Test Driven development and schools


13 May, 2020

Disclaimer: I am just a student, think with your Discretion . I am just trying to put together things based on what I have learned till now. Feel free tomail if you wanna talk.

This post is not about teaching programming in school.

Even if you are not a programmer or web-developer do not worry this post has been written with you in mind as well.

First some background about me, I am a physics student with an interest in programming, web development, running, etc.. you know all the good stuff. I am in my second year as I am writing this blog post. I also do some freelancing, and not particularly happy with the way education was done with me.

Test Driven Development

Let me quickly go over what Test Driven Development(TDD) is all about

Wikipedia says:

Test-driven development (TDD) is a software development process that relies on the repetition of a very short development cycle: requirements are turned into very specific test cases, then the code is improved so that the tests pass.

I know, it sounds jargon. Let me explain, it means that you decide on the purpose of what your program is supposed to do, then you write a script/program which checks if your program is doing what it is supposed to.

Note that this "test/s" is/are written before writing the actual program. Now that the test has been written you go ahead and run the test, and itfails because you haven't written the program yet, then you write the program and run the test on it again, and keep on repeating till the testspass.

Now that your tests have passed you refactor the code write it in a better manner, put in the styling, the finishing touch if you would like to call it that.

This gave rise to the famous phrase "red-green-refactor".

To someone who hasn't been doing this, I know this sounds lame and a lot of work but when you do it once, you cannot stop doing it.

Yeah, the last line has its importance which will be discussed below.

Schools

School is someplace where education is provided.

Education is an important part of anybody's life. A formal level of education is necessary for each and every individual.

In case you are unfamiliar with what education is all about, here is whatWikipedia has to say about it.

Education is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and habits.

So basically, it means, teaching people(primarily kids) how to do things. I say primarily kids because education as an adult is not considered necessary which needs a little more discussion if you ask me(maybe another post).

TDD and schools

When you look at the explanation for what education is it looks eerily similar to what programming is about. Both can be generalized as

Enabling someone/something to do a particular thing/process.

This begs one to ask the question if the techniques used to do one can be used in the other one.

Whether or not you(programmer/teacher) have been successful, in your attempt of, enabling a person or computer to be able to do a certain task, can be known via testing.

That explains and radicalizes the tradition of tests in school. Meaning you are checking whether or not, the student is capable of doing the task/process it was taught, when asked to do it.

The world seems to have already done that, whether or not the testing "philosophy" was derived from programming, or if they have another source is irrelevant, but none the less interesting.

Going a step further

Now that we have taken in a method used in programming, we could ask if we are doing the mistakes which programmers do in that method, in teaching.

After scavenging through the internet and via personal experiences I was able to write a (more or less exhaustive) list of mistakes done using TDD.

  • Architectural testing
  • Non-user accessible testing
  • Dependency-hell tests

If you run into any new oneslet me know and I'll plug it in here, with credits of-course.

Let's got through them one by one in detail.

Architectural testing

This usually happens when a developer likes TDD too much, the developer not only writes tests for the task completion, but also for how the program/script is implementing it. This may sound unimportant and might give a sense of strength to the tests. But it removes one of the main advantages that come along with TDD.

One of the main advantages of TDD is that you can change your code and test if it still works. Meaning you can implement it using a different/better method and check if that works without by just running the tests and not rewriting them. But if your tests are testing the method by which the task is done then you will have to rewrite the tests which increase work.

The user of the software (usually) does not care how it does the provided task, writing tests for that only increases the difficulty when you find out a better method to complete the task.

What does this mean for testing in schools?

This tells them to not love testing too much...

On a serious note, this leads our attention to the question
"what are tests in schools testing?"
Are they testing if the student is capable of doing the task, or are they making sure that the student is doing it using only the provided/decided method?

The problem which Architectural testing causes are re-writing the tests when new/better methods are found. That is an issue when programming, But in school, the test/question papers are written every year anyway, so one might assert that this is a pure programming issue, and architectural testing is fine in school tests.

But this discussion brings our attention to the question as to,
whether we want our kids to be not given the freedom to do the task in question by any method they know?

If you give it enough though that last question is a rather tricky one. Mainly because it is difficult to generalize a statement for all situations, so let me try to be a little exhaustive about the answer.

Tests in schools should not check, by what method the asked task was performed, and should only check if the output is what has been expected. Unless the students have been taught a new and "better" method to do the task and that is what the test is about.



I was not able to find the translations of the other 2 testing mistakes into the education space.

Ending remarks

TDD seems like a good method which formalizes education in schools to keep things in check.

It only teaches students to do a task and positively re-inforces teachers to teach students to do tasks and not how to think by themselves and do the task. We are creating people who will be able to do pre-defined things, but we are not teaching them how to come up with things to do.