Friday, 18 May 2018

A bit of a rant about education!

I always enjoyed being a teacher. Well, okay, there were certain times with certain classes when I seriously wondered what I was doing and if I could stand it. That goes without saying really whatever kind of job you have. On the whole, though, I felt lucky that i could earn my living doing something that mostly I got a load of pleasure from.

I loved teaching those first year (year 7) classes, introducing them to a foreign language and seeing them having fun with words. Even the dreaded third years (year 9) had their moments, when I managed to get them to see the point of whatever it was we were struggling to get our heads round. I had great fun organising weekend residential courses to get a bunch of bright fourth year (year 10) kids from schools all over the borough to spend a few days doing all their activities, even eating meals and playing sports, in a foreign language. And when they put up the school leaving age and youngsters who had previously been able to leave at age 15 now had to stay on into fifth form (year 11) even though they were it academically up to taking the exams, it was an interesting challenge to devise something to keep them motivated in the classroom. Teaching sixth form was probably the best: seeing them prepared for the next stage. All good.

 However, I suspect that if I were about to embark on my working life, I might not now follow the same path. There seems to be little room left for fun. But then again, maybe I would still do it. Here, in any case, is a link to an article about the stress faced by staff and students with the new tougher GCSE examinations.  

Back when I was doing O Levels myself, only a minority of us took the exams. Those who did not do so left school at 14 or 15 and found a job. The exams we sat were tough, and some students did get very worked up about them and had some sort of nervous breakdown. But we were generally buoyed up by the knowledge that we were the bright ones who should be able to cope with it. And it has to be remembered that there were jobs available for those who ended up with no qualifications. And if the exams were tough, it was what we expected. Nobody said education had to easy or even entertaining - if we enjoyed it, then it was a bonus.

Over the years I watched the exams change. In my own subject area, Modern Foreign Languages, I watched some elements of the exams get easier - most elements to be completely honest - but saw some grow more demanding. There were students I was at school with who achieved decent grades in O Level French without being able to string a sentence together and who would have been horrified to have to go through the spoken exams that I have inflicted on later generations. And they keep on tinkering with the system.

Someone in the article I linked to questions why we still make students sit exams at 16 when we now insist that they stay in education of training until they are 18. These people claim that other European countries do not do so. And yet, in fact, those other countries do do so. Testing at 16 may not be so nation-wide organised as it is here, but if youngsters are to continue to baccalaureate level, they have to prove that they have reached a satisfactory level in all subjects at 16 - a kind of school leaving certificate. They do that by assessment within their own schools. Okay, it’s open to abuse, but so is our formal nation-wide system open to cheating.

Yet some kind of assessment is needed if students are to progress to the right mind of post-16 education. Years ago anyone who passed the Bachillerato in Spain could go to university. University courses began with huge classes, sometimes up to 100 in a class, which gradually reduced as students dropped out, realising they could not hack it. So they introduced “Selectividad”, an exam which decided which sort of university course students are suited to. There was outcry at the time but it’s accepted now. And I suppose students get stressed about it.

And unfortunately for today’s youngsters, those who have no qualifications have no chance at all. So almost every student faces more and more exams and the stress levels rise.

I truly don’t know what the answer is but maybe it is better to put the stress off as long as possible.

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