July-August 2018

In the past two decades there has been a temptation to simply try to get through formal and foreign language education unscathed, to focus on the language exams success data and get the best possible place in the local market place. But this short-term outlook is a barrier to genuine improvement of the human resources we have in our country.

In formal education, the end- of- year exams have never been easier to pass. Students pass even if they have scored below average.

In Elementary School (A & B grades) there is no assessment. All students pass to the next grade. In C & D grades the system used is alphabetical: A (Excellent) B (Very Good), C (good) and D (poor). In cases D dominates students repeat the class. In the last two grades the system is mixed (alphabetical and numerical). A correlates to above 9 on the 1-10 scale, B correlates to 7-8, C correlates to 4, 5-6 and D up to 4, 5. Students take the Elementary School Certificate if they have scored between 4, 5 & 4, 9.

In High School the number of subjects students are examined at the end of the year has been reduced and the Ministry of Education is planning to further reduce the subjects making it easier for students to pass from one grade to the next. The easier, the better. No complaints, no stress, no pressure to the system.

In Lyceum students pass even if they have scored 9, 50 on the 1-20 numerical scale.
This has a catastrophic impact on teaching and learning. Teachers become demotivated –they all pass so why try more? Give them a grade and let them go- and students focus on memorisation and developing techniques to pass exams of various kinds. No real, holistic learning takes place.

The same applies to Foreign Language Schools. 24 Exams organisations operating in Greece compete on how to offer shorter and more user friendly language exams whatever this may mean. Traditional exam bodies struggle to retain their place in the market respecting their worldwide presence and history. They still conduct extensive, costly research, they revise their exams regularly to reflect developments in methodology and pedagogy, and use the latest technology for exam papers marking. Who knows what the others do? No clue. All candidates pass. They all get a certificate. Candidates, parents and schools are happy.

Where will this simplification and easiness lead to? Undoubtedly not to a well-educated young generation which can compete and succeed in a globalised world. We raise a generation of mediocre citizens who will fail in their professional life. We have reduced quality when quality in the business world has never mattered more. The quality message we give is not credible. Loss of quality results in economic loss and loss to society in general. Societal losses include failure to meet requirements, failure to meet ideal performance and harmful side effects.

What is needed is teach our students about the role that personal responsibility and effort plays in success. Many students think effort is only for the inept, which can lead to ‘imposter syndrome’, where children never really believe that they are clever and are way too reliant on externally given accreditation.

What can you do?
1. Talk about subject mastery so that students genuinely understand what excellence might look like.
2. Teach to the top through deliberately and explicitly demanding work.
3. Consistently challenge students to improve their quality of expression.
4. Celebrate expertise and mastery.
5. Don’t protect students from grappling with difficult tasks and ensure they are routinely expected to give extended, reasoned answers or are at least given that opportunity.
6. Expose students to novel situations and offer them the opportunity to apply existing knowledge to new challenges.

How can teachers nurture excellence in classrooms?
1. By demonstrating their own joy and passion for the subject
2. By raising students’ excitement
3. By keeping lessons high in concepts
4. By encouraging risk taking by taking risks themselves
5. By giving students ‘nowhere to hide’ gradually driving the lesson harder
6. By offering genuinely exploratory dialogue and discussion
7. By offering support when it is needed
8. By not over-praising and dispensing badges of approval too readily and with sketchy evidence of merit
9. By not acting as ‘echo chambers’ happily paraphrasing each student’s comments for the others who were not listening
10. By counteracting students’ tendency to want everything spoon-fed and ‘bite sized’ encouraging them to develop their own chewing muscles
11. By encouraging engagement with the unknown and away from steering responses into right answer tunnels
12. By explaining to students their own learning histories and where their sense of security and expertise comes from.
A culture of excellence must permeate every classroom and school with a focus not on simply getting a grade and a certificate easily but on raising the bar; with a focus on reaching the highest standards by providing the best learning opportunities and by creating a lifelong passion for learning.

Have a productive school year!•