How a measurement-driven system is silencing children

by 17 Aug, 2018

This is the second part of a post looking at the effect a culture that measures and compares learning has on Literacy and the voice of the child. The first part focused on the problems Literacy faces in this system. This second part will look at what this culture means for children’s ability, freedom and confidence to think and express their own opinions and experiences.

Having a voice on matters that affect them is a right of children according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and is something that must be taken seriously. I want to look at how the current education system actually silences children rather than helping and allowing their voice to be heard.

Literacy should play a significant role in promoting the voice of children. Helping children to grow in their ability and confidence in creative writing and other English language skills is not just an end in itself; it is vital for helping children find their voice.

In a measurement-driven education system, as discussed in the previous post, right answers and standardised targets are decided by someone other than the child. Children’s learning in this culture becomes about proving they have retained a set of answers or a specific piece of knowledge that has been predetermined as correct and passed on to the child from the authoritative teacher or examiner. A culture that assumes there is always some sort of ‘right answer’, which must be told to and then reproduced by the child, quietly suggests to them that they need to be told answers rather than create their own. It is difficult to find space for conversation, negotiation or critical thinking within such a culture.

The more a child is made to feel that someone else holds the right answer, and the more they are measured against a set of standards they have no control over, the more they must be talked at and told what they should say and think to be successful – the more, in other words, they are silenced.

It is so important to help children be confident to use their voice through developing their critical thinking and language skills. Children need to be able to think critically and engage with all the different literacies in the world around them – whether news articles, popular stories or television programmes, social media, political propaganda, or the constant bombardment of advertisements.

What do children think about the world around them? What do they want to say? How do they want to imagine a different, better world? What injustices do they see that we don’t? What is happening in their lives that they want to say something about? How can we be challenged or changed by their words? How do we help children have confidence to use words, be articulate and say what they think? This can happen through their stories, poetry, critical thinking, and their understanding and use of persuasive language.

If a child has been told by their culture that a right answer always exists and that they must be told this answer and then reproduce it when asked, it is difficult for them to have the confidence, expectation and mind set to voice their own opinion and not fear giving some sort of ‘wrong’ answer.

Literacy, when freed from the constraints of a ‘right answer’ culture, can provide opportunities for children to explore and express themselves without judgement, to develop their language and thinking skills and to expand and communicate their own imaginative thoughts, ideas and feelings. Space away from measurement and right/wrong answers can help children not feel daunted by Literacy. Everyone has something unique to say. Everyone has the capacity to create with words and use their imagination. And everyone has their own perspective on the world that deserves to be heard.


Next time I will be starting a series on Growth Mindset. The series will outline the basics of this theory on learning, look at how the current culture and system affects mindset and give practical ideas on fostering a growth mindset.


Rachel Valler is the Founder of Wild Literacy.

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