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Royal Society of Chemistry Slams UK Exam Standards

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the easy-button dept.

Education 408

cheesethegreat writes "The Royal Society of Chemistry has sharply criticized the 'catastrophically' falling standards for UK school exams in the sciences. The RSC had 1,300 highly achieving students take an exam made up of questions taken from the last 50 years. The students averaged an appalling 15% on 'hard' numerical questions set in the 1960s, but managing much higher marks on the more recent 'soft' non-numerical questions. This latest report has garnered mainstream media attention. The RSC has also created a petition on the UK Prime Minister's official website, calling for urgent intervention to halt the slide, which has garnered over 3,000 signatures. The issue of declining exam standards has been an ongoing concern in the UK, with allegations that exam results have been manipulated by the government to increase pass rates and meet its own targets."

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Make the computer think for me (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932005)

Hard numerical questions are jobs for spreadsheets and Ti-89s

Get Ready for another headline (3, Interesting)

Oriumpor (446718) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932009)

US Schools do the same shit

News at 11

Re:Get Ready for another headline (1)

WaroDaBeast (1211048) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932547)

Sadly enough, it's not just Anglo-Saxon countries. I've seen school headmasters pride themselves because they got a 80% pass rate at the French baccalaureat; yet anyone who's sensible enough knows it doesn't mean shit anymore.

Hey, it's not like you could apply as a cashier with less than a bachelor's. ;-)

Standards of education falling in UK? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932017)

Glad to see Finland isn't the only one in trouble. It seems that it won't matter if our standards of education decline as long as they decline faster in other countries...

Re:Standards of education falling in UK? (1)

the_womble (580291) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932287)

Standards are not falling in private schools many in Britain are switching to the International Baccalaureate instead of A levels, because of the fall in standards - my old school was one of the first to do so.

As far as I know, standards in countries like India are fairly stable. This [trak.in] suggests I am right. It is inevitably biased towards the better schools (I bet they are not counting poor kids who do not go to school at all), but even the subset is a huge number of people.

Re:Standards of education falling in UK? (5, Interesting)

Archtech (159117) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932415)

Standards are not falling in private schools

Which is why the NuLabour government is doing its best to get rid of private schools. There is a marked and increasing difference in standards, and levelling down is so much easier than levelling up.

A while ago, the UK government's Office of Fair Trading (OFT) fined 50 leading private schools a total of GBP3.5 million (about $5.25 million) for exchanging information about the fees they were charging. See, for instance, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1511429/50-public-schools-fined-for-fixing-their-fees.html [telegraph.co.uk]

Note that in the UK, "public school" means a particular type of private (independent, non-state) school. The name was adopted before there was any state-run education in the modern sense, so it was logical in its day.

The irony is that most (all, AFAIK) of those schools have charitable status - they are "not-for-profit", so that the fees they charge merely pay their costs. No one is getting rich from running those schools. Moreover, the fine of about $100,000 per school could only be paid by increasing the fees!

Obviously, the purported motive of the fines - to stop the schools colluding to distort trade, reduce competition, and raise prices - was not applicable in the case of the public schools. What could be more ridiculous than fining a bunch of charities for not being competitive enough, when none of them makes a profit?

It's even stranger when you reflect that the body doing the fining - the UK government - forces all children who do not attend independent schools to go into its own state education system, which offers no competition at all. Moreover, competition law does not seem to apply to transport (where big companies enjoy state-granted monopolies), TV (where Sky has a monopoly in satellite and Virgin in cable), or banking (in which, as we have recently noticed, there has hardly been any regulation at all).

It seems pretty obvious that the motive for the investigation and subsequent fines could only have been to damage the public schools' reputation and financial status. As it had to be passed on to the parents, it was really a fine on them for daring to avoid the state education system. In itself, this attack has apparently not forced any of the schools to close (yet), but the government and its supporters live in hope.

Re:Standards of education falling in UK? (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932647)

It's even stranger when you reflect that the body doing the fining - the UK government - forces all children who do not attend independent schools to go into its own state education system, which offers no competition at all.

This has not been the case since the last Conservative government, who changed the rules so state schools other than your closest one had to accept you. This distorted things even more, since the more affluent parents could afford to drive their children to more distant schools with better results, while the poorer parents had no choice but the nearest school.

Re:Standards of education falling in UK? (5, Insightful)

wisty (1335733) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932461)

The problem with most education systems is their assessment focus. If you create a heavy emphasis on rewards (gradings), you make students work the system rather than learning. That's basic organizational psychology. Assignments are especially demented, because they are so damn easy to cheat on. The good teachers can't cut back on assignments though, because their students focus on the subjects with the most assignments. That's suboptimization. Unfortunately, most politicians use "education" and "the attainment of pieces of paper" interchangeably (as do hungry educators), which perpetuates the myth that gradings are education.

not news (2, Informative)

wjh31 (1372867) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932023)

its well known in the uk that exam standards have been falling year after year, exam boards make their exams slightly easier, so that the students taking that one get better grades, so more people use that board over one of their competitors, and its just a downward spiral, its ruining our education, universities are having to work harder and harder to teach students what they would have come in knowing a few years ago. The universities cant let their standards slip so it just gets harder and harder for the students that actually go to university, while making those who stop at a-level seem better than they really are compared to those who sat the 'same' exams a few years ago

Re:not news (2, Insightful)

fluch (126140) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932071)

The universities cant let their standards slip...

Oh yes, they can, oh yes! Being a postgraduate student at one UK university and seeing how the exams are graded and later how the results are scaled and how low the level of difficulty of exam questions has become...

Oh yes, they can lover the standards!

Re:not news (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932079)

Oh yes, they can lover the standards!

Not just in maths, it appears :)

Re:not news (1)

fluch (126140) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932095)

Ups, nicely spot! What do you expect! I had just one cup of coffee this morning! ;-)

Re:not news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932121)


That's two. Ya might wanna look into remedial lessons there, sport.

Re:not news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932203)

Don't be a dick, English is not his first language.

Re:not news (1)

fluch (126140) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932221)

Oops. "Ups!" .. that would be the way we would write it in Germany... ;-)
Just drinking the second cup of coffee...

Re:not news (4, Insightful)

bargainsale (1038112) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932131)

Everyone without a personal axe to grind is agreed that standards have declined - hell, university textbooks have had to be rewritten to match the lower standard of modern beginning students.

But the truly sinister aspect of this is not so much the decline in standards as the Government's bare-faced blank denials that there is a problem at all.

It's difficult to treat a patient who won't even admit that he's ill.

Re:not news (3, Insightful)

homer_s (799572) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932399)

.....as the Government's bare-faced blank denials that there is a problem at all....It's difficult to treat a patient who won't even admit that he's ill.

The govt. is not the patient here. The govt is what is causing this decline in standards to begin with.

Re:not news (5, Interesting)

edumacator (910819) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932535)

Nice Post. I couldn't agree more.

I'm an English teacher at a good school, but even here, we are forced, not just from administration, but more diffused social pressure, to make sure our scores are good, even though we know the tests are flawed.

The problem with education is it has become a political issue, which means we keep slathering nice pretty paint on a school building that's rotting away from the inside.

