Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Learning Versus Qualifications

I work in a place where giving out qualifications is a big deal. Huge ceremony, fancy clothes, lots of fuss - a grand day out for everyone. However very few of the academic staff here seem to think that giving out qualifications is our main business. We help people make sense of their world, learn lots of useful stuff and go out having gone through a good deal of personal and professional growth. The qualification is our acknowledgement of the growth and learning our student have achieved.  It's an exciting business to be in.

Somehow, this is not what young people perceive education is all about as they go through school and college. Visit a "good" college and you will be told about A-level results until you are sick of it. Sounds good until your willing offspring pick up the idea that nobody is much interested in whether they develop any deep understanding, or whether they grow and develop through being there. All that matters is the grades. This really comes home when you see bring students being forced to undertake mind numbingly unchallenging Computing A2 projects because the college has figured out the mark scheme and knows that a pathetic little project with a beautiful write up gets an 'A' more easily than a complex and difficult project.  No wonder so many university computer science departments have much interest in A-level computing.

Other sciences are the same. I went to an open day at a "top" sixth form and some very enthusiastic students showed me a chemistry experiment. It was big and complicated and had a long chemical formula above it that read something link blah + blah = blah + H2O. I'm not a chemist, but know that H2O is water. However, these bring young people would not even guess what the clear liquid dripping out of the tube at the end was. I bet they both got 'A' grades. Conversations with other students were similarly disappointing.

If you know any really smart kids who hate school or college, perhaps the the qualification fixation explains it a bit. Educators who believe that qualifications are more important than learning should quit. Today. They betray our young people, their parents and our society.