Are exams causing mental illness?

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Too many exams and increasing pressure on results are blamed for causing mental health and self-esteem issues in British schools according to a recent survey. In Britain, children as young as four and five are being tested on phonics when most European countries haven’t even started formal schooling! So why is there a need for constant testing in England?

Tests, exams and coursework have been used to measure progress for decades however according to The NUT’s report, constant testing is being blamed for a higher number of pupils developing anorexia, mental health issues and a rise in self-harm cases. The NUT report asked 8,000 teachers about the impact that exams had on their pupils, and the findings showed unprecedented levels of school related anxiety among primary and secondary students.

Lucy Russell from Young Minds said the findings were “very concerning as they show that both pupils and teachers are under a lot of pressure to achieve results in a pressure cooker, exam factory environment”. The report displayed that with such a focus on results and league tables, pupil-teacher relationships are being damaged, with one junior school teacher saying “I am in danger of seeing them more in terms of what colour they are in my ‘pupils list’ rather than seeing them as individuals, for example are they red (below expectation), green (above expectation) or purple (pupils premium)”.

76% of primary teachers and 94% of secondary teachers who responded to the NUT survey agreed that pupils were affected by stress-related conditions during exam periods. One teacher said “you just see them sat there, a 10-or-11-year old kid in complete meltdown”.

Mr Courtney continued to say that “the whole culture of a school has become geared towards meeting government targets and Ofsted expectations. As this report shows schools are on the verge of becoming exam factories”. With the increasing amount of exams and testing in school, teachers are now ‘teaching the test’ rather than providing a broader education. Kevin Courtney, Deputy General Secretary of the NUT stated “teachers at the sharp end are saying this loud and clear, if it isn’t relevant to a test then it should not be seen as a priority”. So are tests and exams limiting children’s learning?

A Department for Education spokesman has however backed the focus on exams and testing stating that “Part of our commitment to social justice is the determination to ensure everybody is given an education that allows them to realise their potential”. The same spokesman also said that “young children can have the best grades possible but if they can’t cope or deal with the harsh realities of modern life [referring to stress induced by exams] then the education system is failing them”.

But should children be shown these realities so young or, will failure just lead to demotivation in students? Does the stress being put on such young shoulders really lead to mental health issues and self-harming? If exams have the potential to damage the next generation what is the answer? What do you think? Have your say…

3 thoughts on “Are exams causing mental illness?

  1. Primary and secondary education is the most important level of education. However, I feel its exams and tests are doing permanent mental harm than good to students in many countries. To think of it, man was originally created to enquire and learn naturally in an exciting spirit without any stress or harm whatsoever in his or her environment. However, what do we find with present formal education worldwide? Tight exam preparation timelines and schedules on exam boards or school systems which were supposed to offer same preparation or qualification to students now appear to be so separate from each other. So tangible are these separations so that a student who is taking, for instance, AQA exam board would hardly venture to take a peak at material on OCR exam board simply because its is not prescribed and would constitute a waste of already limited time. Meanwhile, the AQA and OCR boards or the community and the academy or grammar schools were supposed equally prepare students to obtain the same qualification for the next level of education. If the end objective of a qualification or school system is to give good quality knowledge and training that forms the basis of methodic problem solving, then why should it matter which board or system a student is taking or has taken? After all, students from whichever board or system are going to end up being certified for the next level of education in the end. Yet, we often find parents or tutors having preferences for one exam board or educational system to the other, and go to every extent to secure it for their children if it is within their means. This goes a long way to show that parents and tutors alike inadvertently admit that there are shortfalls in the current primary and secondary education which has been left undiscussed for a long time now and remained the canker eating away the prospects of a better education.

    In my opinion, top exam or test grades only tell how one is better schooled but not how one is better educated. However, this opinion turns out not the target of many primary or secondary schools. We often find several schools claiming they aim for total or absolute education for every child, but we often discover they rather succeeded at giving well rounded schooling than absolute education as the NUT’s report has found. Schools often find themselves in such situation because hey often miss the distinction between scholarliness and education. Scholarliness is not the same as education. One who is been longer at school or ended up with higher and better grades or qualification can well be said to be better schooled. Another with a knowledge base which enables him or her to create deeper or better knowledge or fascinating innovation with so little information can well be deem to be better or totally or absolutely educated. For him or her knowledge is become second nature as is often the positions of a keyboard. How can a daily exercise as learning which is supposed to be second nature end up in the mental torture, damage or self harm of students. One would prefer Dance as a subject to Physics probably because Dance may be seen to calm the nerves while Physics may be perceived to be nerve wracking. Nevertheless, a lot of Physics is applied in Dance, which is why there is a need for a complete immediate overhaul in learning approach at the primary and secondary levels of education.

  2. Teaching the irrelevant to the disinterested produces mental illness.

    Allowing children to be children whilst they are children produces wellbeing, reverence, hope, trust, presence. These are the qualities we need in our citizens. Mental regurgitation of facts from the intellect alone – bypassing the feelings and the meaning – leads downwards into human beings becoming more defensive, blame culture, competition to destroy the opposition rather than just being one’s best (and that is good enough). It leads toward animal characteristics of dog eat dog. This is not civilisation.
    Look to Europe where children start much later – their childhoods preserved. Remove the pressure to ‘succeed’ and what have you got – human beings working within their capabilities, moving forwards whilst breathing at the same time. Alive human beings rather than ill ones.

  3. This pressure on young children is definitely the case in Asian countries like Korea and Japan and even in Sri Lanka where I taught to a certain extent. Even in the U.S., there is a lot of stress on young children due to obsession with tests and grades. I had no idea this was true in the U.K. also!

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