It’s that time of year again.
The word can bring the usually stout of heart and joyous of personalities to a stuttering, heart-in-the-mouth, stomach-churning (occasionally pants-filling), halt.
Thousands of young people across the UK will have sat, or be currently sitting these horrendous GCSE/A level/End of Year papers. My thoughts are with you guys.
But why do we do exams? For years I have gone along with the mentality that exams are there to assess how much we have learnt, to grade us for the next level of education, to see where our skills lie (academically) and so direct our employment options.
Imagine our ancient ancestors – ploughing the fields, milking the cows, thatching roofs, building homes, smithing your horse’s hooves, sewing your clothes, brewing ale, grinding corn and so on and so forth. Did they sit written exams? No. They didn’t, but managed to make, create, produce and thrive in a continuously moving environment.
The problem lies with numbers; not those hated calculations involving equations and formulas – or that might just be me. I mean numbers of students. In the past, authentic assessment was the norm; we had apprenticeships; an expert would take on an apprentice, provide individualised training and constant feedback. Apprentices were evaluated on how well they applied the skills, not how well they answered a multiple-choice question. The tradition continues today; the construction industry being a point in question.
But as the population grew, we needed a way to assess huge numbers of potentials. And now we have a kind of production-line mentality to education and exams. We go in one end, age 5 years (3 ½ if you go to pre-school), and come out the other aged 18 years, having sat numerous tests along the way: IQ tests, 11Plus, Aptitude, End of Year, SAT’s (thanks America!) Mocks, GCSE’s (O Levels if your over 40 years), A Levels. THEN, you can go to Further or Higher Education where you do further exams – or retake those English and Maths GCSE’s you failed at school.
And this in an age where we talk about the individual; about how we’re each different, how we have differing needs, how we learn at different rates. So why the rigid, one-size-fits-all attitude?
And what do exams do anyway, besides stress us out? So you happen to be able to remember a bunch of information that someone spewed out for 10 months, so what? Just because you can pass a written exam, does not mean you will be successful in life, as a person – you know, the REAL important stuff?!
Should we be looking at a new way to educate people? What should we be educated in?
We’re so busy stuffing our heads with dates and measurements and names and so forth, that we do not stop to think what we should be learning about.
Education, after all means – the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university, “a course of education” (OED) Origin – Word Root of educate
The Latin word ducere, meaning “to lead,” and its form ductus give us the roots duc and duct. Words from the Latin ducere have something to do with leading. A duct is a tube that leads from one place or organ to another. To educate, or teach, is to lead to knowledge. To induce is to lead into a particular state. (Merriam-Webster)
So, instead of stuffing words, dates and formulae in, we should be spending half the time, drawing out from the pupil.
And anyway, who decided that if you don’t get the grades then you’ll never ‘make it’ in life. Let’s have a look at how some well-known people fared in their school exams and ask ourselves, Do we really need exams in the form they currently are anymore?
Imagine if every student across the land – every single one – refused to do their exams. On the same day, at the same time, they all agreed to down pens and refuse to take part in this pointless ritual that measures nothing but an individuals ability to regurgitate information in a given time frame…I wonder what would happen?!
Simon Cowell –Music Entrepreneur – left school with just 1 O Level.
Jon Snow– journalist/News Presenter – Grade C in English.
Lord Alan Sugar – Business Entrepreneur – 1 GCSE.
Sarah Millican – Comedian – D and E in her A Levels.
Jeremy Clarkson – TV Host – “If your A-level results aren’t joyous, take comfort from the fact I got a C and two Us. And I have a Mercedes Benz.”
…and extracts from some school reports of the good and the average:
“This boy will never get anywhere in life.” Eric Morecombe, Comedian.
“Judi would be a very good pupil if she lived in this world.” Judi Dench, Actor.
“Certainly on the road to failure…hopeless…rather a clown in class…wasting other pupils’ time.” John Lennon, Musician.
“Inclined to dream. Could do better if he tried.” Nick Park, Animator.
“Jilly has set herself an extremely low standard which she has failed to maintain.” Jilly Cooper, Author.
“Constantly late for school, losing his books and papers….regular in his irregularity….” Sir Winston Churchill, Prime Minister 1940-1945/1951-1955
So you see, if at first you don’t succeed; become an entrepreneur, a comedian or a politician, can’t go wrong!