WA school teachers are pushing for formalised assessments and testing to be scrapped for children aged under eight in favour of a play-based model of learning favoured in Scandinavian countries.
- Teachers fear tests are having a negative effect on children and teachers
- Leading countries in education like Finland don’t have a testing regime
- Research shows testing develops anxiety in children, and NAPLAN isn’t helping
State School Teacher’s Union WA (SSTUWA) president Pat Byrne said research had shown play-based learning was better for children in terms of wellbeing, academic outcomes, problem-solving and social skills.
Yet she said children from kindergarten onwards were expected to participate in a range of formal assessments, including On Entry testing and NAPLAN, that were having a detrimental effect on both them and their teachers and parents.
Speaking at the launch of the union’s Play is Learning campaign, Ms Byrne called on the State Government to develop a strategy to ensure all WA children could access quality play-based learning.
“There are a whole range of social skills and practical skills that children learn through play,” she said.
“The outcomes in Finland for example, have consistently been the best in the world.
“They don’t have that regime of standardised testing. They don’t have the focus on measurement and accountability that we have in the UK, the US and in Australia.
“None of those three countries are among the top performers.
“Yet in Australia, the word ‘play’ has become problematic in many schools.”
Testing pressure creates anxiety, behaviour problems
Research conducted by Murdoch University early childhood education director Sandra Hesterman found teachers felt under pressure to focus on academic outcomes and prepare children for formalised testing including NAPLAN using explicit instruction methods of teaching.
A survey of more than 600 WA teachers found most felt they had little time for play-based learning.
Teachers reported feeling that “the curriculum expectations are far too great for younger children” and that “children are not given the opportunity to discover, create, interact and gain confidence when they are being inundated with an overloaded curriculum”.
“Teachers noted that some behavioural problems stemmed from children’s sense of failure and their opposition to conform to activities deemed boring,” Ms Hesterman’s research found.
“Children develop anxiety because of formal expectations beyond their normal developmental stages.”
She said many young children were required to start learning to read and write before they were ready to do so, which led to behavioural problems and adverse academic outcomes.
Dr Hesterman said the pendulum had swung too far in favour of curriculum-driven programs for young children, instead of focusing on child-centred learning through play that was better for children’s overall development.
Ms Byrne said parents often felt under pressure to make sure their children were performing strongly academically from a very young age and initiatives such as the My School website, which enabled schools to be ranked on their academic performance, intensified the problem.
She said children under eight should not be subjected to formalised testing and the Government needed to take the lead in making play a priority in schools.
She also called for a commitment to resources for teacher development and professional learning in the area,
“The more that sort of pressure is brought on children, the more anxious they become, the more distressed, then of course it becomes a vicious circle,” she said.
“We would like to see the Government recognise the importance of play — the research is absolutely clear about how important it is to children’s development — and then to resource our schools so that teachers and parents understand and have that curriculum support.”