I'm afraid the whole system will have to collapse before we begin actually fixing it.

Numerical questions... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932027)

Keep numerical questions for the maths exams, it's bad enough that they introduced aural maths exams, so if your speaking/listening isn't up to scratch you can drop grades in maths even if it's second nature to you.

Re:Numerical questions... (4, Insightful)

aneamic (1116327) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932115)

Science is incredibly maths based, how can you expect to be in any way competent in a related job after school, if you've spent your entire education doing simplified unrealistic tasks? Its like essay subjects such as history and geography saying you don't need to be able to write in clear English.

Re:Numerical questions... (4, Informative)

PeterBrett (780946) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932143)

Keep numerical questions for the maths exams.

You're clearly a complete idiot. Without mathematics, chemistry and physics become meaningless qualitative handwaving. Without mathematics, it is impossible to interpret the results of an experiment, or even to demonstrate that your experiment is measuring the think that you think it's measuring.

If you think that science is in anyway separable from mathematics, I can only come to the conclusion that you know nothing of science.

Re:Numerical questions... (2, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932713)

Science is about the application of mathematics. If you can examine a problem, construct an equation, and then mess up solving it, then you have done well at the part that is science but badly at the part that is maths. Outside an exam, you would probably use a computer on more complex equations (in Physics there are a lot that would take months or years to solve by on paper, and just a few hours on a computer), but the computer can't produce the equation for you.

As I recall from looking at science examinations from the '50s when I was at school, their main focus was on substituting a simple equation that you'd memorised by rote into a problem and then spending 90% of the time with your slide rule solving it. This doesn't assess your scientific ability, and it doesn't really assess your mathematical ability either. The reason we moved away from these kinds of question is that they are very poor metrics of scientific ability (which is not to say that the questions in recent years are good - they are just bad in different ways).

Re:Numerical questions... (1)

LordVader717 (888547) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932335)

That's absurd. Just about the only science in which you don't need numerical questions is maths.
Later school education should give students a good impression of the kind of education that they might later attend in universities.

Re:Numerical questions... (1)

BoneFlower (107640) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932565)

You have something of a point here. While such a course would be useless to actual science majors in college or university, it could be quite beneficial to others.

The article goes into a lot more than that. It details how this problem is effecting science classes taken by people headed into science and engineering fields, not just the general classes everyone takes. It also highlights problems with the standardized test regimen in the UK, and the disgustingly low standards for a pass.

Obama on education (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932031)

Here's what one florida professor, lifelong mentor of the Obama campaign, thinks needs to be done in eduction :

http://deathby1000papercuts.com/2008/10/obama-bill-ayers-ayers-wanted-to-kill-25-million-die-hard-capitalists/ [deathby1000papercuts.com]

Of course attempting once again to use genocide to push their views on society is exactly what this florida professor wants to do. Days after the election he published a book explaining exactly how he started Obama's political campaign.

bring back the cane (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932039)

fuck all this learning must be fun horse shit, making learning fun hasn't helped anyone actually learn. maybe this recession will be a good thing, you have an entire spoilt generation out there who think they don't actually need to learn anything in order to make it through life.

Re:bring back the cane (5, Funny)

SupremoMan (912191) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932157)

Dear AC,

Please don't conceal your identity, we wish to crown you our Emperor.

Re:bring back the cane (1)

troll8901 (1397145) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932499)

May we steal your line? It's very very good!

Re:bring back the cane (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932195)

The problem is not stupid people. The problem is that we don't need most people.

People actually contributing to the economy is too limited. The economy is also what's keeping people alive, but it does not have unlimited capacity, not even if it keeps growing.

The problem is, people contributing to the economy, actually making products is maybe 50% of all Americans. And that's a world-record. In Europe maybe 10-20% of the population is necessary to keep the economy going. In the middle east, with the exception of Israel, and maybe Turkey, it's less than 1% of the people. The advantage those productive people have is that their government can only kill them if they're willing to accept the cost of starving to death afterwards (and so far only communist and muslim states were so blind to actually do it).

But that also means you could kill half of all americans, 90% of all europeans, 99,99% of all middle easterners, and 95% of africans, and the economy would turn exactly as it turns today. Worldwide, a single person working is paying for the livelihood of 4 other people. Any worker is doing more than he has to, so money could be taken from him, about 80% of what he would normally make, and given away. This is done with income tax, export tax, import tax (sometimes paid 5 times for a single product in different countries), VAT, ... the list goes on.

With the partial exception of America, we don't have any use for more than half of all people alive today. That number, of useless people, is rising everyday.

Making them all Einsteins would not change this, other than allowing terrorists to do much more damage, I don't see what it would accomplish.

We are seriously too many. If evolution is true, if Darwin is right, this means that at some point the rise in human population will be ... brutally cut off with a mass extinction.

The only question for Darwin believers is who will push the button, and when ? Obama ? Muslim terrorists like they tried in Mumbai ? Sarkozy ?

Re:bring back the cane (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932443)

"bring back the cane...

fuck all this learning must be fun horse shit, making learning fun hasn't helped anyone actually learn. "

I disagree. The entire school system is fucked from the beginning, thinking you can force students to learn when biologically many of them aren't ready to do so. We're turning out such fucked up kids because the adult world is quite insane. The idea that human beings don't have limits on what they can digest and accomplish is a real problem for people who think "education can just keep getting better and better", the truth is the time it takes one person to do a problem or learn something is massively uneven. Education has to be the most unscientific enterprise we currently run and I'm really tired of it. Tests IMHO don't prove jack shit in many instances. We've seen some of the most educated people fuck up our economies and lie straight to our faces and people still think status or education has any meaning and that it is alright that these educated fuckups deserve to be where they are. Witness the bailouts of the banks and auto-industry asking for a hand out. People are constantly fucking up no matter what there education is, this is something you learn as you observe human beings as you get older.

The truth is people don't want to admit there are limits to competition and improvement. Modern school children have enormous amounts of stress and pressure on them to merely maintain what their parents and grandparents achieved with less education, don't give me this bullshit we need to go back in time. Most parents work two jobs just so they can merely survive, most kids once they get out of highschool and university are worried if they are even going to be able to save enough to live as their parents did. It's a fucked up time economically and socially and everyones in on it.

No one has a handle on this problem, this is apparent from all the stupidity and dickwaving experts. Kids are not perfect, and unruly, no doubt about it. But consider that we've made the worst aspects of human nature the basis of our society - acquisitiveness, competitiveness and greed.

When I was in school we were not taught the classics, or had courses in etics, etc, I didn't discover philosophy and early american history until I was in fucking university. That's how sad the modern educational systems of the world really are in many parts of the world. Once I discovered philosophy and early american history it had an enormous transformitive experience.

I discovered men like John Adam's and I read profusely about these men on my own time on my own interest. The problem with education is that we've killed curiousity and turned school into nothing more then a job skill mill, and then we ask "why" we've failed? Because kids live in a toxic society their parents created for them, their parents work for companies that allow destructive influences from marketing about greed and wealth into the culture. Most parents, teachers, government officials and businessmen are 100% fucking clueless. The history of man is a history of stupidity and mediocrity at all levels of society.

