Thinking For The Individual

Formerly known as 'Thinking For The People', this site offers some reflections on the state of British society and her people from the perspective of a libertarian Conservative with a passionate belief in the pillars of freedom and responsibility.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

School Examinations

The country's A Level results came out today, bringing joy and relief to those leaders of tomorrow who never really had any need to worry about their future, and bringing nothing but indifference to those who have, during their years in school, become disillusioned with most of life, rendered 'kaput' on the scrapheap of society. In a week's time, the country's GCSE results will be announced, and doubtless similar coverage will be granted then.

True to form, according to the stereotypes held against my generation, I was too lazy to write any significant post unique for this blog today on this or any other matter. However, I did write a rather long comment on the matter on the Adam Smith Institute blog which I have published on this site.

"As a teenager who has completed one GCSE in French which I took a year early (I receive the result next week) I have a lot riding on my answer to the question of exam standards? On the one hand, do I degrade my own efforts and those of my friends? Or do I tell the truth? Fortunately, for me, the answer is straightforward.

"It is undeniable that education has changed in recent years. In history, whilst once factual recall was imperative, nowadays more emphasis is placed on source analysis. In English, whilst once a student had to be have a full knowledge of a text, today he might only have to understand the broad themes of a novel or other work. What is demanded of us has certainly changed, but that doesn't necessarily mean standards have fallen.

"I'm a private school student, therefore have an academic advantage over many (that's not snobbery; it's the truth!). But the facts are staring us in the face, and those are that educational standards have fallen over time, and it's not just affecting the life chances of today's teenagers, but has been affecting all of us since education became the prerogative of the State. One in five of school leavers, and doubtless one in five of the rest of the population, should be classed as 'functionally illiterate': in other ways, they struggle to find a plumber in the Yellow Pages or they can't decipher a simple supermarket receipt. Pupils at a primary level struggle to spell the words 'environment' and 'necessary' en masse. Surveys by international organisations consistently place Britain below other nations who (for reasons more than pure xenophobia) we should be thrashing, like New Zealand and Hungary in maths or science teaching. And, at the crux of the matter today, A Levels are in truth very easy compared to what they once were. I see the kinds of questions students my age were faced with just fifty years ago and die a little inside, not just because I have not been taught that particular mathematical formula or linguistic structure, but because it's do damn hard!!

"The problem with education in Britain is that politicians are in charge of it. I don't need to explain why that's true - I'm writing on the blog of the Adam Smith Institute, so you know that it's true! Therefore, any decisions that are made about our education and examinations are political decisions. As soon as we change that, and tear shift the centre of gravity from the Department of Education and Skills to every classroom in Britain, examinations will finally be made which challenge students appropriately, not according to some flash new idea which appeals to nobody outside the cafes of Islington or Kensington, but according to the wishes of teachers and parents.

"But I feel that the question which doesn't get as much attention as it deserves at this time of years is what is the point of these exams. Why put a kid through school from the cradle to the academic grave when it would be much more valuable for most teenagers not to be stuck in a classroom hearing ('listening to' or 'learning' imply too much activity) a teacher try to teach the intricacies of something which will never matter to them in the slightest, when they could be out of that classroom and in the real world, learning something that they can put to use throughout their whole life. Why should a teenage student, poor in aspiration and disillusioned by the status quo, be required to follow the exploits of Shylock and Antonio or solve quadratic equations when he could be learning a trade, acquiring the manual skills that once made Britain great?

"More pressing than this futile debate about examinations is the debate that we're ignoring: what is the purpose of education? How do we shape education? Where does education belong? And how do we legislate towards better education? For me, we need to devolve all powers over education to teachers and parents, through the abolition of the State structures which hold together the system, and empower parents, through, I would argue, school vouchers. And then, over time, education would be revolutionised. Schools would no longer be forced to adhere to some strict code or government diktat. Parents would be put in charge of their children's education, taking responsibility for their progress and for encouraging their success. And we humble students would not trundle through adolesence as part of the system, thrown in at the start and spat out at the end. Rather, we would learn all that we need to live a successful life, all we need to work and to earn, and all we need to have strong and noble character.

"There is a big debate to be had about education, and I've already decided where I stand. The problem is that all the people who claim to be looking out for the welfare of me and millions of others are determined to have a different, less challenging debate!"


At 12:46 pm, Blogger karly540marco said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 1:08 pm, Blogger Mark O'Brien said...

If visitors are wondering why the above was the fourth comment I have deleted in this blog's history, let me make it clear that I am not some high-handed dictatorial creature determined to ignore any opposition, rather I am simply infuriated at individuals posting advertisements for timber, encryption software and some kind of feminine Viagra!

No more!!


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