Testing, stress and achievement: finding balance in the face of international competition

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Sean Cavanagh's recent blog in Education Week depicts cautionary warnings from Byong Man Ahn, the former South Korean Minister of Education. He suggests that over-testing children can adversely impact a student's desire and ability to learn.? Mr. Ahn warns the United States not to follow his country's education model, arguing that his country is too test-centered, saying, ?we force the students to memorize so much that they experience pain rather than pleasure [of] acquiring knowledge through the learning process.? ??According to Ahn, South Korea's overly tested and rigid curriculum has placed extreme pressures on students while simultaneously stifling their creativity.

Vicki Abeles makes a similar argument in the documentary ?Race to Nowhere? claiming that increased homework loads and stress to perform well in school are adversely affecting American students' achievement and health. It may be true that stress exists for some, but this is a less compelling case to make in the US, where achievement is lagging in comparison to countries like South Korea. Abeles claims that students arrive to college burnt out,? but once on campus, many college goers fail to enhance their own creativity at a time when they have greater freedom and flexibility to do so (compared to K-12). Claiming that burnout is due to too much pressure to achieve during high school seems to oversimplify the problem.?

But the main point is that Mr. Ahn's criticisms of Korea's education system and Abeles' argument that we are already putting too much pressure on our children seem at odds with the reality that we are not producing the best and brightest students anymore.? American students are caught between the increased pressure to achieve and compete ? and it's true that this can negatively impact mental health-- while simultaneously falling further behind in comparison to other countries, whose students will be snatching up the jobs of tomorrow.

-Andrew Proctor, Policy and Research Intern in Fordham's Columbus, Ohio office

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