Re:bring back the cane (1)

rdnetto (955205) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932563)

making learning fun hasn't helped anyone actually learn

I beg to differ. How many of us learnt to program games or did science experiments because they were fun? And how many students do you think will pay more attention in class if they are enjoying the work?
Getting them to enjoy the work means that they will put in more effort than they would if they were forced to do it.

DISCLAIMER: I am a student in my final year of secondary education.

Re:bring back the cane (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932577)

Jesus Christ, would you please just go back to the BBC Have Your Say boards.

And whoever modded this 'insightful' should be ashamed to be on Slashdot.


More rigourous in other Commonwealth countries? (2, Interesting)

highways (1382025) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932087)

Not sure what they mean by "Instead, they are doing the completely different, and more rigorous, International GCSEs, which are still in demand in Commonwealth countries."

Having taught first-year engineering in one form or another for 7 years at an Australian university, I can say whatever standards are implemented in other Commonwealth nations (like ours) are failing too.

The bright kids are as bright as ever (maybe even brighter), but the median just seems to sink lower, and lower and lower...

Not saying (4, Insightful)

sleeponthemic (1253494) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932099)

From TFA

Even bright students with enthusiastic teachers are being compelled to "learn to the test", answering undemanding questions to satisfy the needs of league tables and national targets

I have to say, that aside from less quantifiable testing (ie essay based) the mentality of "study the test" is prevalent everywhere, even in higher education. I'm sure that if it were not, the pass rate would be attrocious and consequently, for many schools/institutions: "Goodbye tuition fees".

Re:Not saying (1)

Chrisje (471362) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932317)

Reminds me of a Cake song with the line:

You passed the test
just like all the rest
but never really understood
the reasons why you took it
in the first place
ah yeah

Re:Not saying (5, Interesting)

IainMH (176964) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932717)

With the obvious point being, if learning to pass the test isn't good enough then the test must be wrong.

The main problem... (5, Insightful)

bhunachchicken (834243) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932119)

... in the UK is that young people now care more about who is going to win X-Factor and Britain's Got Talent than own performance at school.

And when you can just show up for an audition to a TV program, do a little dance and become rich and famous overnight, why on earth would you want an education?

Re:The main problem... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932191)

Or just have a kid, claim to have been kicked out of your home because of it, not get employed, and go top of the list for a council house with benefits, why bother with all that education stuff?

Sad but true.

You also forgot... (0, Troll)

Skiron (735617) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932267)

...the standing around on corners all hours at night drinking cans of Stella and cheap cider, vomiting in the street and causing as much trouble/violence/vandalism as they can.

Re:The main problem... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932363)

There, it has come at last; Britain is now ruled by a "parliamentary idiocracy."

Re:The main problem... (4, Insightful)

Sockatume (732728) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932365)

BS. There's still plenty of kids out there who want to be good scientists, or engineers, or whatever. What's scary about this news is that they can achieve the best possible grades and be left with a half-assed education. The system's not just making it easier for students, it's failing them.

Re:The main problem... (1, Insightful)

IamTheRealMike (537420) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932435)

Eh, whatever. I did GCSEs, then A-Levels about 6-8 years ago. Then I did a CS degree. Now I have a great job, earn great money way ahead of my old school friends, and can confidently say that almost everything except the GCSEs was a complete waste of time. GCSEs were about right for that age (14-16): study 10 or 11 subjects over a period of two years, so not in a whole lot of depth, but you do get a lot of breadth.

By the time I was 16 I knew I wanted to write software for a living, so did A-Level maths, physics, psychology and an AS in French, because all universities demanded maths and a few wanted physics, then I had a quota to fill so took a couple of other subjects more or less at random. All except maths involved in-depth study of subjects that I have never used again (except maybe a bit of psych 101), and probably never will. Even then, about 80% of the A-Level maths course was also stuff I've never used, and thus largely forgotten.

The CS degree was an even bigger waste of time. I could have stayed in bed for 3 years and come out no worse off.

The problem with the education system is not that GCSEs are not "rigorous" enough, it's that the rest of the system is still rooted in a legacy world in which studying subjects in great depth for their own sake is seen as virtuous and noble. Especially in the sciences, it disproportionately punishes people who find it hard to do complex error-free calculations against the clock, even if their understanding of the subject in question is just fine.

Part of the blame must also lie with universities and employers, who use qualifications like GCSEs and A-Levels as a lazy way to select the "top 10%" of applicants. The top 10% of what was never clear to me, unfortunately, rather than simply interview people for the skills the job needs employers prefer to cut their costs by relying on the education system to do it for them. The inevitable result is that if you fail GCSEs or A-Levels your chances of a good career are basically over, putting enormous pressure on schools to ensure everybody can get at least a few qualifications lest they be automatically pushed out of jobs they could actually do just fine.

Given how completely irrelevant much of what I learned at school has been (and now much is forgotten), I might as well have just watched TV - instead of struggling and getting depressed over my backbreaking but mediocre academic performance.

Re:The main problem... (1)

Ed Avis (5917) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932691)

Just because you've never used it, it doesn't mean that it was a waste of time. Most children who play association football at school never go on to become professional footballers (and most not even amateur ones). Does that mean that football and other school sports are a waste of time?

Totally dumbed down (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932137)

My early 90s Chemistry GSCE contained questions about chemical reactions.

Modern "chemistry" GCSE containst questions like "Which one of these is a bunsen burner".

The govt stonewalls any discussion of this year after year but the truth is exams are becoming trivially easy, content of syllabuses is being axed yearly and we are developing a nation of idiots - albiet apparently intentionally.

See for yourself. Google GSCE/A Level past papers (all in the public domain). Pick last years. Pick one from 15 years ago and recoil in horror. We have 16/17 year olds finishing school with the same level of academic knowledge that 13 year olds used to have in the 80s. Its there for every science, and maths too.

Re:Totally dumbed down (1)

wisty (1335733) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932597)

But you don't understand. It's important that kids are brainwashed into knowing what the social context of the Bunsen burner is, and how it has led to a repressive, patriarchal, hetro-normative society. Learning chemical reactions would only exacerbate this problematic situation.

Sick of this... (4, Insightful)

Manip (656104) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932163)

I'm sick of this "Kids in the 1950s were smarter than today" rubbish. I know that these old accidemics studied back then and want to feel smart but making kids feel dumb today is wrong and they should feel ashamaned.

Let me break it down for them and you:
- Kids in the 1950s did not study what we study today
- Kids today did not study what kids studied back in the 1950s

I know this is a shocking revolation but still true. If possible I would love to see what would happen if you sat a 1950s kid down in front of a 2008 exam, my guess is the results would be similar.

The only school subject which might be the same between the 1950s and today is Maths. But even then there is less focus on doing long calculations on the page and more using a calculator.

You can claim that doing them on the calculator is dumbing people down but I think voluntarily spending five minutes and likely introducing errors already makes you fairly dumb given an alternative.

Re:Sick of this... (2, Insightful)

Israfels (730298) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932227)

- Kids in the 1950s did not study what we study today
- Kids today did not study what kids studied back in the 1950s

Given that chemistry was being taught in the 1950's as well as in the present, you assertion that they're taught differently is wrong. Other than newer discoveries at the sub-atomic level, there not a lot of new things you'll be teaching someone at the college level that's different than what a 1950's student would have learned.

