‘Do I need to know this for the exam?’ A question I am certain we've all heard, if not asked, amidst the anarchy of pre-exam preparation. Accompanying the question concerned is an overwhelming air of impatience, accusation and even hopelessness, as we struggle to maximise the fact-retention powers of our limited, yet rigorously-trained memories. The question itself sufficiently highlights the underlying basis of our generation’s approach to education: where we once studied a subject, we now scrutinise a syllabus. We are swiftly transitioning into automatons, trained to repeat facts, or, more specifically, mark schemes. The thirst for knowledge has been overthrown by the desperation for grades.
Education needs redefining: what was once an avid quest for knowledge has been warped into an academic industry - our brains, the fact-factories that determine our very future, absorb information not to further our understanding but to spit it out on to an exam page as if our lives 'depend on it'. The definition of education is ‘the process of acquiring a body of knowledge’ - knowledge being the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. So, why, may I ask, does the so-called ‘education system’ put such emphasis on the regurgitation of knowledge rather than itspractical application? The primary focus of modern schooling is to drill the powers of recollection firmly into the minds of their impressionable young pupils - their intention being that they might rewrite the textbook for the benefit of their examiner. Despite this… schools' sole aim seems to be for pupils to be able to replicate facts out of a book based upon another’s theories and opinions, yet schools still have the audacity to endorse a policy of individualism, equality and freedom of expression - the irony.
Unfortunately, education has become the latest political football. Ministers, unaware ofthe ramifications, have embarked on overly ambitious reforms, to the detriment of the entire system. The oppressive results-factories we see today are the inconvenient love child of those in politics and education who never really succeeded in making the relationship work. The national curriculum has been rewritten to ensure five-year-olds can do fractions, ten-year-olds can type essays and eleven- year-olds are taught poetry by rote. The focus on "regular, demanding, rigorous examinations" sacrifices the very values on which education was founded and around which civilisation revolves.
The ex-Headmaster of Eton College, Tony Little, argues ‘there is a real risk that the measurable parts become more important than the whole.’ He recognises that the requirements of society are constantly evolving, yet the system shows an unwavering inability to adapt: ‘We compound the problem by having an unimaginative examine system, little changed from Victorian times.’ It is exactly this archaic, formulaic and restrictive style of examination which is culpable for the failure to educate our youth for reality: ‘Students are obliged to sit alone at their desks in preparation for a world in which, for much of the time, they will need to work collaboratively.’
Imagine an education system with no ability streaming. No standardized testing. No high-stakes national assessments. No school inspections and no school ranking. Now add to that high learning outcomes and high quality teachers. These are not just ideal attributes of an imaginary system, but features of an actual education system: The Finish education system. Could we perhaps, learn from this? At the polar end of the spectrum sits Singapore. The rigour and strength of the Singapore education system in producing academically competent learners, is also highly admariable. But we would also readily admit that there is still room for improvement in both schemes. The challenge is striking a balance between a system that educates all its students to an acceptable standard and a system that fosters creativity and a love of education.