All of this nonsense about exams not being hard enough is really annoying me. It is something that governments constantly latch onto and try to remedy, when it is not a problem at all. In fact, all these statistics that are provided in league tables and the emphasis on upping the average is a political game played in order to present the UK as a competitor to other foreign markets; it doesn’t help the children. I am not a teacher. In fact, I live far away from the “real world” realities that many families face. I probably am far away from being as well-off as Osborne/Cameron/ others in politics, but I think I have been pretty lucky in life. However, the one thing that I have done is charity. Charity has allowed me to see the issues that some children face. I have come to realise that so many of them don’t enjoy school. They certainly don’t enjoy exams and they regard learning only as a facilitator for the passing of exams.
Last year, I took up a Japanese course at SOAS university. I am really fascinated by the language and culture and have always wanted to holiday there. I found that I was a far more effective language learner than I have ever been before. I studied German at GCSEs and French before that and I can quite honestly say that I was fairly dismal at both. What then made the difference? It was obviously maturity, the cost of the course (I felt I had to try more in order to get my money’s worth), being put through the rigours of degree level study etc. However, the most important factor was that I understood the potential use of the language and had plenty of practice speaking it in class. There was an exam at the end of each term, but these didn’t require devoting hours of study. They were to indicate if anyone was getting left behind and was ready for the next term of work. I remember in GCSE German, we had oral exams that involved spieling off a one minute speech and answering questions on set topics. People would prepare their answers word for word and the exam would involve reciting what they had learnt to the examiner. I naturally rebelled (everyone says I am an idiot for doing this), didn’t learn set answers, bombed in the exam (got a C), when all my other papers were A/A* grade and got 1 mark away from an A overall. However, in Germany, I found that I was at least able to muddle through some conversations with locals (my German has degraded terribly since this time), whilst others would have struggled with free flowing speech. In French, I remember learning from uninspiring textbooks and sending a letter to an imaginary friend called Claude how I wanted to go on the TGV in three tenses. I didn’t build up an exciting picture of French culture (aside from finding out that there was something called chocolate bread) and as a result, I doomed myself to mediocrity in French.
What I have learnt from my experience is that people in governments and the media, is that they (as people who generally faced either no real difficulties in their own educations or have forgotten what it was like to learn as a child) are addressing the problems of easy exams, when the real blight upon the education of young people is a lack of direction or the only direction seeming to come from a desire to pass exams (which might motivate some people to excel, but not nearly enough). I don’t think the solutions are inexpensive either and they extend from the toddlers years (our primary system needs a complete makeover, yet why is it always the secondary education that gets lambasted by the media?), right up to the post-graduate years (there are plenty of graduates who are willing to go through more training, yet are finding costs prohibitive and there aren’t enough businesses who offer training).
I understand that some jobs require a huge financial investment by a company in order to fully train a member of staff (think of competitive internships in IT and some apprenticeships that can run into the tens of thousands of pounds for training), but for lower skill jobs, I think it is ridiculous for a company not to give training for an “unskilled” employee. I sometimes train people to cash-up and use the till and it takes so little of my time. The “unskilled” employee is sometimes only a few steps away from being “skilled” and saying that young people haven’t got enough “experience” is rubbish. First, they aren’t meant to have experience, as is held to be self-evident, within the very definition of the term “young people” and experience, is not an indication of aptitude; many people thought that Fred Goodwin was experienced enough to become the CEO of the Royal Bank of Scotland and yet what we came to discover was that “experience” can lead to arrogance and complete ineptitude. All I’ve learnt from experience, is that in this ever changing world of ours, experience allows us to mostly avoid old mistakes and make new ones.