Re:Sick of this... (2, Interesting)

JohnFluxx (413620) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932253)

That's not the point. The point is that these days the focus is on understanding the concepts of chemistry (for example) compared to 50 years ago when the focus was on doing the math.

Re:Sick of this... (3)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932359)

That's not the point. Nobody cares if you "understand" the concepts but cannot apply them to a problem. Many people would say that if you cannot apply the concepts in a problem, then you haven't "understood" them in the first place.

Re:Sick of this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932557)

Take integration of a function for example: I learned integration, but I couldn't integrate myself out of a paper bag these days. I still know what integration is, but the exercise of actually doing it is left to a computer. Instead of wasting time on memorizing tables of basic integrations and learning the algorithms and tricks for symbolic integration, students should learn applications of integration.

The student who can do the calculations and derivations on paper can not easily ask a computer to find a good use for that ability, but the student who knows when to use which abstract concept can delegate the algorithmic work to a computer algebra system.

There is a need for both types. After all, who is supposed to write the computer algebra systems (and advance the field)? But the majority of students will never need to perform complicated derivations on paper in their whole life.

Nobody can know it all. The knowledge available to us grows exponentially. You have to pick and choose. There is no other way.

Re:Sick of this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932463)

This is incorrect. Solving numerical problems is crucial to correct understanding of concepts, if you don't do that, you only *think* that you know but you don't. They have been saying this for past hundred years: the best way to learn a subject is to solve problems (involving logic, reason, maths). This is also much more interesting for students who have aptitude.

On a side note, I have been doing (Chemistry) lab demonstration for first year undergraduates, and many of them don't know exponential, log, d/dt etc. what kind of education is this? On that, I have been asked to give them 7/10 by default, and no marks are allocated to questions which show how much they understand (which only a couple of students do in class of 40). Since they can get 8/10 on average, there is no point for even better ones to try harder or read manuals or find out why the experiment was performed as it was. Those who are interested, don't ask pointed questions or are thirsty for reason and sense in what they do.

I am doing this at a top university, and I do believe that mental levels can only increase with time, so it's mostly the problem of curriculum being dumbed down.

Re:Sick of this... (2, Interesting)

Manip (656104) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932297)

If you actually look at the Chemistry curriculum from then and now you might see just how very wrong you are.

All subjects except Maths evolve. Even staple subjects like History and English. Even if some of the basics remain similar you'll find that they're tort in a way that makes them more applicable in today's society and world.

The real question/issue we should be asking/addressing is - How good are degree students in the workplace?

Now that is a problem we should our time looking into. Because from my point of view people leaving University are damn near never qualified to walk into any job (*with a few exceptions). I'm also sure that in all cases learning 1950s Maths and Chemistry wouldn't fix then and might even make the problems worse.

Re:Sick of this... (2, Insightful)

Ragzouken (943900) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932321)

Given that it's not feasible to teach 100% of all chemistry to students in the 1950 or modern day, and that two subsets of that knowledge are not guaranteed to have 100% overlap, your assertion that they couldn't have been tought differently is wrong.

Re:Sick of this... (1)

Aereus (1042228) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932259)

Yes, it's not like they taught such new-fangled subjects as MATH or HISTORY back then...

The way in which we teach is drastically different today, but the core subjects are not.

Re:Sick of this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932333)

There's a difference between using a calculator when it's needed and instinctively pulling it out because you never learned what 13 * 7 is.

Re:Sick of this... (1)

LordLucless (582312) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932667)

That's the whole problem. You shouldn't be learning what 13 * 7 is. You should be learning how to multiply two numbers together.

Re:Sick of this... (3, Insightful)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932337)

Wishing it weren't true doesn't change the fact, though.

Let me break it down for them and you:
- Kids in the 1950s did not study what we study today
- Kids today did not study what kids studied back in the 1950s

I don't know what subjects you studied, but it couldn't have been science. I don't have much experience with humanities and postmodernism, so I'm willing to believe that English majors today might not study the same topics as English majors in 1950, and so on.

But one of the defining characteristics of science is that it builds on its own past, and it's quite certain that kids today study substantially the same science topics as they did in the 1950s, at least they are supposed to. On top of that, there will be newer topics of course, but those should be a tiny fraction (10% at most - science hasn't changed that much in 50 years).

Any kid who's been studying chemistry or physics or mathematics or engineering today should be able to pick up a textbook from the 1950s and recognize nearly everything in it. If they don't, then they're sorely lacking in the basics. And if they can't do the exercises in one of those books, then they need to start spending time in the library.

Re:Sick of this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932367)

I think you fail to grasp the separation between the children's intelligence and the exam system. We should be able to criticise the latter without being bashed as belittling children. In fact a little more expectation setting could be a good thing.

Research findings, published in the November issue of Psychological Science claim that children today are overconfident.

"decades of relentless, uncritical boosterism by parents and school systems may be producing a generation of kids with expectations that are out of sync with the challenges of the real world. High school students' responses have crossed over into a really unrealistic realm, with three-fourths of them expecting performance that's effectively in the top 20 percent,"

http://www.psychologicalscience.org/journals/ps/19_11_inpress/twenge.pdf [psychologicalscience.org]

I went to school in the 1960s (5, Insightful)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932373)

and your comment is nonsense. The reasons behind the changes are quite simple.

I went to a selective school - called a "grammar school" - which took the top 20% of the population based on a mixed IQ/attainment test. I was then in the top set for maths and the three sciences - so that's the top 5%. In the last two years at school I was in special groups that were applying to Cambridge (our school was heavily science biased to did not have Oxford applicants, who had to do Latin)- the top 1% in maths and physics. If you failed the Cambridge Entrance there was always Durham, Imperial or University College London, or Sussex.

There is your explanation. The exams in the 60s were aimed at - let's call it an elite. In those days there were few distractions - hardly anything on television, no mobile phones, electronic gadgets were basically for nerds who were already into electronics, music was about playing instruments or listening to a few very expensive recordings, not the iPod generation, theatre was about the school theatre group or the local AmDram society if you were good enough. To be absolutely honest, if you were a nerd, and there were enough of us, school was actually the most interesting place to be, where really intelligent adults spent quite a lot of spare time encouraging those of us who were interested in their subjects.

Nowadays schools are expected to spread their teaching assets over the entire pupil list, and the children have far more things to think about outside school. Exams are taken by most children, not just around 15% in each subject. Of course the emphasis has changed.

But if you are one of the top few percent, you can still get the education you want. Despite going through the state system, my children and their friends still go to Oxbridge and the top tier universities, and they still emerge just as well educated as our generation ever did.

I don't think the problem is anything at all to do with exams. It is that society nowadays needs a higher percentage of technically educated people, but the media give the impression that the best opportunities for the bright are in banking, finance, law and celebrity culture. Most journalists are technically illiterate, and the rest follows.

As for maths, you are simply wrong through ignorance. My generation used calculators. They just were not electronic. We had Brunswiga mechanical calculators, mathematical tables (which are basically a hand operated calculator system) and slide rules. The knowledge of how to use them is obsolete, but the principle of assisted calculation is the same.

