Friday, June 12, 2015

Learning and Testing

In many Asian countries, standardized testing is the hallmark of primary and secondary school education. Outside of regular schools, numerous after-school coaching activities, preparation schools and commercial tuition centers thrive in training young students to excel in standardized testing. This is big business - involving enormous education spending in the hope of getting a good enough grade for these pressure-cooker standardized tests.

In places like Hong Kong and Singapore, primary and secondary school students sit en masse for UK-style standardized exams (O-level, AS-level, A-level). The sense of anxiety and dread often lingers among these students in the lead-up to the public exams. In the hot summer month of June in mainland China, massive number of students travel across the country to sit for the national higher education entrance examination - a high-stakes game - that requires gadgets like multi-rotor drones as invigilators.

I recently came across an Edweek article "Rethinking the Emphasis on Standardized Testing" on the traditional standardized testing in Asia and how it affected mathematics proficiency and even the lifetime success of a student. The article's author started a First-in-Math venture to host math tournaments in the United States to play 24 Game - in fact a card game that originates from China in the 1960's. Have a go at the 24 Game to test your reflex and sharpen your mind (The game at is free)! Public examination and standardized testing in Asia are big business indeed - going by the government spending of 3-4% of GDP on education.

One interesting takeaway from the Edweek article is that:
Testing has its place as long as it doesn’t push kids away from a sense of wonder and fascination for the world around them....  A far more worthy goal would be to create a system wherein the whole individual is addressed, developed, and encouraged to thrive in the pursuit of a better life. 

I think this pretty much sums up personalized learning as the next frontier in education. What truly amazing technological innovations can we invent in this quest to advance personalized learning? Will that be an ecosystem of mobile digital tutors, an Internet of peer learning, automated software to individualize learning, learning analytics at scale, smarter interactive computer tests driven by computational neuroscience, AI, cloud computing and machine learning? Or will it be more powerful surveillance drones?

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