A chance remark the other day made me think about Government claims that our schoolchildren are getting brighter all the time. They are of course basing this statement on ‘results’, as is the government way. “Targets and results – that’s what we need! That’ll show the world how well we are doing!”
Every year, it is the same story from our bleating government Education Department: more pupils are getting more A* results and more pupils are getting 5+ GCSEs. Yet, when we encounter The Yoof of Today, holding down a mind-stretching job working the electronic checkout at some superstore, we find that their world view is often somewhat restricted and their ability to hold an intelligent conversation is hampered by their undeveloped sense of human interaction. But whose fault is this? Not the youngsters, that’s for sure.
Children, unless they have suffered some congenital brain damage, are born with a massive intellectual potential that could, with care and thoughtfulness, be coaxed from them. The Latin root of the word ‘education’ implies a ‘leading out’. I see that as a process whereby the person being ‘educated’ is simply being encouraged to fulfil an innate potential. The only example of this kind of process is in the Steiner Waldorf Schools. It amazes me that Steiner’s principles have not been adopted universally. But that would never do, would it? Modern governments and big business do not want people who can think for themselves. All that is required is an army of automatons to run the industrial machine in all its forms. Our poor children have been given no key to unlock the machinery of basic brain power. They are expected to get through life with a tick-box mentality. To me, it is another crime against society that education means nothing of the sort and that our cowardly governments hide behind statistics that are blatantly massaged to give a false impression of a truly alarming situation.
Being a grumpy old git, I have a tendency to dismiss this situation with a “Huh! Place is going to the dogs . . .” attitude. However, I spotted something that has vindicated my assessment and proved beyond further argument that the place really is going to the dogs, and that the Government is indeed blagging us as badly as any East End barrow boy. It is the 2008 Examiners Report from Edexcel.
It begins with an overview on the general level of intelligence of GCSE pupils, informing us that one in five pupils taking GCSE this year believe that the Sun orbits the Earth, and that one in ten did not understand that a rechargeable battery can be used more than once. The report then goes on to highlight the level of dumbing down now prevalent in our schools. But, hey, if you want loads of pupils to get high grades to support Government targets, you have to give them an easy bar to jump – sorry, to step over.
Getting down to specifics, let’s have a look at some sample questions from this year’s GCSE Science paper.
1. Santiago hurts his leg in a tackle. His coach sends him to hospital to have his leg checked. The hospital takes an X-ray of Santiago’s leg. The X-ray shows whether Santiago:
a) has broken his leg,
b) has sprained a muscle,
c) has low blood pressure,
d) has a high heart rate.
2. The female nurse leaves the room while the X-ray is being taken. Why must she leave the room?
a) to avoid being in the X-ray,
b) to avoid the X-ray damaging her cells,
c) to avoid the X-ray melting her mobile phone,
d) to avoid the X-ray giving her a tan.
Need I go on? Yes – I need to ask you to compare and contrast. So here is a question from a 1963 Chemistry O-level paper.
1. Describe the preparation of a few jars of hydrogen chloride from rock salt. What modifications would be necessary in your apparatus in order to prepare hydrochloric acid?
What weight of pure sodium chloride would be needed to produce sufficient hydrogen chloride just to neutralise 5.9 litres of ammonia gas, measured at 18°C and 770mm pressure? What would be the volume of this amount of hydrogen chloride, measured at the same temperature and pressure?
(Na = 23; Cl = 35.5; N = 14; H = 1; the gram-molecular volume is 22.4 litres at normal temperature and pressure)
Just for a laugh, here is another question, this time taken from an 11-Plus paper from the early ‘60s:
1. A library has 2,672 ‘A’ books and 5,172 ‘B’ books. During the year in ‘A’ section, 514 new books are bought, 398 are moved to ‘B’ section, and 23 are lost. In ‘B’ section, 297 are sent to salvage or lost. How many are there in each section at the end of the year?
Without calculators, please! Nuff said, I think. Or, Quod erat demonstrandum, as my old Maths master might have put it.