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I loved this in the popular UK newspaper The Independent last Friday. They posed the question and put in a set of 15 A-level questions that students will be facing this month. I’ll be the first to admit I did not do very well despite the fact that I took some of those subjects and went on to study at the University of Oxford. But should I be surprised?
Actually no, and for a number of reasons. This is important because as adults, and especially as parents, we sometimes forget that the world our children face is not the same as the one we faced. In fact, the generational difference is now probably about as big as it has ever been in human history because the pace of change is at its fastest. When it comes to education this is as true as in any other aspect of life. As parents we need to listen to up-to-date professional advice, look at the published research and critically evaluate it.
There is often a misconception that exams today are “easier” than in the past (like when I took A-levels in 1988). People often point to grade inflation as evidence of this. But grade inflation has occurred across multiple curriculum changes at a fairly steady rate so this is clearly more complex. I’m always bemused as to why no-one is prepared to suggest that maybe younger generations are “better” at exams. Certainly more young people have access to education, more are supported in working at school rather than getting out and into work (those jobs don’t exist anymore), there is no reason to be surprised that the longer a population works at something, e.g. exams, the more competent they become. At the end of the day, I couldn’t do many of the quiz questions so how could they be easier?
Of course there is the question of specialisation. I have not had to study those subjects intensively every day for the last two years. It raises interesting questions, though, over the purpose of education if I have forgotten that stuff or never even been taught it and yet function perfectly well in the world. This I think is where we get the most differentiation in the quality of schools. Too many people point to the resources – the computer suites, playing fields, building quality, theatres etc – and these are nice to have but they do not educate children. Teachers and parents do. And the most important things we can teach them are not so much the curriculum content but the skills of how to learn, how to get on with people, how to lead and follow, how to problem solve, how to be resilient. So good schools are those which encourage community and foster a love of learning.
These are the important elements that our children need to get on with life and lead it in a rich and varied and fascinating way.