Yes, this is a scandal

But not the scandal you are thinking of:

Four in ten would-be nursery staff will be blocked from entry under new government rules as providers warn of a looming crisis for places.
Recent government changes stipulate new apprentices and highly-skilled childcare students must have at least a grade C in GSCE English and maths to take up employment at level 3, which is the better standard of early education children receive.
However, a new survey by the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) has revealed 43 per cent of nurseries are unable to find apprentices as a result.

GCSE Grade C is a reasonable level of simple literacy and numeracy. And no more than that.

In fact, here is a GCSE English (Foundation) exam and here is the marking guide. not entirely sure about marks but I would suspect that 40% would get you a C here.

Here’s maths and the marking guide.

And here is our scandal. All of those people who apply to be those nursery helpers will have been educated by the State for 11 years. And the State, in all its magnificence, cannot manage to teach them even that simple amount.

State education, great innit?

64 thoughts on “Yes, this is a scandal”

  1. Perhaps the scandal is the inability of privately educated scandium oligopolists to look stuff up.

    The latest AQA GSCE grade boundaries are published here. The weightings of the papers are given for English here and for maths here.

    From this one can calculate that to get a C in GCSE foundation-level English required at least 62.5% of the marks, and to get a C in GCSE foundation-level Maths required at least 70.5%.

    International comparisons are difficult, but they seem to suggest that education in the UK is quite good.

  2. Also a scandal is the green tinge of every piece in the exam. Even at my daughter’s private school this green propaganda appears throughout the curriculum.

  3. That English paper. It’s for 16 year olds, right?

    Looks like stuff I was doing when I was 10 or 11. It’s pretty Ladybird.

    I don’t think any functionally literate 16 year old could fail to get at least 62.5% of the marks on that.

    The maths is again 11-year old stuff.

  4. The maths paper is exactly the standard my boy did for grammar school entrance last year, age 10-11. Very similar questions.

    So yes, it’s 11 year old stuff; sadly it’s now regarded as the standard of a good 11 year old, but there’s no excuse for schools not to get the vast majority up to that by 16.

  5. Witchsmeller Pursuivant

    HD is correct that the highest mark one can achieve taking a Foundation paper is a C. It is also fair to say that the Foundation paper is not significantly harder than the SATs paper taken by 11 year olds. Indeed the Level 6 SATs papers taken by gifted students contain harder questions than are ever found in the Foundation papers. Achieving a grade C in GCSE maths reflects a basic grasp of simple numeracy, not a reasonable level.

  6. It’s clear that grade C at GCSE is not an especially high level to aim for. Is it correct to use this as a filter to prevent people from taking low skill jobs though, or is that something we would rather leave to employers to decide? Much as it is tempting to say “this job is so important it deserves a filter on the candidates”, do that to too many jobs and the opportunities for kids who didn’t do well at school will be artificially depleted. Nursery pay is pretty awful so higher qualified kids are likely to avoid it.

  7. Richard

    “there’s no excuse for schools not to get the vast majority up to that by 16.”

    The vast majority do. But there’s still a sizeable minority who don’t, and the reasons for that can range from special needs (which are real, if arguably overdiagnosed), lack of parental support (not all parents care), teenage rebellion or distraction (the world that opens up to you when you’re 15 or 16 is full of things more exciting than school; at a basic level the performance of boys drops significantly on a 4 year cycle that coincides with the World Cup so we can even blame FIFA), and for kids who only arrived in England in their teens, not having had enough time to learn the language (look up the % foreign born; it’s not correct to say the British education system has had 11 years on everyone).

    I think it’s fair to say that more kids have the potential to get five Cs including English and Maths than actually do. But even a perfect school system won’t achieve a perfect conversion rate.

    For a depressing comparison, look up the % getting five GCSEs including English and Maths then compare to the % going to university (or the 50% aspirational figure for it).

  8. A friend’s daughter struggled through school failed to pick up GCSEs except RE, struggled through three NVQs and is now the most fantastic wiper of noses and bottoms, holder of hands and bringer of instant cheer to tiny tots. Why exclude her?

  9. When I sat GCE O’level in the 1960s, 45% got you an E grade which was an ‘also ran’ and no cause for celebration; anything less was an F for Fail.

