The problem with teaching to test

I remember watching Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk a few years ago, and while inspiring and thought provoking I had not yet seen how accurate his words really were.

As I transitioned into higher education the thing that really stood out to me was the way my students were looking at problems. While there are certainly a few outliers, the majority look at problems they face as having a binary answer. Yes or no, zero or one, right or wrong. Those of us in design, and development to a great extent, know that while this may happen from time to time it is rarely the case.

The problem, I believe, is a direct result of the way our primary and secondary education system has (d)evolved into a teach to test environment. Students are taught what they need in order to pass an exam. This is the path of least resistance, and the path to the highest funding possible for most school systems. Thought is taken out of the equation, and recollection replaces it.

Memory seems like quite a backward approach, considering our near-constant connection to answers. The ability to learn, to solve, and to adapt is what these graduates are currently lacking. Fortunately post-secondary does a fair effort of combatting this problem, depending on the subject matter.

So how do we fix it? How do we enable students to look beyond a grade? Beyond primitive thought? Beyond yes or no?

We teach them to stop asking “What?”, and start asking “Why?” & "How"