Around the world covid-19 has messed up children’s education. They began to be shut out of classrooms all the way back in February. Even in countries where schools have stayed open, lessons and tests have been disrupted. Some countries pressed ahead with national exams (see article) this year. A few others, including Britain, France and Ireland, cancelled them all. They came up with new ways of awarding grades instead. The fact that big exams have proved so vulnerable to disruption has led to new questions about their usefulness. Are there better ways of measuring what children have learned?
Exams have plenty of problems. They are often unreliable; a study in Israel found that test-takers’ performance can be affected by smog. Many children find them stressful. Plenty of places run them badly. School-leavers in China are often set questions that require them to parrot propaganda. Poorly written test papers in developing countries lead to wild swings in pass rates. Countries, including Algeria and Ethiopia, have resorted to shutting down the internet at exam time to prevent cheating.