    To obtain a C required 75% plus.

    During that time the alternative to GCE for the ‘not so gifted’ was CSE which had maths questions like 100-80=20… circle the number 20. Complete the sequence: 1,2,3,4….

    CSEs were worthless and like the modern equivalent of a ‘participation certificate’.

    GCSE were a hybrid of the two exam standards introduced to ensure all get prizes.

    Don’t let anyone tell you standards were lowered.

  10. @ John B
    “Don’t let anyone tell you standards were lowered.”
    Some of the maths that my younger son studied at university (albeit a Maths & Psychology joint degree but one requiring a decent pass in Maths ‘A’ level) was stuff I did at 15.
    I rest my case.

  11. Ljh,

    “A friend’s daughter struggled through school failed to pick up GCSEs except RE, struggled through three NVQs and is now the most fantastic wiper of noses and bottoms, holder of hands and bringer of instant cheer to tiny tots. Why exclude her?”

    And more than that, I’d rather pick someone for nursery duty who is good with kids and has no GCSEs than most people I know who are very good at maths.

    I can’t remember what started this, but I’ve no doubt it was government trying to shop they’re doing something. You can’t measure someone who likes working with kids or not except in a live environment.

  12. It’s also the relentless credentialisation of every fucking job in the world. Soon you’ll need some sort of degree for this, and during the course you won’t come within five miles of a child.

  13. As Rob just said. This is the ridiculous credentialisation of everything. Arguing about whether the required credential is the right standard or not misses the point.

  14. WTF do nursery staff need qualifications for at all? Apart from being kind/patient/ good with kids etc.

    The only way out from under this state shite is to start saying “Fuck off–we’ll hire who we want” . The costumed thugs would then be the problem. If anyone has a solution to that one please let me know.

  15. John B – I was in the first year of GCSE, we practiced on o level papers.
    Suprising how easy the GCSEs were. Heck I tried to get an H in french including deliberate mistakes – never revising any French since first year and no interest in the language at the time. And got an F
    Quite how that was possible is beyond me.

  16. Rob/Ian B,

    “It’s also the relentless credentialisation of every fucking job in the world.”

    It’s mostly in public sector/state-sanctioned cartels. Credentials can be useful, but even Google take people without degrees, but with the right experience.

  17. “It’s also the relentless credentialisation of every fucking job in the world.”

    It’s something that seems to have been taken over from the Continent, without looking at the rest of the system within which it lives.

    For instance, there’s no expectation that someone training to do childcare will have stayed in (academic) education until the age of 18, let alone have particular academic results.

  18. “It’s also the relentless credentialisation of every fucking job in the world.”

    It is a system of control. Why are the fucking schools putting “racist” on the records of 4 year olds. So –eventually –your cards will be marked from the start. Disobey, disbelieve, don’t swallow the lies and–in a world where you need a state licence to sweep the street–you will be an unperson from the start. A lifelong member of the underclass with no prospects and no hope. The Yanks are further down the road–costumed thugs arresting little kids for minor matters. But the message is clear–submit/obey or you will be leaned on from day one.

  19. Rob,

    > It’s also the relentless credentialisation of every fucking job in the world. Soon you’ll need some sort of degree for this, and during the course you won’t come within five miles of a child.

    Spot on. Stop this shit.

    Martin,

    > I was in the first year of GCSE, we practiced on o level papers. Suprising how easy the GCSEs were.

    I was in the third year, and the same. Our teachers just kept teaching us to O-level standard becasue why not. We were flabberghasted at how easy the exams were.

  20. What ljh said.

    The real scandal here is the every-extending curse of credentialism.

    Why in God’s name does a nursery nurse need ANY academic qualifications at all? All that’s required is to be a hard worker, to like little children, to be honest, and not to be a paedo. That is all.

    Heaven save us from the box-tickers.

  21. “the green tinge of every piece in the exam”: I once set a university exam question which started with the proposition that a hydrogen well had been drilled in the Irish Sea. Later I asked one of the markers how many of the candidates had poured scorn on the idea. None. Not the least hint from any of them that they’d seen the joke.

  22. SJW,

    > From this one can calculate that … to get a C in GCSE foundation-level Maths required at least 70.5%.

    The document you linked to states quite clearly that a C requires 180 out of a possible 300.