Re:Sick of this... (4, Interesting)

thermian (1267986) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932437)

I must agree.
I went to school in the UK in the 70s. Being what is now recognized as Dyslexic I had a rough time, being considered 'thick' and not worth teaching. Since I now have a Ph.d in Computer Science, I often find myself wondering at this assessment, and how many peoples lives such labels all but destroyed. For me it was a hard road up the education ladder, but I got there in the end.

I didn't notice anything much better back then myself. Seems to me, given how many people I knew from that time still work in local factories, and got pretty much nothing of benefit from their 'harder' exams (I wasn't allowed to take them, so I can't comment) I don't see how things have changed that much.

My boy is also dyslexic, gets extra help as a result, and in spite of some issues with the low standard of education which even he realises is a problem, he's doing OK (far better then I did), and will be going to university to do a science subject himself.

I personally think people need to be looking to their own parenting, and how they encourage their child to learn, and not expecting the government to sort it out for them. Behavior is so bad in UK schools at the moment that I'm amazed the kids learn anything at all. This is almost entirely a parental issue.

Sweeping generalisation (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932483)

Behavior is so bad in UK schools at the moment that I'm amazed the kids learn anything at all.

One of my children currently heads the maths department in a London comprehensive school in a deprived borough, and would not agree. However, your comment about the generally low level of educational attainment in the 70s (which was indeed a dire time in British education) is one I agree with. I spent part of the 70s teaching maths in an independent school, and parents and grandparents would practically bankrupt themselves to get kids out of the local State system (Camden), which was indeed out of control. But then that was part of a general social problem. At the time I literally lived 100 metres over the border in Barnet. You could actually see the dividing line between the boroughs: on one side uncollected rubbish, dirt, broken street furniture and on the other, still on the same road with similar houses, clean and orderly streets. We had a severe attack of a kind of socialism which the Soviet Union would never have tolerated for a moment.

Re:Sweeping generalisation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932579)

Just got my results back, ( 7 ones and a two, Scottish standard grades.) Quite frankly those results shocked me, why? Well basically because the behavior in my classes was appalling. All the classes were mixed ability and we had to spend too long on the easy questions and glossed the method for the more difficult ones.

Let me give you an example of what I had to put up with. There was this one guy in most of the my classes and can now be seen breaking into a house and trashing it on youtube. The guy didn't even turn up for most of his exams
http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=s8vqk7SvXv4 [youtube.com]

Re:Sick of this... (1)

Rhialto3 (1333539) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932447)

If you're doing math on a calculator, you're not doing math! Math and calculating are really two different things.

Re:Sick of this... (3, Interesting)

Stormx2 (1003260) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932511)

This is exactly right. My maths teacher, who has been teaching maths for many many years, himself says that the tests haven't got easier or the students dumber. Nay, it's just the fact that the curriculum is different now. It adapts.

For example, when he was at school, he was routinely using logarithms at age 11/12 just because it was the simplest way to do operations involving large numbers. We didn't start that til I was 16, but we learnt about other areas of maths a bit more. Geometric, series, etc.

Everyone bangs on about how hard old exams used to be. It's simply not true, the students were just learning different things back then.

I attend a state school, and I consider myself quite gifted. I've had a good education all my life and I've always been creative/interested in all things science/maths. And honestly, after all the work that's gone in, I refuse to believe that I'd be in a majority if I'd lived 50 years ago. It just doesn't make sense; my parents' education's standards just weren't different.

Re:Sick of this... (1)

ZERO1ZERO (948669) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932553)

I know this is a shocking revolation but still true. If possible I would love to see what would happen if you sat a 1950s kid down in front of a 2008 exam, my guess is the results would be similar.

Not quite the same, obviously it's quite impossible to sit a 1950s kid in front of a 2008 exam (unless you invent time travel first), but Channel 4 in the UK did a series on this going the other way around called That'll Teach 'Em.

I can't remember the outcome or anything but there's a few article on the net about it.

Here is the link to the programmes web site:

http://www.channel4.com/history/microsites/T/teachem/series.html [channel4.com]

Perhaps your favourite TV download service may have a copy you could 'borrow'.

Re:Sick of this... (1)

rdnetto (955205) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932613)

The only school subject which might be the same between the 1950s and today is Maths. But even then there is less focus on doing long calculations on the page and more using a calculator.

I can verify that. I'm just about to start my final year of secondary education in Victoria, Australia, and this is how our math exams are broken up:
30 min - Tech Free
90 min - Tech Able

Note that in the Tech Free exam we get to take in a summary book filled with our own notes and a CAS graphics calculator that is capable of solving simultaneous equations, performing matrix operations including multiplication, inverse and rref, and finding derivatives and integrals.
The marks are proportionate to the time allotted, and most of the TA exam just tests if you can use the calculator.The focus is on if you can use the calculator; that is, apply the correct algorithm to the problem at hand. I think that that actually makes more sense - if you're going to solve a problem in engineering or a different field, are you going to do it on paper? Or are you going to refer to your list of formulae (or Wikipedia) and crunch the numbers with a computer?

Re:Sick of this... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932631)

Translations for the old farts out there:

Accidemic - an accidental epidemic
Ashamaned - cursed into submission by a shaman
Revolation - volatile relations

Hope that helps...

Re:Sick of this... (1)

LordLucless (582312) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932653)

I think your post just proves the point in case. Do you know what kids studied in the 50s that they don't today? How about basic spelling and grammar?

accidemics = academics
ashamaned = ashamed
revolation = revelation

Why exactly should "accidemics" feel "ashamaned" for making kids feel dumb if they are dumb? Enough of this "Oh, don't hurt their feelings" crap. If they're wrong, they're wrong. If they failed, they failed. If you don't tell them, then their going to fail continuously.

This is one voice among many (3, Insightful)

jimicus (737525) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932169)

First, let's get one thing straight.

This is not an argument anyone in a position of power can possibly win. More students fail? Your teaching standards are falling, your education system is lousy. More students pass? Your exams are too easy.

So instead, let's look at what organisations which aren't obliged to follow the state-designed education system think.

Several universities are introducing entrance exams, whereas previously this was more-or-less exclusive to Oxford and Cambridge.

Several universities are having to introduce more basic maths into their first year syllabus to get students up to speed.

Private schools are seriously considering dropping the state-set exams (GCSEs and A-levels) in favour of something else such as the International Baccalaureate. I myself have looked at papers which were set only 5 or 6 years after I left school and exams which I should by rights have been completely lost on - I could immediately see how to answer at least half the questions.

On the other hand, a lot of countries in north Africa and the Middle East consider that education is the only way they're going to improve their lot in the long term. Tunisia, for example, spends a third of its money on education and children leave school speaking at least three languages reasonably fluently. Many of the Arab emirates are doing something similar - they know the oil's not going to be there forever, and they want to be prepared for the day the wells dry up. No chance they can do that if most of their population can hardly read.

As for China - if you think you can move all your manufacturing out there and the locals won't one day say to themselves "Hang on a minute. We own all the factories, we know exactly how to build the kind of things that they buy in the West - why don't we design them ourselves and keep all the money?" you're living on another planet.

20 years from now, the West isn't going to be the technical research place it is today.

