Rant warning …
No. It’s not the mild-mannered Mil you’ve become accustomed to who’s posting here today. If you live in England, or read up on what happens here, you’ll have just heard that our Minister of Education, Michael Gove, has decided to throw years of experience and consultation processes out of the window by taking a snap decision to introduce end-of-year exams in order to test our sixteen-year-old students.
I fear he confuses a snap decision with decisiveness – perhaps it’s time someone gave him a lesson.
In fact, they’re not end-of-year exams but end-of-two-year exams, for they will be taken by our children as a once-in-a-lifetime shot at their futures after two years of study. Back to the good-old-bad-old days of yore, then. Everything riding on an asthma attack or moment of youthful stress; hay-fever city here we come!
But the reason I despise this omnipotence which Gove is showing (more foolish acts of wasteful bravado here) is rather more grounded in the practice of learning itself than out of any admittedly irrelevant personal distaste from my side of the political fence.
Learning styles is why I argue that end-of-year exams are anti-democratic. There is a lot of controversy these days about what was once clearly accepted practice – but my experience as a teacher of languages shows me that a varied approach to learning materials helps everyone acquire knowledge more efficiently. Whilst there are students who will want the grammar and study notes first, there are others who care little for such a measured way of understanding a language’s inner workings – far preferring to launch themselves into the abyss of humorous misunderstanding before assessing the dangers that always lie ahead.
And whilst it may now be argued that we all have a little bit of each style that may be out there, it’s surely also true that in a technological age we can afford ourselves the luxury of adjusting the needs and preferences of all our learners.
If our governments believe that capital has the right to choose its destination; that patients should be able to choose their doctors; that consumers should be able to choose their brands; that utility users should be able to choose their suppliers … well, why can’t they accept that our sixteen-year-old children have a similar right to choose their learning paths – as well as the evaluation systems which measure them – in plain and simple terms of what works democratically for them?
Is this a democracy we are constructing – a plurality of beings and experiences? Or is it yet another straitjacketed society where those at the top use, without due professional discussion or debate, their own personal and anecdotal experiences in order to impose their prejudices on the rest of us?
Your call, I think. I’m signing off for the moment.
Rant over ….