    Not that that’s the point. The point is how pathetically easy the questions are.

  23. Polly Toynbee has been arguing for years that kindergarten (not quite the same thing) should be staffed solely with people who have *postgraduate* qualifications.

  24. Bloke in North Dorset

    Peter MacFarlane
    June 10, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    What ljh said.

    The real scandal here is the every-extending curse of credentialism.

    Why in God’s name does a nursery nurse need ANY academic qualifications at all? All that’s required is to be a hard worker, to like little children, to be honest, and not to be a paedo. That is all.

    Heaven save us from the box-tickers.

    And in their next article: Shock, horror, child care is too expensive for women to have a career.

  25. It’s a class thing, basically. The “graduate qualifications” is a euphemism for “nice people like us” among the bourgeoisie. I find it quite fascinating how rapidly the new class (or better described, caste) system is developing in our society.

  26. bind

    “And in their next article: Shock, horror, child care is too expensive for women to have a career.”

    Exactly. Agree with everyone else about the credentialisation too.

    One pro of lower qualified workers is that they’re not going to treat it as a “starter” career and move on in 12 months after they have got some training and experience behind them and actually got good at the job.

  27. Anyone spot the trick question in the maths exam?

    Yes, question 3.

    The hypothetical band played 20 concerts around the world but only 1 in Africa and 1 in Asia. Clearly they are racists and we should have nothing at all to do with them, never mind draw a bar chart about their world tour.

  28. But seriously.

    I would have been expected to have got most of those maths questions correct before I left primary school in 1973.

  29. Anyone see the recent exam question in maths that caused an uproar? Easy question. Just looked different.

  30. @ Martin Davies
    But when there is a *real* reason to complain – such as a fire alarm going off in the middle of examination – no-one in the media says a dicky bird. If I was in charge of that I should have offerred a free re-sit to any student who failed.

  31. The document you linked to states quite clearly that a C requires 180 out of a possible 300.
    Those are the “uniform” (rescaled) marks. I gave the most recent “raw” mark boundary, which is what corresponds to the marks referred to in the OP.

  32. @ Social Justice Warrior
    I agree (shock!, horror!) with most of your first post, except international comparisons show that British Education is NOT good any more: last thing I saw, the PISA test puts us below Latvia. 50 years ago, Rhodes Scholars from the USA or South Africa or … who were graduates of their universities came up to Oxford to do undergraduate degrees (I met just one guy, who was a Canadian Lacrosse player, who took a post-grad course). Now Oxford has to take people who have only got ‘A’ level which has been debased. No 1 son COMPLAINED that afer Blair split the ‘A’ level course into ‘A/S’ level and A2, the two chemistry texctbooks combined were only two-thirds as thick as the original ‘A’ level textbook. When kids complain “it’s too hard” one is not surprised, when they complain “it’s too easy” there is obviously something wrong.
    I was going to point out that the top grade available on a Foundation level paper was a “C” until I saw you had beaten me to it. But that is not all that demanding – no 2 son, the least intelligent member of the family, got a ‘C’ in French after studying it for just four-and-a-half terms and only allowed to take the Foundation Level paper. I took French for six YEARS, with better teachers (one was French with a French teacher diploma as well as a degree) before taking ‘O’ level.

  33. Back in the heady days of 1999, when I took my A-levels, the debasement was clearly on show. Indeed, we spent our GCSE year studying A-level pure maths modules to stop us getting bored, followed by a cramming couple of “teach to the test” weeks (“this is what they want you to do, so just crank the handle and do it. Let’s practice it for a few weeks, by doing 2.5hr papers each in an 80 min double period”).

    Then, going up to the Great British University that is neither Hull nor Fenland Poly, since further maths A-level was not obligatory for engineering (many of the the state school kids couldn’t ever have got in otherwise), we did the whole of the subject-matter of A-level further maths modules in all of 2 weeks. This must have been 4 lectures and 2 tutorials.

    And maths was never my strong point – I gamed the ever loving crap out of my finals maths paper and amazed myself by getting a 3rd-grade mark instead of just a pass.

  34. …the PISA test puts us below Latvia…
    Fwiw the last PISA results had the UK a little above Latvia in all three categories.

