Question: You have X amount of children needing to progress from primary to secondary education but only Y amount of people are allowed in a room together during a pandemic to sit a test.
Do you A) Make them sit the test? B) Forget the test? C) Dither so much that an already impossible situation is rendered even worse?
The debacle this past week over the future of the 2021 transfer test, and the riddle of how to solve it, read a lot like one of the structured reasoning questions I remember from doing the exam way back when it was still known as the 11+.
My memories of that stage of life are awash with thoughts of Train A leaving a platform at 0600 and Train B leaving at 0800 or getting from FEET to MALT in four steps only changing one letter at a time. The goal was to get the test and go to A Good School.
Then, at the Good School, I would pass more tests and go to A Good University where there would be more tests...
From the age of 10 onwards, the focus of the education process was nearly always on getting the grade rather than the joy of learning something new.
There was very little space in the syllabus for curious diversions on a subject that intrigued us, to learn more about something purely for the enjoyment of discovery.
Subjects and skills were there to be ticked off and on to the next. From what I hear from those in the academic sphere now, time is even more constrained. Targets must be met.
I remember depositing my notes on ox bow lakes and Arctic tundra in the bin after my Geography A-levels, safe in the knowledge that I'd completed the exam and they were no more use to me. The facts I'd crammed into my brain for the test were swiftly deleted to make way for the next paper. Looking back I have to wonder what the whole process really taught me.
The furore around the current transfer test in Northern Ireland tends to revolve around opposing thoughts on academic selection - but I think the issue goes further than simply 'should we have a test or not?'
I think the whole field of academic testing needs a rethink. As does the slavish devotion we have to this idea that there is just one route to success - get the test, good school, good grades. This thinking doesn't help children broaden their horizons, it limits their vision.
We need to stop fetishising academia and exams. The child who gets an A in Latin shouldn't be held in any higher regard than the one who is amazing with their hands and can re-wire anything, the child who can sing, who can cook, code, build.
It's particularly ridiculous to have children as young as 10 and 11-years-olds thinking they've 'failed' if they don't manage to get the answers right for a test that only focuses on the narrowest assessment of abilities.
And even if they do write the correct answers - what have they truly learned? I wonder what the average 11-year-old would tell me if I asked them what they've learned in school this year, other than the ability to sit and fill in test paper after test paper.
This isn't a criticism of the teachers but of the system. The emphasis on tests and Good Schools creates a far too limited appreciation of abilities and devalues the learning process itself, placing a premium on delivering the 'right' answer rather than developing creative, independent, exploratory thinking.
Who knows, perhaps if we were all better at coming up with fresh solutions we wouldn't be so terrible at solving problems like what to do about the transfer test.
We can't tell children to colour inside the lines and then expect them to be able to think outside the box. Let's stop testing kids and start educating them instead.