Sunday, November 01, 2009
Thursday, August 14, 2008
Oh dear. It's that time of year again. The time of the year when we all find out that everyone's done surprisingly well in their exams and whats more they've done better than last year's students and, in fact, they've done better than any students ever. It's also the time fo year when the papers bring out that ever predictable claim- GCSEs and A Levels are getting easier- before it all fades in to the back pages and beyond again.
I'll get straight to the point. I can't tell you if all exams are getting easier. Neither can the old man who claims it was a lot tougher in his day. No, neither of us have studied the same subject for the same amount of time in both eras and taken the exams. We can only go on statistics (but who says students aren't getting more intelligent?).
So, in an attempt to bring some evidence to the trial of A Levels versus the press, I offer you this.
Yesterday, I received my AS level results. (In case you aren't familiar with the system, A Levels take two years, the first of which is is called 'AS', or 'Advanced Subsidiary'. The AS is effectively half an A Level, and students can choose not to continue to the full qualification if they wish.) I was especially pleased to see that for Media Studies I had achieved an 'A' grade.
I hadn't thought I'd done very well in the final exam, entitled 'Audiences and Institutions'. The exam was based around new media technologies; the Internet, other new forms of communication and the digital revolution. To be honest, I was a little confused. What I had been taught seemed to be far too simple for me to able to achieve a decent grade. So, I tried my best and hoped for the best.
The best I got. For that final exam I obtained an 'A'.
It turns out I had been taught precisely the right thing, and not one ounce too little either.
The first question on the paper was merely a comprehension exercise; answer a few questions on about four short paragraphs on new methods of film distribution. All the answers were in the text.
The second question related to the first four paragraphs and asked about other new methods of 'content distribution'- which really only means how companies get what they produce to an audience. You don't have to think too deeply before you remember services such as the BBC iPlayer, Channel 4's 4 On Demand and how users of digital TV are always been told to press the red button for extra things to enjoy.
The third question went something like 'Explain the opportunities new media technologies give for creativity.' Simplify the question and all you really need to talk about is YouTube and MySpace, and how they allow users to add and edit their own material, without any technical knowledge.
All you need to include is a bit of debate (the good and bad points of each) and a few key words that you're taught beforehand. Add them all to a fairly succinct and understandable short essay and you're away. A huge amount of pre-exam research is also not particularly necessary; the vast majority of teenagers are already very aware of these things- they just have to understand the questions.
I don't wish to get into a Mickey Mouse Media Studies debate (I've been there already), and I'm not saying that all of the A Level Media Studies course is as undemanding as that exam (I've not started on the second year yet, anyway). But the evidence is there; there are easy exams in A Level courses and the pass rate just keeps on rising.
Posted by Tom at 4:01 pm
Friday, June 13, 2008
During a Post-Christmas meal with the side of the family we hadn't seen on Christmas Day, the topic of education arose- specifically mine- with the more academically fascinated side of my family.
"So what books are you studying for English then, Tom?" Causing me to suddenly feel quite the student.
"Well," I replied smugly. "'The Hound of the Baskervilles' by Arthur Conan Doyle and 'The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency'- Alexander McCall Smith."
"What?!" They laughed. An air of amusement surrounded the dinner table. What had I said? I felt a little flushed. And then they explained. "They're train reads. Simple books!" Oh dear.
"I know!" I lied. I laughed awkwardly before trying to redirect the conversation. "A joke, isn't it!"
"I'm sure we did 'The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency' for GCSE. No, below GCSE!" Piped up a cousin in her twenties. I laughed awkwardly.
"You're a product of the education system," my Auntie said. Ouch.
And fair enough. We don't even study Shakespeare until next year. In an attempt to reassure myself that what I'm studying is at least vaguely worthwhile, I looked on the exam board's website to see what other books can be studied for AS level English Language & Literature. I was surprised, né ashamed at what I discovered.
To gain an AS Level in English Language & Literature, you can study 'Black Beauty', 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone', 'Tom Brown's Schooldays' and 'Watership Down' among others. What is this? A reading group for ten year olds?
It seems the powers that be have dumbed down education in an attempt to glamourise education in order to attract more school leavers to continue. Hardly surprising, I suppose, when recent figures show that nearly a quarter of all 16 - 18 year olds have opted to stay out of any form of education or training whatsoever.
They've tried to make education seem cool; luring skeptical teens to subjects like Media Studies with the promise of action films and the chance to produce a music video- while the core theoretical content (something they don't exactly shout about) is based only around 'key concepts'.
But is 'sexing up' subjects really the way to boost further education attendance? And surely it isn't fair on those of us who have a genuine interest in the subject?
A solution for all this? It's difficult to tell. But one thing I would say is that colleges and sixth forms shouldn't be education sales outlets. And students, most certainly, should be students and not their customers. They should stop trying to tempt students in with glossy prospectuses and misleading open days that spend a significant amount of time in brand new computer rooms. Instead, they should concentrate on improving subject content (where the government has not ruled over them) and teaching quality. Let's be honest: these are the things that are the most important in the long term.