Re:This is one voice among many (1)

IamTheRealMike (537420) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932477)

Several universities are introducing entrance exams, whereas previously this was more-or-less exclusive to Oxford and Cambridge.

Yeah but that doesn't tell us anything objective about students skills. Universities, especially in the UK, run on a heirarchical system in which they are all stack-ranked against each other. Let's imagine for the sake of argument that actually, students have been getting objectively better at the subjects every year due to better teaching, better materials and so on. The result would still be entrance exams because universities only have limited capacity, and want to preserve the heirarchy. Thus they must find some way of limiting their intake to a particular slice of the student body. The difficulty of these exams would go up and down over time depending on their capacities.

So I don't accept that universities are objective judges of actual skill. Actually I'd imagine they're shit at it. I went to Durham, which Wikipedia informs me is a "top 10" university according to the Times, and top 20 according to the Guardian. But those guys were the absolute textbook example of incompetence. The CS course in particular was an epic fail - most of the lecturers couldn't program their way out of a paper bag, and didn't care in the slightest if the information given in their lectures was wrong. So they can't have a useful opinion on whether students are getting smarter or not.

Re:This is one voice among many (1)

igb (28052) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932527)

A couple of years ago the AQA took out adverts in broadsheet papers whose basic thrust was ``Celebrate our children's success: look how hard the exams are''. My wife and I did our A levels in the early eighties: science for me, arts for her. Which meant we had between us 1981 O Level grade As and 1983 A or B grade A Levels in every subject that had sample questions shown, plus a smattering oa OA, AO, S, degrees, etc. Yes, we agreed after looking at the questions, GCSEs are about the same standard as O Levels used to be. Then we realised that was being shown were A level questions. Go and look at the current A Level maths syllabus http://www.aqa.org.uk/qual/pdf/AQA-5361-6371-W-SP-08.PDF [aqa.org.uk] and, if you're over forty, try to spot anything in the core syllabus you didn't do at O Level. Now look at all the stuff you did at O Level that's only in the further extension modules : matrix manipulation, composition of matrices of transformation leap out at me, but there's other stuff. The calculus I did at O Level extended out to volume of rotation and area of volume of rotation, for example, and I'm pretty certain that either O Level Physics or the applied side of O Level maths covered quite a lot of the mechanics, too. OK, there's a small amount of stuff that I didn't do at either O or A Level, mostly because it barely existed. There a couple of modules called `Decision' which appear to be about complexity theory, for example. My father, who lectured in chemistry in higher education from the early sixties through to the late eighties reports the same decline, and I recently took my daughter around the physics department at UCL with an emeritus reader, and he was railing about how third year work is what used to be first year work, because of the poor standards in A Levels.

Practice (3, Interesting)

Timmmm (636430) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932175)

When that comparison between easy English and hard Chinese exams was in the news I asked a Chinese guy about it. He said that although the questions are harder, they vary very little across years so the students all just practice the question forms a lot beforehand, and regurgitate the method with minor changes during the exam.

Still, I'm sure exams have got easier over the years. It would be interesting to see if this has happened to university exams - Oxford and Cambridge must have records going back hundreds of years...

Re:Practice (2, Funny)

who knows my name (1247824) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932285)

yes, the Cambridge exams have become harder over the years! I have looked at the first ever Maths exam in our library records and the questions were basically, if you have a room x by y by z, how many tiles would you need to tile it. The fact that calculus didn't even exist when the first exam was set probably suggests something.

Re:Practice (1)

who knows my name (1247824) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932291)

just, to clarify, 800 years to be precise...

Re:Practice (1)

Timmmm (636430) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932325)

Yeah but they won't have exams records dating back to their founding!

And now that I think about it, lots of the maths (e.g. vector calculus) was invented quite recently so it might be tricky to compare.

Re:Practice (1)

troll8901 (1397145) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932549)

He said that although the questions are harder, they vary very little across years so the students all just practice the question forms a lot beforehand, and regurgitate the method with minor changes during the exam.

Just to relate...

Here in tiny Singapore, most students practise on brain dumps. These practice questions are published in "Ten Year Series [wikipedia.org] " textbooks. I think they're quite like "10 Real SATs" books in America.

Of course, the questions change every year, and the syllabus change every few years, so there's sometimes a mad scramble to get the latest books.

Re:Practice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932639)

You can check for yourself. Exactly 100 years ago G. H. Hardy wrote a marvelous calculus book called a Course of Pure Mathematics. It's still in print; you can read about it at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Course_of_Pure_Mathematics, and buy it at Amazon.
      Many of the exercises in it are from the Tripos exams of the time. Fair to say, I think, that most students today would struggle with them.

Teachers teach, graders should grade... (3, Insightful)

dada21 (163177) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932179)

Your friendly neighborhood anarcho-capitalist chiming in again.

I understand that people think that education is a right. I don't see it that way, but it's where we are today. If people want to socialize education, so be it. My problem is in the grading system.

If you were allowed to grade the work you do at the office, what would you give yourself? This is the problem with teachers also being graders. When you socialize learning, you never want to strive for the perfect straight A class, or the complete disaster total failure class. Ending up with a C average means you can moan for more money and staff and administration next year.

I would accept socialize teaching if we had completely private and competitive grading systems. Think of the ACT and the SAT, but on a per-class basis. Let teachers know what is required for each tier in terms of learning, and then let the teachers hammer that home.

With private, competitive grading systems, different future work industries might look for different scores or even different grading systems. The student can pay for the ones they need, and take those tests. The educators can focus on "educating," and the cost of grading isn't passed on to the taxpayer. Some students may just want a "Social Equivalency" exam, and most private graders would offer similar ones. Other higher level students might need specific exams, to get an interview, for example.

When you socialize learning AND grading, of course you're going to eventually dumb down the system. That's how these things work.

Re:Teachers teach, graders should grade... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932283)

If you were trying to pass off as "learned", you should not have jumped on the "socialist" buzzword bandwagon. Mass public education came about in the UK as a direct result of socialist polices, no matter how much you try to spin it away.

Wait. SAT? ACT? Ohhh...a US citizen are you? A member of the country with the worst per-capita education record in the industrialised world, despite being seeped in the whole private/competitive ethos.

And no, you don't get to blame it on your own so-called "socialists", who would be regarded as moderate right-wing anywhere outside the US.

Re:Teachers teach, graders should grade... (1)

smallfries (601545) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932327)

You are a complete idiot.

The problem in the uk today (as described in TFA) is that we have separate teachers and graders. There is a free market for exam boards.

The result is that market forces cause the exam boards to set easier and easier exams. So your proposed "solution" is in fact, the very problem being discussed.

I would normally tell somebody as stupid as you to quit stealing oxygen at this point, but you wouldn't do something as "socialist" as that, would you? So how about you go and practice your "anarcho-capitalist" ideas on a) a desert island, or b) a failed state like somalia. See how that works out for you.

Re:Teachers teach, graders should grade... (1)

Vexorian (959249) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932389)

I understand that people think that education is a right. I don't see it that way, but it's where we are today. If people want to socialize education, so be it.

Wow dude... So, making education a right is socializing education? How about you fuck off? Really... Oh my God, perhaps YOU are the product of the British school system, that would explain it all.

