Tuesday, January 21, 2014, 09:14
Schools turn to games to test progress of first-graders
By Zhao Xinying

Schools turn to games to test progress of first-graders

A first-grader plays a math game accompanied by his father at the Elementary School Affiliated to Renmin University of China on Jan 11. (Provided to China Daily)

Primary schools across Beijing have replaced their tough year-end exams with games this year, to ease pressure on students.

Instead of intense sit-down tests, first-graders were asked to play practical exercises that showed the ability to apply knowledge.

Students at Yuying School, in the capital's Haidian district, took their final exams just before the winter break in mid-January.

For math, they each received cards with different tasks related to what they had learned in the classroom, such as showing the time on a cardboard clock, buying items using various bank notes, or completing a jigsaw puzzle of a geometric figure.

Youngsters were given a grade in stars, rather than a numerical score.

"Exam scores ... reflect neither a child's thought process nor practical ability," said Liu Juan, deputy dean of the school's elementary math department, who explained the idea for the practical exercises was based on the concept that students should learn in a fun way.

"We designed the games in the hope that students - especially first graders fresh from kindergarten - would fall in love with math and get used to the learning environment," she added.

The Ministry of Education released 10 draft guidelines to ease the workload for students in August, and suggested tests should be axed for grades one to three.

Primary schools were also urged to replace the traditional 100-point scoring system with grades A, B, C and D.

Many schools in Beijing's Xicheng, Dongcheng and Haidian districts responded by introducing practical tests as year-end exams.

At the Elementary School Affiliated to Renmin University of China, parents of first-graders were invited to help children with the exams. If a student got stuck on a difficult problem, they were allowed to offer guidance, as were teachers.

Zhao Junqiang, director of teaching affairs at the school's western Beijing campus, said such tests are suitable for first-graders, as they have been at primary school only a couple of months by the winter break.

Young children can easily be scared by traditional exams and lose confidence, Zhao said. "So we replaced exams with games, and invited parents to help, to ease the anxiety."

Primary schools in other provinces, including Henan, Zhejiang and Hunan, also introduced similar activities.

At some in Zhengzhou, capital of Henan, first-graders were evaluated through games and written tests.

Many people have applauded the changes. However, some have raised concerns.

Wang Haifeng, whose son is in grade one at the Elementary School Affiliated to Renmin University of China, said she likes the idea, but fears it will not last long.

"I'm glad to see my son study with interest and confidence," she said. "But I'm afraid he will have to go back to traditional exams when he reaches higher grades and may not adapt easily."

Chu Zhaohui, a senior researcher with the National Institute of Education Sciences, said even though the practice is good, there is no need for all primary schools to adopt the method.

"We should explore more ways to evaluate students at the end of a semester," he said. "For example, no traditional exams, no games; just evaluate students on the basis of their performance over the previous months."

Qi Xin in Zhengzhou contributed to this story.