I am obliged to An Englishman’s Castle for bringing to wider notice some ideas I have been banging on about for some time: since the “New” GCSE science syllabuses his the schools in September 2006. The “updated and relevant” “syllabus” consists mostly of repetition of prevailing orthodoxy about issues such as GM foods, global warming, stem cell research, MMR vaccination, the placing of mobile phone masts, and the like.
It’s worth reading the entire thing by the student. preferably before Tomes Online takes it down, as it is wont to do with stuff that gets up the noses of the Enemy Class. In fact I will save it just in case, and it’s here to save time:-
February 26, 2009
Can we please have less politics in our GCSE’s: a plea from a 16 year old…..
XXXXXXX is 16. He’s about to do his GCSEs and hopes to study Latin, German, Further Maths and English or History at A Level (so he’s no slouch). After that, he’s thinking of studying Classics and Modern Languages at University. But he’s not happy with the school curriculum, and was inspired to write for School Gate after the Cambridge Primary Review criticised the restrictions for children at a younger age. He thinks that there’s too much politics, that these are pushing out proper learning, and that social issues are being pushed far too hard…
So, over to Joe:
“In recent years, it seems that the school curricula are featuring more and more in public debate. There was considerable press coverage of a study last week which revealed that in primary education, the focus has been steered away from the arts and humanities leaving children “tied to their desks” struggling with the nine times table. The report claims this has “squeezed out” other areas of learning, rendering children’s artistic capacities under-developed and neglected. Furthermore, the report claims not only that the curriculum has been narrowed, but that what remains has become heavily “politicised”.
As a current GCSE student, I can identify with this “politicisation”. It seems to me as if the GCSE curricula, above all for science, no longer focus on understanding the subject. The core biology science curriculum now calls for very little knowledge of the biology that we had studied in the years preceding GCSE, but seems to be a governmental attempt to raise awareness of current social issues. For example, section A of the core biology exam concentrates on contraception, drugs, alcohol, smoking, obesity, anorexia and the MMR vaccines, whilst section B tackles broader issues such as global warming, GM crops, creationism vs Darwinism and alternative energy sources.
Perhaps this is the best solution to the some of the social problems that Britain faces today. Maybe through education, education and education, Labour may finally succeed in reducing teenage pregnancies, child obesity and begin to steer Britain towards a greener way of life.
Perhaps indeed, learning about the advantages and disadvantages of wind and solar power is vastly more useful to the average sixteen year old than a full understanding of the differences between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. In this way, the younger generation may begin to have a much clearer idea of current affairs, enabling us to partake more readily in the critical issues of the day, making us more informed voters and leaders of tomorrow.
An important aspect of the “politicisation” of the curriculum is the use of exams. Not only are the social issues agenda studied in class, but students must take exams on these topics, requiring an in depth analysis of the themes, and also meaning that students’ grades at GCSE depend on their knowledge of the subject in hand, encouraging a much more motivated and engaged learning process.
However, one of the key problems with sitting exams about topics of this nature is that the exam board are required to write mark schemes clearly detailing the answers that they want within a rigid framework. This leaves no room for debate on the part of the student, meaning that instead of producing insightful, perceptive and interesting answers, pupils tend towards putting down what they think the mark scheme is most likely to have as an acceptable response. For example, in a question about embryo screening, the advantage of screening embryos in accordance to the mark scheme was to reduce health care costs for the parents. I found it a little disconcerting, if not positively concerning, to discover that my answer that it would improve the quality of life for the child, did not feature. Is it right to present these issues to pupils in such a way that they are blinkered into one channel of thought? Is it not more productive to allow pupils to debate current affairs in such a way that they are able to access all viewpoints and form their own opinions? Arguably, the government is now more concerned with indoctrination than discussion.
In my view, it must be asked if the science curriculum is really the right place for these social issues to be debated and taught. Indeed, if education is really the process by which someone’s innate intelligence is led out, then perhaps topical issues should be addressed elsewhere. Arguably, in the hours that we spend in full time education, it is more important to develop an understanding of the basics of the world around us; to understand the science behind the issues as opposed to an awareness of the actual issues, and indeed problems, that science can both cause and solve.
Furthermore, those who are employed to teach Biology, Chemistry and Physics may well become frustrated by the deviance of the curriculum from their chosen subject. Thus, their passion for the subject, presumably because of which they chose teaching in the first place, diminishes. Can pupils really find a topic which frustrates their teachers engaging?
For the pupils, this intervention and politicisation can become annoyingly transparent. Having studied global warming in all three sciences, Geography, English, French, German and Spanish, I have found that its initial shock has now ceased to have an impact. The topic has become stale, and my will to change for the better has been weakened.
There is no doubt that there are a number of social issues, concerning young people, which need to be addressed in one way or another. My question is whether GCSE science is really the place for it. Maybe PSHE is a more obvious option, but the problem is that PSHE is not regarded with anywhere near the same level of importance. I think that as young people, we do need to understand the current topics being debated, but it is possibly more beneficial to be invited to participate seriously in balanced discussion, as opposed to having to show we know the effects of smoking in part b) of question nine.”
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