Re:Teachers teach, graders should grade... (1)

LordLucless (582312) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932695)

Uh, yes, yes it is. If the government provides it, it's socialized (society is paying for it, not the individual). If the government declares it to be a right, then it really has to provide it (or at least, be the educator of last resort).

Re:Teachers teach, graders should grade... (1)

Chrisje (471362) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932397)

I think that the credit crisis as sparked by the US sub-prime mortgage fiasco has amply illustrated what happens when you actually trust "The Market" and let it fly without regulating it. If you do not put up rules, people will tend to get screwed to a much larger degree. So you can stick your anarcho-capitalism where the sun don't shine as far as I'm concerned.

The fact that you say education is not a right is somewhat revolting for me, and that's for purely selfish reasons, as a matter of fact. Let's say I live in The Netherlands, which is a parliamentary consensus democracy. Now I'd like us to think about the concept of not considering education a right, and therefore taking it away, and making it available only to those that can pay for it. All of a sudden, the electorate of the country (and remember, it's a consensus democracy) turns into an unruly, uneducated, overly religious, burger-flipping, channel hopping, overweight, consumerist mob.... oh..... wait.... we already have that.... it's called the USA.

Re:Teachers teach, graders should grade... (1)

Teun (17872) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932465)

From the way you spell I think I can conclude you are from North America.

Over here in Europe we see education as a corner stone of society and as such it is by many, if not most, seen as a right.
A more recent problem is that less people understand such rights given by society also form a duty to society.

The politicians we elect to take care of the shop know they have to answer questions every election and to make the results appear good they are no doubt tempted to lower standards to make results look good.

But at the same time we have to realise a lot more people are going to higher forms of education than 50 years ago, as we can safely assume the average intelligence of the population has not increased by the same amount it is easy to predict the average intelligence of those entering (higher) education has dropped.

We should be cautious to only blame politics for a lowering of standards over all, but we can complain about the way these standards are applied at specific levels of education.

Re:Teachers teach, graders should grade... (1)

Rhialto3 (1333539) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932469)

I disagree (like the other repliers) with everything you say. Except that I sort-of agree with education not being a right. Indeed, in my opinion it is a duty. For your own and society's good.

Well, from what I know... (2, Interesting)

Rendoggle (1378357) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932189)

GCSE is certainly of low standards. It's not just chemistry, either: the new science scheme is shit all across the board. An example: in a physics exam, instead of 'Calculate the speed of this', you get three multiple choices, one of which must be ringed (one will be D/T, another T/D, and the other DT). From TFA:

"[...] teachers are being compelled to 'teach to the test' [...which] draws mainly on the recalling of facts, with no reference to logic or mathematics."

It's referred to as 'Exam Technique' and is total bullshit. But hey, I did it, and got 11A*s, so who am I to complain? Anyway, things seem a little better at A- (AS-) Level, from what I've seen so far.

Re:Well, from what I know... (2, Insightful)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932351)

I spotted this years ago when I sat my A levels and GCSEs (back before you need UCAS points and actually needed "this number of As, this number of Bs etc).

I have a GCSE textbook from back when GCSEs were new - some of the questions in it relate to maths that is now not taught until A level. I have an O-level maths textbook too - it could substitute quite easily for a current A level textbook in some areas.

There's no doubt that the exams are getting easier, and perhaps calculus has no need to be on the GCSE maths exam (if the aim of the maths GCSE is to give every 16 year old basic understanding of maths to help them in the real world), and belongs in the A level syllabus instead, where it becomes more relevant to someone who may need to use it in a future field (like an engineering degree).

The trouble is, I think it's just slipping further and further down. I remember on my chemistry GCSE paper there was a photo of a car (an Austin Meastro!) that covered half of the page, with a question underneath that said "suggest a material that the windscreen could be made of (2)"

A silly enough question as it is, but 2 marks? Geez. A mark for laminated, a mark for glass perhaps? I have no idea.

Re:Well, from what I know... (1)

IamTheRealMike (537420) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932487)

Consider that the number of subjects being studied has gone up over time, but the students still only get 2 years for all of them. So I'd expect the subjects to be studied in less depth, that's inevitable if you increase the breadth.

Re:Well, from what I know... (1)

shic (309152) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932537)

It's been a while since I was doing school exams, but I was aware even then (late 80s/early 90s) that the subjects I was learning were significantly less complex than the same subjects one or two decades earlier.

I think it is important to note, however, that this doesn't make the exams easier. By this, I mean, it is not better to sit less complex examinations. Where examinations are "easy" it rewards disproportionately those who can regurgitate quickly and accurately over those who comprehend. I think this measures the wrong ability... sure, good candidates might also excel at the parlour trick, but - I think - it creates unnecessary and counter-productive stress.

Who cares? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932211)

Education is only a means to an end, that is having the right pieces of paper to get hired so so you can have a wellpaid career and afford to buy the nice stuff. As long as you can bullshit your way through the selection process thats fine by me.

Dumbing down of school science is a good thing (1)

Wolfbone (668810) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932387)

...at least for the growing number of UK 'universities' offering Homeopathy etc. BSc courses. Not an easy sell to students equipped with a basic knowledge of chemistry.

http://dcscience.net/?p=454 [dcscience.net]
http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=403123&c=1 [timeshighe...tion.co.uk]
http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=404104&c=2 [timeshighe...tion.co.uk]
http://www.ucl.ac.uk/Pharmacology/dc-bits/dcpubs.html#fun1 [ucl.ac.uk] [DC's Nature article, "Science degrees without the science" available here]

Make sure you don't send your kids (or yourselves) to any of these disreputable UK establishments:

http://www.thinkhumanism.com/files/UCAS%20Courses%20on%20quackery.xls [thinkhumanism.com] [List of UK universities offering fraudulent 'science' degree courses]

Frist 5top (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932391)

The UK isn't a meritocracy . . . (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932421)

... never has been, never will be. Who elected the Queen anyway? Strange women in ponds hurling scimitars in a farcical aquatic ceremony?

Good grades on your A levels? Who cares.

On the other hand, do you really want a "nation of chemistry students," to misquote Napoleon?

A Chem-Nerd-ocracy?

May God have mercy on us all.

nothing new (3, Funny)

smoker2 (750216) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932427)

Repost of an old theme :

The following examples may help to clarify the difference between the new and old math.

1960: A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of this price. What is his profit?

1970 (Traditional math): A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80. What is his profit?

1975 (New Math): A logger exchanges a set L of lumber for a set M of money. The cardinality of set M is 100 and each element is worth $1.

(a) make 100 dots representing the elements of the set M

(b) The set C representing costs of production contains 20 fewer points than set M. Represent the set C as a subset of the set M.

(c) What is the cardinality of the set P of profits?

1990 (Dumbed-down math): A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Underline the number 20.

1997 (Whole Math): By cutting down a forest full of beautiful trees, a logger makes $20.

(a) What do you think of this way of making money?

(b) How did the forest birds and squirrels feel?

(c) Draw a picture of the forest as you'd like it to look.

I left school the year before they merged GCE (General Certificate of Education) and CSE (Certificate of Secondary Education) into GCSE.
The CSE syllabus was taught to those who were less academically capable (as evidenced by their past results). In my opinion, GCE taught how to calculate an answer, whereas CSE taught how to recognise an answer from a group of candidates. But that wasn't "fair" so everybody had to learn at the lowest common level.

