In Britain, we have a selfish and self-destructive attitude towards education.
We struggle through GCSEs, work ourselves to the brink for A Levels and wait in panic mode the night before results day. But as soon as we’re holding that list of letters or numbers in our hand, as soon as we’re onto the next step in our lives, it’s as if we’ve forgotten about how steep the stairs were to get there.
Instead of trying to improve the system, we allow the same pain to be inflicted on those who come after us. But that needs to change. Just because we went through pain for our education does not mean that it should be a coming of age ritual for future generations.
It goes without saying that we’ve all been forced to take a break this year. While I was lucky enough to take a gap year, the country has also been forced to press the pause button on Edexcel, OCR and AQA. While that has created its own algorithmically unjust problems from university entrants, it has given us the national opportunity to sit back and think. Should our whole future be dependent on a few exams? Maybe forcing pointless quotes, commentaries and equations into our brains isn’t the best method. Maybe I shouldn’t be taking the same English Lit exam that my dad took in the 80’s because Michael Gove thinks we’re doing too well. To think maybe we need to start thinking.
We shouldn’t have to resent education. We shouldn’t have to desensitise ourselves to learning through an unhealthy night out culture. We may be a country of values and tradition, but what value is there in upholding a tradition that pushes kids to the edge on a annual basis?
Unlike other countries, our last collective memory of education is frantically writing in an exam hall. We don’t have the American ceremonial graduation to celebrate our achievements but instead we have the ceremonial fear of: 1) opening envelopes 2) getting the grades 3) leaving the school never to come back. Or 1) opening envelopes 2) missing the grades 3) leaving the school to go through clearing/retake and then never come back. Why don’t we celebrate our students and our work? Why have schools become dreaded concrete block exams halls instead of buildings of inspiration, admiration and encouragement? Why don’t we get the closure we deserve? The answer from the establishment is because that’s the way it’s always been; we all went through it. But why do we allow it to continue as opposed to try and change it?
We aren’t just statistics, or grades, or university offers; we’re creative, intelligent young students and more importantly just people who have been put through a lot and we deserve a lot more. Our final moments at school shouldn’t be holding a thin exam envelope; it should be us grasping certificates and celebrating our whole time at the the school. Not just rejoicing or crying over the exam results that were forced out of us.
Considering the United Kingdom takes so much pride in its education system, the COVID-19 pandemic really shows how the government quickly gave up on education. Other countries, like Australia and the United States, used technology to successfully conduct exams online but the United Kingdom remained stuck in the Twentieth Century so everything was put on pause. We have technology; in recent months, everyone has got to grips with Zoom and online meetings. So why does our education continue to rely on a pen, paper and the classroom? The United Kingdom needs to adapt. Students go home and spend hours on five different social media platforms. But, when it comes to exams, suddenly we’ve time-travelled back to chalkboards and metre sticks. If we even need exams at all anymore, the exams we take should equip us for the Twenty-First Century rather than restrict us based on the Twentieth Century educations of our current politicians.
However, the break in exams has some positives. It has allowed our teachers and our work throughout the school year to become our examiners. Simply, it has allowed us time to do things differently. If only the government hadn’t trusted an algorithm. If only they had trusted the teachers rather than the system. Countries like Norway, Finland and the Netherlands were able to rely on teachers’ assessments, scores throughout the year and students’ progress to dictate end-of-year grades. Instead, we had a computer that believed the school’s district to be a more relevant factor than the achievement of the student.
Let’s usitilise this year’s failure as a reason to challenge and change the establishment. My grandparents did A Levels, my dad did A Levels, I struggled through A Levels but the next generation shouldn’t have to.
A Levels need to change; exams need to change. We need to change.
Photo courtesy of Feliphe Schiarolli