    The claim in the OP is that the UK education system is scandalously poor. I don’t see the evidence for that. Foundation-level GCSEs are easy by the standards of most commentators here (they’re roughly equivalent to the old CSE) but so what? Some people are just not good at this stuff.

    Perhaps if we had a different culture in which children generally spent more hours doing schoolwork we could get more of them through this hoop. I can’t see how that would make our nursery schools better.

  35. So Much for Subtlety

    Social Justice Warrior – “The claim in the OP is that the UK education system is scandalously poor. I don’t see the evidence for that.”

    There is none so blind as those who cannot see. But I suppose sub-literates who have been taught nothing except to despise Britain and to be 100% politically correct suits you for political reasons.

    “Perhaps if we had a different culture in which children generally spent more hours doing schoolwork we could get more of them through this hoop.”

    Perhaps. But how to get a different culture? I know, on the one hand, let’s denigrate the culture of success and self denial we have while at the same time flooding the UK with people who even more dysfunctional and illiterate cultures. That will work!

  36. @ SJW
    Oh what glorious news, since I last looked PISA had moved the UK a little above Latvia!!
    Next year our cricket team (helped by the Irish Eoin Morgan and the South African Kevin Pieterson, unless he has offended someone again) may beat Sharjah.
    “The claim in the OP is that the UK education system is scandalously poor. I don’t see the evidence for that.”
    NO the claim is (i) that it is ridiculous that nursery staff should need academic qualifications and (ii) that the PASS rate standards are scandalously poor. One of the maths questions is “can you read the number of men who said yes” That is not a maths question – it is whether the child can read.
    I think that academic qualifications for pre-kindergarten childcare are so irrelevant as to be ridiculous. My little sister’s best friend was bright but unacademic (I don’t know whether she got any ‘O’ levels) but went into nursing as a vocation, Forty years later nursing became a graduate profession instead of a vocation and the standard of care is now lower. The quantum of knowledge needed for a childcare assistant is far lower than for a nurse.

  37. This reminds me of a conversation a while back with a neighbour who worked with the long term unemployed. She said there were basically two categories who were the most problem (a) people who didn’t want a job (b) people who really desperately wanted a job, but had learning difficulties.

    The category (b) people couldn’t even get a job as a cleaner, because of the requirement to read COSSH statements and labels etc. When they were quite capable of mopping a floor and knowing not to drink the detergents or rub it in their eyes etc. Low skill jobs like that are the jobs that less gifted people in our society used to do, and be paid enough to live a simple, if not luxurious, life. Now they’re trapped on the dole, with Iain Fuckwith Smith threatening to sanction them for not getting a job that nobody will give them.

    Libertarians are known for complaining about taxes etc, but the victims of the Progressive State are just as often people who wouldn’t pay much tax anyway, but it won’t even allow them to mop a floor for a humble wage.

  38. john77: all mildly amusing, but why should the UK average be much higher than Latvia’s?

    Interestingly, the most successful European country in terms of PISA scores is Finland. State education, great innit?

  39. Funny how in most of Europe the state education is actually good, obviating the need for private.

    However, in the UK……..

  40. Interestingly, the most successful European country in terms of PISA scores is Finland. State education, great innit?

    This is more an argument for low population, homogeneous countries with shit weather and a fiendishly difficult language than state education.

  41. Low skill jobs like that are the jobs that less gifted people in our society used to do, and be paid enough to live a simple, if not luxurious, life. Now they’re trapped on the dole, with Iain Fuckwith Smith threatening to sanction them for not getting a job that nobody will give them.

    This is one of the biggest scandals of modern Britain, up there with house price inflation. Any society has a problem with what to do with its menfolk (because this primarily concerns men) who are pleasant, want to work, but are unfathomly dim and have no rich relatives. Historically in eras of fighting, peasant farming, and industrialisation these people could easily find work, but in the post-industrial age it is getting very difficult for them. As a society, we are easily wealthy enough to create jobs for these poor unfortunates – but instead of creating jobs for the poor but dim we’ve splurged out on providing jobs for the dim middle classes in government bureaucracies, NGOs, fake charities, and God knows how many other pointless positions scattered across the land funded by the state. Yet the poor bugger who is strong but too dim to read a 16-page application form asking for your green credentials has been fucked over and slung on the scrapheap, and at the same time the cunts who have hoovered up all the money allocated for him and his ilk are telling him either he is lazy (Conservatives) or should be confined to a lifetime of unemployment (Lefties).

