Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Chalk and cheese?

When I was digging around recently, with a view to choosing a suitable course to further my study of Italian, one of the things which struck me was how diverse study opportunities have become over the years. When I took my A levels, it was with University in view, and it was the Careers Masters at school who were supposed to guide your choice of subjects to fit whatever ultimate aim or aspirations you had in mind. I remember the then-newish General Studies A level wasn't counted as a 'proper' one towards the required grades which an offer of a university place might specify.

Alternatively you could go to college - colloquially 'Tech' - to get qualifications in engineering, or 'Night School' for commerce and business studies, which I think were in many cases sponsored by employers. Colleges didn't in most cases run O levels or A levels apart from English or possibly Maths. But then as colleges became polytechnics and then Universities in their own right, and NVQs with their levels started being equated with GCSEs and A levels, quite a bewildering array of choice has built up, with in some cases students doing courses because they look interesting (or dare I say it, easy to get on) rather than with any particular employment prospects in mind.

I don't want to sound élitist, but one of the things I noticed when I was checking around was that a qualification such as a GCSE or A level was being equated to x hours of study. Even as a crude measure of the amount of work required to attain it, it's of very limited value: it's far too dependent on things like what the study actually consists of, how well information is used and retained, not to mention whether the student has any innate ability to start off with. It just seems to me to be in danger of becoming one of those 'lowest common denominator' things which seems to plague many aspects of modern education. I can't really see much point in offering a choice unless the options are significantly different. Or maybe I'm just old-fashioned?

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