06 December 2006

Tick ... tock ...

Education in Britain is on a long, slow, decades long pendulum swing back into conservatism. In many ways, to hark back to my etymologies of a few days ago, education is in retreat before instruction: we are becoming less interested in leading minds out, increasingly keen on piling things up in them.

Coursework assessment, which offers a chance to assess the depth and breadth of a student's understanding and ability to access sources, will over the next couple of years be completely removed from the level two GCSE courses taken by all sixteen year olds. One hundred percent examination may be a poor way to assess ability, but it always goes down well in reactionary times.

Today we were told that employers will have a greater input into the design of courses. That's not a bad thing; employers have produced good results in other course inputs in the past - though those results have all too often been short lived, as voter pressures erode them. Employers have their feet on the ground, and know the skills which their future employees will need. But feet on the ground is only half of a good education system; heads in the clouds, eyes on the stars, are also important - to individuals and to the societies of which they are part.

British students are, at the moment, over examined, over assessed, over tested. They are also over specialised. There's little time for freewheeling breadth of leaning when you are never more than a few weeks away from a crucial and narrow examination. Removing coursework could be at least partly a good thing if it removed some pressure; but populism demands that examinations be made harder, as well (plans for that were also announced today), so bang goes that one.

I thought I worked hard when I was a student; I also thought the exam system was restrictive, short sighted, blinkered; but, looking back now, I didn't know I was born. I'm very glad I wasn't born in the 1980s or 1990s.

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