    The cuntish middle-classes have basically robbed the charity collection box to fund their own lifestyles.

  42. I can see why people wish to compare education across different countries, but the tables don’t tell you much. I won’t even bother to look it up, but I bet Russia scores lower than Australia in terms of education. Which, averaged out, it probably does.

    But what it doesn’t tell you is that a well-educated Russian almost certainly knows how to write a formal email using correct punctuation, spelling, and grammar. Indeed, grammatical errors are one of the great class differentiators in Russia and by making them you identify yourself as somewhat of a country bumpkin. Contrast this with Australia, the UK, or USA where degree-educated senior management routinely send out emails chock-full of grammatical errors and poor punctuation. However, the poorly educated Australians and Brits will probably be better educated than the poorly educated Russians (who are barely educated at all).

    In short, the Russian education system ensures their well-educated are indeed well-educated, but leave their poorly educated behind. Whereas the AngloSaxon system ensures everybody is educated only to a mediocre level.

    Long term, I think keeping the educational standards high with the hope that one day the rest can catch up a bit is better than reducing educational standards so that everyone can pass the exams.

  43. SJW,

    > Foundation-level GCSEs are easy by the standards of most commentators here (they’re roughly equivalent to the old CSE) but so what? Some people are just not good at this stuff.

    Absolute nonsense. No-one is good at this stuff when they start school. That’s what school is for. If we allow teachers to use the “Some kids just can’t do this stuff” excuse, well, why have teachers at all? And, as a teacher of my acquaintance is always pointing out, funny how that reasoning only runs in one direction, isn’t it? No-one ever gets into Oxbridge on sheer talent alone: no, it’s thanks to their amazing schooling. But if they leave school with a reading age of seven? Yeah, that’s 100% the kid’s fault; nothing the teachers could have done with such shoddy raw material.

    Besides, even within the parameters of some pupils being more able than others, the problem isn’t the people who aren’t good at this stuff. The problem is the failure to educate those who could be.

    I started A-levels in 1990 — before the rot really set in. I switched schools for sixth form, moving from a school that was still teaching GCSE to O-level standard because why not to one that was teaching GCSE. And the teachers were quite blunt to the kids: they explained that GCSE was far easier than O-level but A-levels had not got any easier, so there was a knowledge gap to make up. My French class had to learn the grammar I’d spent four years learning in one term, all the while being reminded that, hard though this was, they hadn’t actually started their A-level course yet, and that A-level course was still going to be two years, with no allowance made for the time lost to getting up to O-level standard. These were demonstrably not the kids who are just no good at this stuff: they were the A-level class; they were in that class because they were good at French. Some of them ended up fluent. It’s hard to see how their GCSE education had not failed them miserably.

    Of course, that wasn’t sustainable, so A-levels have got easier.

    > Perhaps if we had a different culture in which children generally spent more hours doing schoolwork we could get more of them through this hoop.

    I agree: more of the time they spend at school should be spent on schoolwork. But I suspect that’s not what you meant.

  44. And here is our scandal. All of those people who apply to be those nursery helpers will have been educated by the State for 11 years. And the State, in all its magnificence, cannot manage to teach them even that simple amount.

    Last August 69% of pupils achieved grade C or better in Maths GCSE. The pupils the State is alleged to be scandalously failing are in the bottom 31%.

    Back in the days of grammar schools, the top 25% at age 11 went to grammar schools, the other 75% went mostly to Secondary Moderns. So we are talking about people who 50 years ago would be in the bottom half of the academic range at a Secondary Modern. Did those people get grade 1 CSEs – roughly the equivalent of grade C GCSE? No they did not. In fact, in 1965 64% of students achieved no grade 1 CSE or O level pass in any subject.

    I’d be quite willing to engage in a rant about the current state of exams if that were relevant. But the proposition in the OP is just wrong.

  45. > grade 1 CSEs – roughly the equivalent of grade C GCSE

    See, there’s your mistake, right there. Channel 4 established this quite clearly when they gave a bunch of GCSE A* students a 1960s O-level and they utterly flunked it. Then, afterwards, they told them it wasn’t actually an O-level after all. It was the 11-plus.

