Monday, April 21, 2008

Exams are an anomaly by Nick Brakespear

Exams are an anomaly in the education system. A component misplaced, a cog spinning but not really connecting with the greater machine.

Looking back on my schooldays, I find that I have mental blocks in place when it comes to the memories of many exams. Try as I may, I simply cannot remember what I wrote, or what I supposedly memorised in order to write. All I remember from such joyous times is the sense of utter dread as I awoke the day of major exams. The nauseating anxiety that would plague me and would leave me incapable of eating breakfast, would turn my already pale skin even paler and due to the subsequent exacerbation of my chronic illness and the impact of the stress upon on my immune system, I would be left feeling like an anvil-weight of flu had landed upon me for the next few days. So yes, I have a few mental blocks (actually, more than a few; I’ve led what you might call an “interesting” life, and it seems as though a few memories have decided to sink to the depths of my mind for the good of everyone involved) when it comes to exams.

Back home, exams have reached such a height of importance, have become such a source of stress, that it feels as though we spend more time and mental energy brainlessly memorising information to regurgitate upon the paper during the exam...than we do actually learning that subject. But then, if the only means of testing whether or not we have learned that subject is the exam, then perhaps this learning-for-exams is learning the subject?

Or perhaps it is this definition that is part of the problem: what is learning? If learning is nothing more than the acquisition of pure, unprocessed information, then computers may as well replace children. After all, computers are the ones doing the marking of many standardised tests these days (we’re not only being tested on that which we have memorised, but also our ability to conform – mark the box correctly, or the computer can’t read it and you’ll fail). Computers certainly require less up-keeping, even if they do throw nearly as many tantrums. Illegal operation? BAD PC. Quiet time for you!

My definition of learning would be the acquisition and understanding of information. Understanding is something I have yet to see tested for properly, just as I have yet to see a real test of sentience (after all, if I cannot know your thoughts, does “I am sentient” mean anything coming from another?).

In an ideal world, class sizes would be small enough for the teacher to get to know their students, and in so knowing, be aware of their level of understanding. Unfortunately, this aint an ideal world, and numbers mean the system, and the system does not deal in anything other than ones and zeroes. There is no room for greyscale in the modern world. I guess we’ve gone digital in many respects, and even though the paperwork has been digitised, it doesn’t make it any less bureaucratic.

The problem, is, without the human awareness of understanding, the understanding of what those numbers within the system actually lost. And so we have the modern British educational problem; if everyone has an A, if everyone has a degree, what is the value of such a thing?

We are faced with a generation of young people whose knowledge of the world is limited to the answers and context of a standardised test, and whose understanding is essentially...childlike.
If someone tells you the answer to 1+1 is 2, can you trust that they understand why? Or was the “correct response” simply imprinted upon their mind?

The system that we defined, now defines us, and it does not understand us. To define without understanding is to simply label. The label has no inherent meaning. No wonder we’re so confused.


Temporary Home

This blogsite is our temporary home while our website undergoes an extreme makeover of epic proportions (shifted septums, pacemakers, calf implants, dialysis, a fancy wig, contacts -- the works).

This was our old home, and while it is a bit dated, it's a good source of info regarding recent issues and the history of Prism Review.

Updates will follow regarding our new home. ETA summer 2009.