Student-centered teaching, learning, evaluation | Sunday Observer

Student-centered teaching, learning, evaluation

25 October, 2020

In the context of today’s competitive environment the world has started to identify the need to produce responsible and innovative future leaders through all the systems of education and training. Therefore, education reforms have been the main policy discussion in almost all the countries in the world. There are various philosophies of learning and teaching that have been evolving during the past few decades.

They are usually introduced and applied as teaching/learning models but not as teaching/learning and evaluating models. The evaluating part may not have been given much importance by the educationists and psychologists in the 18th and 19th centuries due to several reasons.

They were mainly interested in understanding how humans learn and how they can be taught different skills and behaviours. The ‘competition’ factor was not in the picture since there were enough resources to go round. Teaching and learning took place mainly in informal settings and in a more personalised manner even when the process was formalised.

In such a formal setting the teacher is well aware of the level of knowledge the student has and no formal examination procedure was needed. No one would agree to teach if the motivational level of the student had not achieved the minimum standards set by the teacher. If one looks back at one’s childhood one would be able to identify a lot of things learned just by observing others and then trying them out.

“Most human behaviour is learned through observation, imitation and modeling”, said Albert Bandura, a professor emeritus in Psychology at Stanford University. Prof Bandura’s research in the 1960s showed that children learned aggressive behaviour easily through observation.


These results have been cited quite often by proponents of bad influence of violent media, on children. He also established the fact that observation alone is not enough for a complete learning experience. The learner’s mental state and motivation as well as external and intrinsic reinforcements, have a significant impact on the process.

Even if one observes, imitates and models something one may not learn it. Subsequent studies show that, attention, retention, reproduction and motivation are four main characteristics a learner should have to learn an observed behaviour. Even though ‘student centered’ or ‘learner centered’ teaching and learning methodologies have come to surface in the late 20th century, they have always been in practice prior to that too.

Psychologists such as B.F. Skinner, Jean Piaget and John Dewey have contributed immensely in this process of understanding how humans learn and have often described the importance of the learner having the proper mental state and motivation to get all the necessary receptors open so that the new information is received without any obstructions created by the existing knowledge and frame of mind.

None of these theories mentioned much about examinations, testing or evaluations as a major component of learning. Evaluation was a natural process where the learner felt whether or not he/she understood what the teacher was trying to convey and the teacher could easily notice what the learner really knew and what he didn’t.

When did the examination frenzy then come into the picture of this learning process? Well, when the population increased beyond a certain point where people had to fight for the limited resources available the competition became a way of life.

Knowledge became a valuable commodity and therefore, a ranking system was essential so that individuals can be ranked according to the knowledge they can show that they have.

Effects of examinations

Even though educators sometimes claim that evaluation is an important part of teaching/learning process where the learners are supposed to consider the examinations as just another opportunity to learn, we know that it is hardly the case in today’s world. If that was the case, we should never have heard about children committing suicide after ‘failing’ an examination.

Examinations have become the biggest burden in life, hated by almost all the children in the world. Psychologists, psychotherapists, psychiatrists and counsellors around the world can attest to the fact that the average age of their clientele is gradually decreasing thanks to the pressures put on the youngsters by all the competitive examinations they have to go through during the first 18 to 20 years of their lives. Perhaps that may be the profession to get into if one really wants to receive the benefits of so called ‘student centered’ education systems.

There was a news item in Sri Lanka a couple of days ago where a Health Ministry official said: “there were a few Advanced Level students who tested positive for Covid-19 and we sent them to the IDH hospital.

The remaining papers will be delivered to the hospital and officials will supervise their examinations there. All the other students who were in those examination centres where those students who tested positive were have been assigned to separate centres with all the quarantine regulations and they will take their remaining papers at those centres. Therefore, Covid-19 has not affected the process of conducting the Advanced Level examination at all.”

The reader should be able to understand whether the student is at the centre of our education system or not. One question that came to my mind was that if the person who made the statement was down with a life threatening virus like this and had to sit his/her Advanced Level examination in a hospital with all the aches and pains, under medication, seeing the worried faces of family members, would he/she have been able to be in that position to make such an inconsiderate statement?

The writer has served in the higher education sector as an academic for over twenty years in the USA and thirteen years in Sri Lanka and can be contacted at [email protected]