Friday 18 December 2020

Do not let the SNP destroy education still further


It is hard to think of an activity that is more suited to Covid than taking an exam. In fact, I can think of no activity that we did prior to Covid that better taught us social distancing than sitting at a desk separated from everyone else in a large hall. It should have been easy to set up such exams last summer, but neither schools nor universities could manage. In Scotland and Wales Highers and A levels have already been cancelled for 2021. The pandemic may well be over by May and June, but while I see school children closely congregating on the street every day, they can’t possibly be made to sit two metres apart for an exam.

The result of Scots failing to sit exams last summer was massive grade inflation. Teachers naturally overestimated the performance of their pupils partly out of the goodness of their hears, but also because it reflects badly on a teacher if everyone in his class fails. John Swinney’s attempt to systematically reduce grade inflation lasted only a few days as parents and children revolted with sad stories about poor wee lassies who had always dreamed of studying medicine failing to get on the course because of a computer algorithm. But the sadder story was further debasement of exams and still more children going to university for which were intellectually unsuited.

If school children fail to sit exams for two years in Scotland it will mean universities too will have to adapt to the circumstance of students who have never sat a serious exam facing their end of year exams. Allowances will have to be made and these allowances will continue to be made right up until the student leaves with a degree.  Gradually there will be no real distinction between the able, the moderately able and the thick. At this point the process of turning educational Gold into base metal will have been completed in a reverse alchemy that would have astonished the alchemists in the Middle Ages who could not have dreamed what hundreds of years of educational improvement could achieve.

Having cancelled exams for two years it becomes fairly obvious that there never will be such exams in Scotland again. It has already been proposed that exams in Scotland will be abolished. John Swinney is going to consider the proposal and will give his answer in the New Year. Exams are supposedly from a bygone age. They are stressful and a poor predictor of success at university. The International Council of Education Advisers (ICEA) wants to use Covid as an excuse for getting rid of them.

The Scottish educational establishment and the academic study of education continually seeks to undermine the real purpose of education because it is ideologically opposed to it.

What is the purpose of education? It is to help children learn things and ideally to help them reach the point where they can teach themselves. This used to be the whole point of school and still more university education. The reason an employer wanted someone with a degree was frequently not because of what had been studied, but because the fact of a student having studied at a high level told the employer that this person could think clearly, write coherently and learn new tasks on the job quickly and successfully.

The whole point of education both at school and at university was not so much the knowledge that was gained, much of which was of minimal practical use, but the ability to think and learn. I have never used Higher Mathematics since I was 17, but the ability to learn, reason and go beyond what my teacher taught me has been continually useful.

Why do we value education? Why do people seek school and university qualifications? The reason is that they distinguish one person from another. It is fundamental to education that it is unequal. If everyone could obtain a degree in medicine, it would have no value. It is the scarcity of a qualification and the fact that it clearly and distinctly delineates between ability ranges that makes it worth having.

It used to be the case in many subjects that it was necessary to have a first-class degree in order to study for a Ph.D. or at least to get funding. Because funding was limited it was extremely difficult and took an immense amount of hard work to even have a chance of getting a first-class degree. Students were funded for post-graduate studies because they were able to distinguish themselves from everyone else.

But this was the case with school exams too. It was the difficulty of exams and the fact that they distinguished between ability ranges that enabled me to go from a small Aberdeenshire comprehensive to some of the best universities in the world. If I had relied on teacher assessment, I would have been able to go nowhere, because the assessment of the teacher would have been no better for me than my school mates and no better than pupils in other schools nearby.

The purpose of exams is to discriminate. This is why the educational establishment hates them. They would prefer that everyone is treated equally.  It is for this reason that qualifications both at school and university level have been continually debased to the extent that moderately able or even poor pupils and students can gain qualifications that they don’t deserve. But what is the result of this? The result of degrees failing to discriminate between the able, the moderate and the poor is that able students end up working in Tesco. When everyone knew that it took hard work and intelligence to get a degree or even a Higher it was straightforward for anyone possessing such a qualification to get a decent job. Now that school exams and university fail to discriminate it becomes impossible for employers to judge the real ability of job applicants.

Who loses? Well obviously, the person with the qualifications who cannot get a job that is suitable to his ability. But society loses too.  We spend billions on education only to find that it fails its most important task. It fails to discriminate between ability ranges because the people in charge are opposed to discrimination.

This is why education as an academic subject is bogus. Because it is hostile to the true goal of education everything it touches is made worse.

It wasn’t merely the laziness of teachers and their inability to innovate that prevented socially distanced exams last summer. If Tesco could manage social distancing, why couldn’t exam halls? It was the hostility of teachers to exams in the first place, because they are fundamentally hostile to the idea of one pupil being shown to be better than another.

When teachers assess pupil performance everyone will do that bit better and the very able will be merged with the moderate and in time, we will get rid of the fundamental inequality of judging people by intellectual ability. This is the goal of “education”. If you doubt me look at what has happened in the past thirty to forty years. Education, Education, Education, really meant dumb, dumber, dumbest.

In Scotland until about the 1980s we had a system of school and university education that enabled bright children from poor backgrounds to reach the top because they could prove themselves better in exams than not only their fellow school pupils but from children who went to Eton. I was one of them.

Now because of a left-wing Scottish educational establishment and mismanagement by the SNP we all can get Highers and degrees that distinguish nothing. My equivalent today ends up in the wet mush unable to show that she is better and brighter than the boy from Eton.

The end result of getting rid of exams is not that we will abolish discrimination, we will need to find new ways to discriminate. Universities will in time require aptitude tests like they do in the United States, but all that means is that school becomes a waste of time where you learn nothing, and university degrees start at a much lower level.

Do not let the SNP destroy education in Scotland still further. It is pupils and students who lose out most when they cannot discriminate themselves from everyone else. English people with A levels will beat you, because they sat exams and you didn’t.