Saturday, February 28, 2009

Nerd Notes: One Student's Perspective on Politics in the British GCSE Exams

Interesting indeed. Apparently there are still glimmers of hope left, after all! The edu-crats haven't completely succeeded.

Blurb from the 16-year-old's letter (my emphasis in boldface):
As a current GCSE student, I can identify with this “politicisation”. It seems to me as if the GCSE curricula, above all for science, no longer focus on understanding the subject. The core biology science curriculum now calls for very little knowledge of the biology that we had studied in the years preceding GCSE, but seems to be a governmental attempt to raise awareness of current social issues. For example, section A of the core biology exam concentrates on contraception, drugs, alcohol, smoking, obesity, anorexia and the MMR vaccines, whilst section B tackles broader issues such as global warming, GM crops, creationism vs Darwinism and alternative energy sources.

. . . However, one of the key problems with sitting exams about topics of this nature is that the exam board are required to write mark schemes clearly detailing the answers that they want within a rigid framework. This leaves no room for debate on the part of the student, meaning that instead of producing insightful, perceptive and interesting answers, pupils tend towards putting down what they think the mark scheme is most likely to have as an acceptable response. For example, in a question about embryo screening, the advantage of screening embryos in accordance to the mark scheme was to reduce health care costs for the parents. I found it a little disconcerting, if not positively concerning, to discover that my answer that it would improve the quality of life for the child, did not feature. Is it right to present these issues to pupils in such a way that they are blinkered into one channel of thought? Is it not more productive to allow pupils to debate current affairs in such a way that they are able to access all viewpoints and form their own opinions? Arguably, the government is now more concerned with indoctrination than discussion.

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