The concept of learners’ wellbeing begins with the idea that when the learner feels happy and secure in the learning environment – the likelihood of actualising their potentials is heightened. Wellbeing positively influences both the learning process and learning outcome. Simply put, learning tends to occur more fluidly in the context of positive emotions; a condition which subsequently improves achievement and attainment.
Notwithstanding the wealth of empirical evidence consistently demonstrating this relationship – certain forms of assessments that are both stress and anxiety inducing continue to be an all too regular fixture for learners. Unsurprisingly, assessments are commonly reported as a prime source of stress/anxiety for learners in their educational experience.
The question of – how certain debilitating forms of assessment are rigorously maintained within educational environments – demands a cultural inquiry. If we are to systematically align wellbeing and assessments then a shift in orientation is required – whereby a number of false narratives are to be dismantled and challenged.
One such presupposition that requires scrutiny revolves around the idea 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.
Furthermore, undergoing stressful, high-pressure assessments does not automatically prepare learners for stressful situations they might encounter in their professional life – unless learning how to deal with stress and how to create coping strategies is included in the learning programme. This begs the question of whether high-stress and anxiety inducing assessments are needed in the first place, or whether we shouldn’t just include mental and emotional wellbeing in the curriculum or course programme, if the aim is to prepare learners for the ‘real world’.
Bluntly put, to subscribe to the notion that stress inducing assessments can be justified on their ‘futurability’ is to uphold a sort of fiction that runs contrary to empirical evidence. What such fictitious accounts seem to overlook is a recognition of the severity of stress and anxiety that learners often experience – and the enduring effects in which this can have on their wellbeing both within and outside the learning environment.
Parting with the cultural bias upholding stress inducing forms of assessment entails re-articulating not only the purpose of assessments but also the purpose of education more broadly. If the purpose of education is to add to the quality of a person’s life and, subsequently, enhance their wellbeing – then the desirability of highly stress inducing forms of assessment lose their appeal – as does the fiction outlined above.
Stay tuned for our upcoming position paper on assessments and wellbeing!