Who does our education system truly benefit?

At the moment, millions of students across the country are revising for exams which have huge implications on their future. Frantically cramming facts, quotes and theories to then repeat them on the exam paper has become normal, but what purpose does this serve? Most students are aware that these exams are simply a memory test of answers set out by exam boards, with the best grades going to those who can reproduce them most accurately in an intense and stressful environment. Even teachers know this – little to no time is spent on teaching useful skills such as critical thinking, or the wider context of the content studied, as this would interfere with the tight, exam based schedule. So why has nothing changed?

According to Marx, schools have a ‘hidden curriculum’ which is indirectly taught, about how to behave in society, and the correct beliefs and thoughts. On the surface, our education system provides us with the skills needed for society, such as literacy and numeracy. It also instills the notion that you can achieve anything, and be anything you want, with enough hard work and determination – this is the basis of meritocracy, the idea that all people in influential and high level jobs are there because they deserve to be. However, this also reinforces the idea that those who are in jobs that are deemed ‘less worthy’ by society are there because they deserve to be, because they lacked determination and hard work, and not because they lacked opportunities due to their socio-economic background. The amount of knowledge a person has will not increase the opportunities of that person to become powerful; it is the powerful that get to decided what constitutes as knowledge. This exacerbates the inequality found in education, which is unfortunately beneficial to those at the top. Other things taught include rewards for following instructions without question, a quality which mirrors the working world. We are also encouraged by schools to compete with our fellow students, by splitting us up into classes of ability and providing us with numerical scores for written work, which can then be compared with others. At no time is the idea of equality suggested to be beneficial.

These ideas are consequently reflected in the assessment process. Much like the world of business where success is measured by money, success in education is measured by a quantitative grade. Years of work are reduced to scores out of a hundred and letters ranging from E to A, with the futures of young people being decided and defined by how well they managed to fit inside the constructs set out by the powerful minority. So how can we go about creating an education system which prides its self on equality, creating a generation capable of changing our society for the better?

  • Change numerical, arbitrary feedback which is focussed on achieving a target grade into descriptive feedback which is focussed on the development of the student. This will create a more positive work environment as no one will be made to feel inadequate by their grade, and each student will be able to individually improve.

  • All classes should be mixed ability, with specialist teaching assistants to aid those who have learning difficulties. This would also include more able students helping the others in the class – not only would this reinforce their own learning, but also teach them the value of helping others, as opposed to trying to excel past them and leave them behind.

  • Create tests which assess what the students have learnt, as opposed to learning the answers to the assessment. This would turn memory test into a way for students to freely demonstrate their skills without the constraints of a rigid mark scheme.

  • Include teacher feedback in students’ overall grade. This would decrease the importance of final examinations, and give a more accurate representation of a student’s ability. We all have off days, and a student shouldn’t have their future jeopardized because of it.

Obviously these changes cannot happen instantly, and would not work with our societies current attitude towards the education system. However, I believe that in time attitude can change, and people will realise that equality is much more beneficial to our society than an elite few rising above the rest.

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6 responses to “Who does our education system truly benefit?”

  1. Fazal Abbas says :

    I have always been against this rote learning and reproduction throery of examination and testing. Completely agree that it should be tested what student has learnt as opposed to what answers they learnt from book.

    A great read.

  2. scribblingtruth says :

    It was not that long ago that my friend and I were having the same conversation about our University exams being a memory test. The only difference being that we had to go out there and independently find our information without it being spoon-fed to us. This apparently teaches us how to research, but all it taught me was how to regurgitate that information. I found your suggestions on how to improve the system very appealing, specifically when talking about feedback. It seems that we don’t really give our students enough opportunity to reflect upon their own development, apart from parents’ evenings. If this was a regular occurrence, students may be more confident in their own ability and progress onto further education given the opportunity.

    • Zane Axten says :

      You would have thought that the situation would improve when you progress to university, but apparently not! When handing in work I always prefer to know how to improve, as opposed to my mark. Like you say, it would definitely improve the confidence and self-esteem of the students.

  3. naomihenry49 says :

    I’ve always believed that our education system teaches students how to get by, rather than how to grow. Very thought provoking post, I look forward to seeing more!

  4. beetleypete says :

    You make some excellent points about the current educational system, which has only changed a little since my experience during the 1960’s. I agree with many of your conclusions, though I feel that they must be balanced against what is still an enviable provision, when compared to many other countries. Here is my take on my secondary (comprehensive) years. http://beetleypete.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/a-good-education/
    Regards, Pete.

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