motivation in early learning environments and their behavioural development later on become stronger, it would be a huge oversight to let this opportunity to reset and improve things for the future generation to slip.#

Mark Horneff, Managing Director, Kuato Studios

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