All across Europe, the drive towards privatisation and marketisation of education has gathered steam. Our education systems are brashly depicted as an industry, as a source of profits, a zone of competitiveness, with countries, universities and schools ranked by performance indicators. In many instances, teachers and educators have been reduced to tools preparing learners for the labour market. It is not surprising that currently 47% of educators in the EU report quite a bit or a lot of stress at work. Under this imperative to transform education into a labour market tool, with a rhetoric of skills for jobs, wellbeing and the vital role it plays in education has taken a back seat. The need to reposition wellbeing as a fundamental tenet of education has taken on a renewed impetus in light of Covid-19, and the subsequent disruption caused.
In this paper our aim is therefore two-fold. Our first intention is to call into question the naturalisation of stress and anxiety inducing assessments which have been rigorously maintained through an unyielding false narrative. This narrative follows a simple line of thought: that exposing learners to high stress inducing assessments is itself a learning process that can prepare them for the ‘real world’. Proponents of this argument often cite the inevitability of facing high-stress situations within the context of employment and how thus, learners should be prepared or even ‘build endurance’ by undergoing high-pressure assessments—thereby building a workforce that is resilient to stress. Such a position is based more on faith than fact and contrary to what an abundance of empirical evidence has shown time and time again: stress-inducing forms of assessment are detrimental to learning—and can embed in learners a negative perception towards educational environments that is difficult to reverse.
Our second intention is to provide a way forward. To demonstrate that assessment can align more harmoniously with wellbeing, that the two need not be in conflict—and that practical solutions exist. To this end, we will not merely provide a critique of traditional assessment practices, but also an outline of what the intertwining of assessment and wellbeing entails in practical terms. In asserting the centrality of practical solutions, we advance a tangible piece of work that can add to the policy debate on rethinking assessments in general and introducing learner’s wellbeing at the centre of our policies. This position paper is the Lifelong Learning Platform’s contribution to furthering the case for a more holistic conception of assessments, one that is based on learners’ and societal needs and that is not detrimental to wellbeing but conducive to it.
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