Saturday, 3 September 2011

Why our educational system is in decline, and how to fix it.

(written for Britain, but applicable to many other places too, I don't doubt)

There are schools, exam boards, and a government.

The schools make money by parents sending their children there, so they want their exams to be easy so the kids score more highly so parents will send their kids there.

The exam boards make money by the schools subscribing to their exams rather than those of a rival exam board. So the exam boards want their exams to be easy so that schools will choose their exams so that parents will choose their school on account of the high grades.

The government makes money by being in a position of power to levy taxes and pay themselves handsomely, so they want the exams to be easy so that kids score highly so they (just like the schools and exam boards) can happily proclaim, each year, that the exam results are the best ever, in the hopes that they are seen to be improving education, or at least, keeping up with what the previous party did.

Consequently, the government strives to allow the exam boards to make the exams as easy as possible. The exam boards strive to make their exams the easiest, while still fulfilling the national curriculum requirements set out by the government. The schools strive to choose the easiest exam board, and focus on teaching only what will be asked in the exam.

Consequently, each year, the exams get easier (and, to compound it, the grade boundaries lower), so kids finish school with less knowledge and more "A" grades than their forebears of the previous year.

Now, not only do they have ignorance, but also the illusion of knowledge. Not even just the illusion of knowledge, but the illusion of superiority, since after all, they got "the best grades ever". Their parents were proud to scrape a handful of Cs, and there they are with an armful of A* grades!

What makes this worse? Same is true of very many university courses; that, and also how universities market themselves around being fun and cool, since it is the kids making the decisions and not the parents.

I strongly suspected this while going through school / university, but had it completely confirmed while later doing some work for an exam board.

Moral of the story? Education was better when it was either State-led or privately sourced. One cannot usefully nationalise the curriculum without nationalising the provision of education in all its components, or at least taking business competition out of the equation.

Potentially useful options, as I see them:

1) Make the whole thing State-led (if I say "nationalise" you'll call me a Fascist, and if I say "socialise" you'll call me a Communist, so I'll just say "state-led", and you'll at least have to be more creative in your labelling).
2) Make the whole thing private (you could call me a Capitalist for this, I think, though I'm really not)
3) Have the State set the curriculum and standards, let the education be provided privately, but have only one exam board, run by the government, so we cannot have the downwards-cascading "bid to be the easiest".

Of these, I'd most suggest 3), and also suggest to have these qualifications be optional, but encouraged.

Source for image: