A few months ago I was sitting in a classroom discussing the value of exam scores. One of the questions posed was, is it important for students, either those in adult learning situations or kids in school, to focus on getting good grades, or is there a better way to evaluate progress? The opinions, as you might imagine, were varied.
For many of us, exam scores and grades have long been the main method of measuring progress and proficiency. Acceptance into some university and college programs is dependent on achieving minimum grades in prerequisite courses. But some people just don’t do well with exams, because of anxiety. I’ve seen a few people who I knew were capable in a subject do poorly on exams, just because they stressed themselves out worrying about them. So is there a better way to measure student progress? And what does that discussion have to do with my usual machinery topic?
In these past few weeks, it may have quite a lot to do with it. Ever since the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, there has been debate about how best to ensure the people behind the wheels of today’s heavy transport trucks are up to the job. There is now discussion at the provincial government levels, as officials seem to be feeling the pressure to make changes. And those changes could—and likely would—affect drivers of heavy farm trucks. But what changes need to be made?
At least here in Manitoba, I’m hearing talk of establishing mandatory driving school curriculums for training. But at the moment, courses in different provinces vary considerably. And there isn’t even complete standardization on testing procedures. So there is a need for a lot of agreement and updating even before bureaucrats get down to cases and set training standards. And, of course, student drivers don’t actually have to go to an accredited driving school. Just booking a test, showing up with a truck and passing the road test nets you a licence.
Is there really anything wrong with the system now? That seems to be a matter of opinion and perspective. In some provinces, truck driving schools have been allowed to do their own testing and simply report to the motor vehicle branch whether a student has passed or not so a licence will or won’t be granted.
But that approach has not been perfect.
I was told recently of one incident that demonstrated the flaw in that system. Apparently some people were caught moving out of Manitoba to another province where that in-school testing took place, getting a licence there, then simply moving back—or at least doing the paperwork to make it look like they moved. In reality it amounted to a pay-for-a-licence scheme. When several of those people were identified and required to present themselves for a road test, they apparently almost all failed. They hadn’t actually been trained, just paid the tuition and snagged a licence.
Is the system where a learner student shows up for a single road test and gets or doesn’t get a licence based on that one performance the best system? When Motor Vehicle Branch examiners do the testing, it’s an assurance drivers need at least some basic skills to pass.
But despite the shady practices of that one private school, would a network of professional, reliable schools working to a standard, who’ve proven themselves and have earned the trust of licencing authorities, and work to a nationally-standardized curriculum actually be a good way to evaluate a student driver’s readiness to go it alone? Instructors could base their longer-term evaluations and resulting recommendations on many hours of observed driving performance and demonstrated skill. That would also eliminate the make-or-break stress that creates test anxiety in some people.
Whether or not it’s left to provincial examiners make the final call with a road test exam, should there at least be a national training standard? If so, what should it be, and can there be a case made to continue exempting certain classes of drivers, like farmers and some oilfield workers under certain conditions? I think it’s a public debate worth having.
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