Sitting alone

[The exam system] obliges students to sit alone at their desks in preparation for a world in which, for much of the time, they will need to work collaboratively.

Tony Little, head of Eton College, on why England’s exam system is out-dated.

Although he doesn’t offer an opinion on what we can replace it with, I’m beginning to think that we can look to teachers like Dan Meyer, Elizabeth Green and Ramsey Musallam to give us an idea of what need to change: children need to sit alone less, they need to be encouraged to be curious, they need to explore different ways of answering a question with their classmates. Certainly, this is already happening to an extent, and these types of methods are not necessarily incompatible with testing.

Still, you are what you measure. These exams measure the ability to take an exam at least as much as—if not more than—they measure what has been learned. Because this is what it measures, this is what is taught and what comes across as important to students, but the ability to take an exam is of exactly zero value once students leave school.

And here lies the difficulty. The government and the bureaucracy that has grown up around the education system is obsessed with measurement. It’s the only way it can determine whether it has been successful. (Actually, I’m not sure if that’s entirely true; there must be better criteria for success.) The rest of us—the parents and the teachers—are more concerned that kids are learning the skills they will need out in the real world. At the moment, I’m not entirely convinced that this is the case.

Again, I’m reserving judgement as I learn more about the National Curriculum, the exams system and the education system in the UK and elsewhere.