That is the problem.
I do have experience of both types as although I did GCEs at school, I also went to college to learn car mechanics where I had to take basic English (Communication Skills) and Maths (Numeracy) as part of the course. Having already got GCEs in both, I pissed the college courses with distinctions. The top grade in CSE was only ever a C in GCE. The laughable thing from this recent article is that you can pass with around a 20% score.

Re:nothing new (1)

Teun (17872) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932491)

I had never seen your 'old theme', thanks for the repost because I thinks it explains the subject nicely.

Falling exam. standards not the problem in it self (1)

Peter H.S. (38077) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932519)

As I see it, the problem isn't that examination standards are falling, but that they encourage the education system to "teach to pass tests" not "teach to learn the the students critical thinking.
From the article: "Science examination standards at UK schools have eroded so severely that the testing of problem-solving, critical thinking and the application of mathematics has almost disappeared."
If it was only the examinations that had become easier, then the problem wouldn't have been so serious. The problem is the combination of lower examination standards /and/ that the teaching standards are lowered from "learning critical thinking" to "rote memory learning designed to pass tests".


I'm a UK science teacher with a chem degree (4, Insightful)

Crookdotter (1297179) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932599)

So this is a unique opportunity to talk on /. and actually know what I'm on about.

I agree, the science exams we work towards these days are a pitiful shadow of what was taught in the past, and the slide is continuing.

Have a look yourself if you're interested:

http://www.ocr.org.uk/qualifications/gcse/index.html [ocr.org.uk]

This is our exam board at the moment. There are past papers and mark schemes etc so you can see what the kids get put up against.

Calculations have gone out of the window it seems, moved up to A-levels. That's why there is a massive drop off in A-levels - kids think that it's the same but as soon as they get a bit of real science to do, it's too hard.

We're all supposed to make science relevant etc. The courses are a joke and the science is a joke, filled with 'science for everyone'. The science of mobile phones to teach microwaves (plus discussion on phones causing brain tumours). Cooking potato as a first lesson in organic chemistry to check on texture and colour. I kid you not. Everything is a discussion and an opinion, with little right or wrong answers. They are expected to debate whether we should build nuclear power stations or not without (I'm not exaggerating here) useful knowledge of nuclear power, decent atomic structure, other forms of generation, pollution concerns, resource management or how electricity works. It's far too touchy feely with far too little rigorous intellectual content.

From Experience.. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#25932623)

As a student who has just started an undergraduate degree in Computer Science and Physics straight out of secondary school in the UK, I'd have to agree with the Royal Society. The exam boards revised the standards in examinations as recently as two years ago and I remember how disgusted most teachers I knew were by the low level at which they were suddenly expected to teach. When a 16 year is forced to learn the electromagnetic spectrum as the "Space Rainbow" because the concept is 'too hard to comprehend' then there's something wrong.

Most of my current friends took the International Baccalaureate, whereas I took A levels. The difference between their knowledge and mine is astounding even though I achieved good marks at A level and attended a selective and supposedly high standard grammar school. I consciously feel left behind in my studies compared to them, and I wish I had gotten out of the English education system earlier.

I think the exam boards are trying too hard to make the subjects that students fall down on in exams easier to understand. To make up for the extra content this requires, the harder material gets pushed out. Lack of understanding is not necessarily because the subject is too hard however; if that is the case then the students should not be studying it. I believe the fault lies in bad teaching and management of school resources by governors as well as lack of attention to individual student needs. Perhaps once these standards improve, overall expectations will too.

Not so simple... (3, Interesting)

PeterAitch (920670) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932669)

I work in a UK school, having moved some years ago out of my research discipline. My school is not private but it is not the standard product either, being girls-only and basically running its own affairs. We get mainly higher-end kids but still have a "tail" ability-wise. In addition to science for younger pupils, I have always specialised in physics (not exactly an easy sell to girls). So, here are my thoughts...

The RSC are broadly correct with their analysis. It's a question of breadth versus depth. Certainly many pupils are now putting in far more hours than in my day, but then they are usually taking a wider variety of subjects, with some distinctly eclectic choices. They are also heavily involved with external activities, often with an eye on the CV in order to compete effectively for the "best" courses and/or universities. Staff support them as much as possible in all this, in my school often working 80+ hours per week during term (I'm taking a break to write this!) So, more effort is going in for and by some pupils - but to what effect?

The GCSE science courses are very poorly thought out - with a random jumble of disconnected facts ranging from the trivial to the arcane being presented together on the same textbook page. Children of 14 who are only dimly aware of what an electron is (in VERY simple terms) suddenly meet HOLES in connection with p-n junctions at the start of their GCSE course. Oh, and allow about 15 minutes to get the idea of a p-n junction across - then move on! Similar lunacies occur elsewhere in the specification, but you get the idea. So make science sexy and "relevant" by dumping the structure and rigour. To paraphrase an old physics joke, teach them about real horses before they know anything about spherical horses.

The advanced courses are better, but here the mathematics has been almost entirely removed, which is a clear advantage for those who are not going to take the subject at university but a massive disservice to those who are. It's not all bad, since it forces pupils to focus on principles (Feynman-style) but it can easily give a totally wrong impression of what science is really like. Most of my pupils do maths (and often further maths) anyway, so it's not a major problem for me.

Teaching to the test? No, sorry, I believe in pupils being encouraged to develop their critical thinking skills, where this is reasonable. Thinking rigorously is a major life-skill, unlike the test which will be history once it has been taken. The immediate consequence is that the subject is perceived by some as "almost impossible" but, ironically, those brave enough to still take it and committed enough to work at it come to love it! Since this is a public forum, I'm not going to comment explicitly on the predictable conseqences this can have with management - you're all bright enough to do that yourselves. Suffice it to say that I have yet to be promoted.

So, are we developing a generation of box-ticking, multi-tasking, shallow-thinking children who cannot do things for themselves? In general, yes - although the VERY best are still as good as ever: and as rare.

End of the Bell-Curve. (1)

hachete (473378) | more than 6 years ago | (#25932673)

The one problem we do have is that you can't objectively match the old exams with the new. In the Good Old Days, we used to have the Bell Curve, which could be shifted accordingly to make the Elite appear the Elite. So the old style of marking wasn't very "objective". Nowadays, the bar is set and the bar stays there, at least in English schools. I have a sneaky suspicion that this is what people really want. Witness one poster bemoaning the demise of the CSE. I took CSEs, and the maths exams I took weren't like he described so I really have to doubt the whole thrust of his argument.

Problem 2 is that the people who took those exams weren't trained in those "hard numerical" methods so surprise surprise fewer people passed. Are these methods exactly what people want? I'm not a chemist so I wouldn't know.

Problem 3 is the UK school leagues which, under whatever system you adopt, will always lead to gradgrind. Not sure gradgrinding will actually produce better pupils.

I think the real problem is multifold: turning schools in to gradgrind institutions with the incentive for Schools to "tweak" the results. Continually tampering with the school system. I think stability is better than this continually idiocy of sniping and bickering.

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