Examinations a Jesuit Perspective

The Year 11 and 12 Exams are well underway and we wish our senior students all the best as they complete up to 6 formal exams. It is always challenging for teacher and student alike! We wish our staff well too for the significant marking that will follow each exam. I enclose this peice from St Aloysius' newsletter about the role Jesuit schools have played in formalising teaching (including the introduction of exams. Hopefully St Ignatius will take a particular interest in our students during the exam period.)

Examinations are utilised to deepen one's understanding of what they have learned and to renew their focus in order to gain a new insight or commit an existing one to memory. Formal examinations are a fundamental component of Jesuit education. We use examinations to measure performance, academic knowledge and key competencies, by presenting the student with a series of questions, problems, or tasks, in order to ascertain the amount of knowledge acquired; the extent to which he is able to utilise it; or the quality and effectiveness of the skills he has developed. Does it surprise anyone that the Jesuits are responsible for the modern day style of written examination?

The Jesuits introduced written examination into their schools in the 16th century. The Ratio Studiorum of 1599, which was not revised until 1932, contains a code of rules for the conduct of school examinations, which were held annually, and determined whether or not children were promoted to a higher class. The Ratio Studiorum (Ratio atque Institutio Studiorum Societatis Iesu) was the original and only comprehensive, official, and universal plan for Jesuit education ever issued. It synthesised earlier traditions of the classical liberal arts, medieval scholasticism, and Renaissance humanism in the context of Christian ethics and spirituality. The Ratio is bedded in Saint Ignatius' life and vision, but it also represents a culmination of the first fifty years of the Society of Jesus' work in the schools of early modern Europe. Its authors, an international group of academics, succeeded in creating a durable framework for an educational enterprise that developed quickly and still maintains an impact today, 412 years later.

During the 19th century, the Ratio's influence saw formal written examinations become regular in universities, schools, and other educational institutions. Examinations were also increasingly employed for the selection of recruits to the civil service, and the professions, and to posts in industry and commerce.

The Jesuits did not start out to establish secular schools; that is, to invite the enrolment of students not intending to enter their order as religious. They came to see the necessity of having such schools, however, as a logical and natural development of their purpose. Their great achievement can be measured by recalling the social conditions of the time which were exacerbated by the destruction, implosion, and corrosion of the university system. Most of the universities of the time were seedbeds of heresy. A remedy had to found. Ignatius was not about to take his young men and send them into these universities to be trained. He realized he had to do the educating himself.

The landmark achievement of the Jesuits was to give order, hierarchy, structure, unity, and methodology to education. They began founding colleges. There was a college in Goa in which St Francis Xavier put trained Jesuits to begin teaching. St Francis Borgia did likewise in Spain. Then in 1551, Ignatius decided to found the Roman College. Once decided, he determined that it would be the very best in the world, a model of all models. He spared neither effort nor expense to make it the greatest of all universities of his day.

There was a need for a system of education; for a system of studies; therefore they put themselves to the task. Finally, in 1581, the fifth Superior General, Claudius Aquaviva, decided to research and combine the best documents into one manual so that anyone given it would know what the Jesuits meant by "education" as well as the roles of Rector, Prefect, and teacher and their manner of operation. Aquaviva was elected in 1581; in 1584 he began his work on the Ratio, but it was not until 1599 that the completed Ratio Studiorum was published. The Jesuits were convinced they could not proceed in any other way since this apostolate regarded the education of future generations, of their own men and teachers, and the proper establishment of their schools.

This document, the Ratio Studiorum, was fundamental in giving structure to the Jesuits and making their educational system without comparison. As a result, Colleges, universities, and high schools spread throughout the world. The Ratio Studioroum is very Ignatian; it is a practical code for establishing and conducting schools. It sets up the framework, gives statements of the educational aims and definitive arrangements of classes, schedules, and syllabi, with detailed attention to pedagogical methods and, critically, the formation of teachers, which Aquaviva put at the top of the list. The heart of any school is its teachers he said, and that has to be at the top of the list.