Friday, 28 August 2009

Clever and cleverer

WHAT a blessed, brilliant country this England is. So much more advanced than when we were young, or our parents were.
Year after year our children get cleverer, their teachers more and more effective. It must be so – every statistic tells us.
Two years from now all those youngsters who picked up their GCSE grades yesterday will be getting their A-level results. And I wouldn’t mind betting now that when they do it will be the 29th successive year of record results.
All those teenagers milling round the bus-stop, all those kids performing amazing feats of balance and momentum at the skate-park, must be harbouring the brains of budding Einsteins and Shakespeares under their hoodies.
Their results just keep getting better. And the exams aren’t getting any easier at all, are they? Course not.
Now, I have nothing whatever against the present generation of successful students.
I’m sure they’re just as nice, just as clever, just as motivated and hard-working as we were at their age.
But I can’t help wondering how those newly awarded their four or five straight A’s would have fared with the A-level papers I sat in 1975 – and the same standard of marking.
Or how I’d do myself in the current climate of educational spoon-feeding.
Do I resent it that my paper qualifications have been devalued by 30 years of gradual dumbing down? Yes, I do a bit.
Do I resent the latest batch of students emerging with more and better grades than me? Not in the least.
It’s not their fault. As footballers are so fond of pointing out, you can only beat what’s put in front of you.
In fact, I feel sorry for those whose efforts deserve more credit than simply to be among a record number of candidates with maximum grades.
And if you’re an employer, or a university admissions tutor, how do you select between a dozen students all with perfect marks? Or between them and my imperfect ones?
Caught up in a mania for targets and for constant "improvement", we seem to have lost track of actual standards.
Were you or I better or worse students than those now emerging blinking into the real world?
There is no way of telling.
The benchmarks have changed so much and so often that they are virtually useless.
Unlike our kids and their teachers, who are not well served by having to function in a culture of glamorous fiction.

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