Examinations (fortunately) have become the stuff of memories for adults, remembered and refracted through personality and experience. Our recollections have probably nothing to do with performance or results; it is the exam fever, the lead-up to the event that remains etched forever in the subconscious.
Were you one of the fortunate, enviable few who had everything under control, knew your subjects, slept easily, exercised, ate well and remained serenely impervious to suppressed coughs, scritch-scratching pencils and the deafening silence of an examination hall ?
Or are you one of the many who still have recurring ‘exam’ nightmares, remembered more as feelings rather than clear processes ?
I can catalog a litany of trials and tribulations – being unprepared (despite assiduous study), nervous anticipation, revisions, snatched hours of sleep, jarring alarms and clammy palms. I recall the feverish comparing of notes and answers before and after, and the culmination – a final, explosive, grateful regurgitation of facts and figures never to be remembered again.
As an adult, now a parent, you remember this vividly.
And as exams, especially board exams – especially first-time board exams – descend implacably upon your son or daughter, the memories surface, tension knots the shoulders and anticipation becomes fraught with anxiety, settling like a suffocating pall on the exam-uncorrupted child.
Why are you stressed, the child asks, reasonably. I should be stressed, not you. Can you calm down ? And he hunches his shoulders, rolls his eyes and mutters under his breath: take a chill pill, please.
Communication … not criticism
How do you effectively communicate – in a measured, unruffled manner – that catnaps are not a part of the revision schedule (at least not in your book nor in anybody else’s in your living memory), that studying to music means you are not fully focused or concentrating, that having multiple screens (Internet, FaceBook, Skype) equals distraction and is an unequivocal violation of the code of study ?
Every point is met with an easy response, naps are required to rest and refresh a stressed mind, music is a counterpoint to facts and information – emphasizing by contrast – enabling recall through rhythm and tempo. The explanation is further simplified – sound is an inherent part of any experience – like the tick tock of a clock or the hum of a fan triggering a thought, a feeling (or even a fact) – and in the same way, music – techno music in this case – is necessary to anchor the information. Multiple screens are a necessity, Skype enables a Study Group, the Internet is to research or explore a thought or a doubt, FaceBook is to exchange messages while you don’t actually speak … it helps to stay in touch, yet not, in a manner of speaking, if you get my drift.
You concede. You accept the explanation because to pursue the point is to open a Pandora’s box of arguments and counter arguments.
So you may hyperventilate in private, but follow the rules in public – no dire warnings, no persistent nagging, no doomsday descriptions on the significance of The Exam and how it determines and defines the trajectory of one’s life.
The times, they are a-changing
Explaining the use of new technology in contemporary education, Seah-Tay Hui Yong, Dean of Curriculum at Nanyang Girls’ High expressed it succinctly in an article in The Straits Times of 28 April : We can’t have 21st century kids taught by 20th century teachers in 19th century classrooms.
And by logical extension, you can’t apply old parameters to modern learning. Yes indeed, times have changed; it is a comforting thought.
You remind yourself that your child is the product of new and unfamiliar technology, teaching methods, resources and stimuli. Revisions for examinations may be a fractured, multi-source process.
You remind yourself, frequently, that the acquisition of knowledge these days is not necessarily learning by rote, not chunks of text or formulae committed to memory (thought there is that too, of course). Some of it, perhaps much of it, may be understood in sound bytes and pixels, binary digits and moving images set to commentary and sound.
Yet, there is a niggling doubt that this is a convenient cop-out.
The spouse has no such concerns; his is a practical evaluation of the situation. At this point, he reasons, there is nothing at all to be gained by stress. Is it going to change the outcome ? Definitely not, and certainly not for the better. What will be will be.
See it in perspective, he suggests : this is a culmination of years of learning and habit, no change can be wrought now through worried hovering. In fact, he suggests, embracing a form of benign neglect will be more effective at this point; a parent need only provide good cheer and support, food, transport and whatever else might be the need of the hour.
And so you (grateful for the advice) try to appreciate that you have reached the end of a long road. The learning has already taken place; it is time for you to power down. You have (or should have) done whatever you needed to do; it is time to let go and take your place on the sidelines, ready with support should he stumble or fall and ready to cheer when he earns his stripes. Because, as we all know, there will be plenty of both on this private journey of self-discovery to adulthood.
Pictures borrowed from Google Images