Meanwhile, I hear about what my friend has been studying in Biology. She says she's learned this: 'The heart is myogenic, which means is stimulates its own beating from the sinoatrial node, located at the top of the right atria. Therefore if you put a heart, say a frog’s, into a tank of a sugar solution (food for the cells of the heart, so they keep respiring) then it will keep beating on its own for days.' Easy? I don't think so.
Posted by Tom at 10:17 pm
Thursday, May 01, 2008
So you've been debating whether or not to buy my book...
For one week only, you can purchase a download of Cogito Ergo Sum for just £1!
Go to http://cogitoergosum.verynearlyrandom.co.uk, and click on 'Add to Cart' next to download.
You can pay using a credit or debit card, or PayPal from anywhere in the world.
But hurry! This offer will end on Thursday 8th April, when it will return to the price of £3.41- the cost of the print version.
Posted by Tom at 7:57 pm
Monday, March 24, 2008
As a special Easter gift to all the loyal readers of Very Nearly Random (and indeed absolutley anyone else)- my book, Cogito Ergo Sum, is currently available to download for only £1.99- for a limited time only!
Don't forget, it's possible to pay using a credit or debit card, or even PayPal. And if you don't live in the UK, it is also possible to buy using other currency!
Of course, you can still buy the book in good old fashioned print form, if you don't fancy staring at a computer screen to read it.
Go to http://cogitoergosum.verynearlyrandom.co.uk/ and click on the big link that says 'Download' to make your purchase!
Payment transactions are carried out through Lulu's (the publisher) secure payment system. Any problems you encounter should be addressed to them.
Posted by Tom at 7:10 pm
Thursday, December 20, 2007
In 2004, there were 49,478 teenage pregnancies reported in the UK. That’s 2.15% of the population of teenage girls. That means, on average, about two girls in every hundred in this country get pregnant. It’s the highest rate in Europe. A massive 44.8% of these pregnancies are aborted.
Sex Education is now a well integrated part of school and college life. Frankly, I’ve never really found it that great. It’s not that it was taught in a stuffy, dull way. No, in fact, it was quite the opposite. Sex Education was a bit of a joke, really. In Year 10, we were ‘taught’ by a bunch of jokey sixteen and seventeen year olds who had been given two days training HIV and genital warts. I sat at the back and didn’t really listen. I struggled to take them seriously. Now, at college, the college nurse comes in, chucks a condom at everyone and announces “Right. Sex!” I raised an eyebrow and pushed the condom away.
They teach the appropriate stuff- what contraception is available, what sexually transmitted infections you can get and where to go if you think you’ve contracted one. They teach you every single way of solving any problem you come across. And that’s just the thing. It seems every situation you can get out of, without having to tell anyone.
The impression I get from all the Sex Ed I’ve been subject to is that really it’s fine to have sex whenever and with whoever you want. If you get into any difficulties, just pop to the nurse and she’ll sort you out. Don’t worry, you don’t have to tell your parents, or anything embarrassing like that. And yes, that includes possible pregnancy.
We’re taught where to go, what tests can be done, what happens after that and that’s it’s all completely confidential. Don’t worry about owning up to the fact that you’ve just made a huge mistake, and you might just have contracted a serious infection or be having a baby. Everything can be sorted out without even a whisper. Your parents don’t need to know!
To attract attention to this quick-fix guilt-removal campaign, nauseatingly horrible and unavoidable advertising material is thrust in our faces around the college. ‘Willy and his mates out on the pull!’ proclaims the caption to a picture of two cartoon penises with faces, wearing leather jackets on this sickeningly cheap paraphernalia next to an advert for the ‘Pee in a pot test’. A condom hangs crudely beside it all. A laugh, at a push, but this is sex we’re talking about. And sex produces human beings!
I caught on the local news today that school girls (yes, school girls) in Weymouth have been issued with ‘contraception cards’ to enable them to access the morning after pill at the local pharmacy (and I quote the newsreader) ‘without embarrassment.’
Besides the fact that the morning after pill isn’t really contraception (contraception is preventing the sperm reaching the egg, when the MAP kills of what has already been produced) this horrifying development is just another, easier way of irresponsible teenagers being able to lose their responsibility without any trouble. With this, even if they ‘forgot’ to use contraception on the night, they can still get out of it. Oh, and did anyone remember that it’s actually illegal to have sex before age sixteen?
If the current curriculum for sex education is the right one, why are there an ever increaing number of STI cases, and why are there an ever increasing number of teen pregnancies?
Here’s a novel idea! Instead of letting kids know how to protect themselves when having sex, why not teach kids that, actually, it’s not a great idea to have sex unless they’re over sixteen (let’s not forget the age of consent) and in a proper, stable and real long term relationship, at the very, very least. (Blew you away, that one didn’t it). And, if they don’t, they will have to live with the consequences. The sexual health funding (the UK spends £100,000,000 per year on education, clinics and free contraception) will be reduced too, meaning that if they ignore that advice, they will have to live with the consequences, and (shock horror) tell their parents and take responsibility.
It’s tough, but it’s a better moral lesson than any ‘Get out of jail free’ card.
Posted by Tom at 11:30 am