    > I’d be quite willing to engage in a rant about the current state of exams if that were relevant.

    It obviously is relevant. The exams have been made orders of magnitude easier in order to push pass rates up, yet the state still can’t get pass rates up.

  46. @ SJW
    Why should UK’s education output be better than Latvia’s? Education in Latvia starts at 7, the education budget is 6.5% of GDP, UK publically-funded education spending is 5.2% of GDP, but UK GDP per capital is nearly three times as great as Latvia’s so that translates to $2374 per capita – excluding fees paid by parents – against $1026 for Latvia. If we cannot get a better outcome by spending more than twice as much per head there is something wrong with how our system works.
    Finland significantly outspends the UK but the key reason why they do better is the public’s much more positive attitude to education.

  47. Why should UK’s education output be better than Latvia’s?

    Plus, to my knowledge the UK didn’t undergo enormous upheaval less than two generations ago that saw the whole education system shift from a Russian-based one to Latvian-based one (in terms of language), and is in a situation where a huge chunk of the population – including those who would have been teachers previously – cannot speak the new language. We’d *hope* to do better than Latvia.

  48. The exams have been made orders of magnitude easier in order to push pass rates up, yet the state still can’t get pass rates up.
    On the contrary, pass rates have gone up a lot. Percentage of children getting 5 O-level passes/GCSE grade C or better:

    1953/54 10.7
    1960/61 15.3
    1970/71 22.1
    1980/81 25.0
    2000/01 50.0
    2010/11 79.6

  49. OK, fair enough, but the reason for that is still the laughably easy exams, not that children are vastly better educated than they were in olden times.

  50. Bloke in Costa Rica

    I was in the last year to do O-levels. The year after I’d taken mine, I snagged a copy of the new GCSE physics exam that the kids in the year below had just taken. It was shocking. Entire subject areas had been watered down or omitted completely. A couple of years ago I downloaded some sample A-level maths and physics papers. They were essentially pitched at the same level that I had done for my Os. This is why Cambridge, for example, has its STEP papers. Those are genuinely quite tough, as they should be, although they are pitched at slightly below what an A-level would have been thirty years ago (sample question: show that the integral of 1/√(x² + x) = 2 ln (√x + √(x + 1)) + c given the substitution x = 1/(t² – 1), whereas the A-level question would have been find the integral. Note it’s easier to do a hyperbolic trig substitution and the result for real x is 2 arcsinh(√x)).

  51. STEP papers have the same syllabus as A-levels, but the questions are a lot tougher and involve more crossover between the different bits of the syllabus. The idea is that a talented pupil can do well in STEPs without extra coaching. The key thing about them is that the university get to see your actual paper, not just the grade.

  52. OK, fair enough, but the reason for that is still the laughably easy exams, not that children are vastly better educated than they were in olden times.

    OK, fair enough. I acknowledge that the exams have got easier.

    But this is not a failing. The nature of employment has changed, so that more people need some skill at practical maths and written English. The syllabuses have evolved to teach useful stuff which most people are capable of learning.

    Most but not all. That’s not a failing either.

    BiCR: In my view, this is the sort of thing which ought to be dropped from the examination anyway. Real mathematicians don’t spend their time doing this stuff – if they don’t know the answer to an integration, their computer does, faster and more accurately than they can work it out.

  53. So Much for Subtlety

    Social Justice Warrior – “But this is not a failing. The nature of employment has changed, so that more people need some skill at practical maths and written English. The syllabuses have evolved to teach useful stuff which most people are capable of learning.”

    More people need to be able to do maths and speaking proper English so the solution is to teach them less and worse English and maths? A fascinating solution there old bean.

    In the meantime 30% of British primary school students are BMEs. So it is irrelevant. The only question is whether future generations of illiterate Mad-Max-style gangs will speak Creole or Urdu as they roam the smoking ruins of a once great country.

    “Real mathematicians don’t spend their time doing this stuff – if they don’t know the answer to an integration, their computer does, faster and more accurately than they can work it out.”

    And real French writers don’t conjugate verbs either. So obviously there is no need for any foundation material whatsoever.

  54. …real French writers don’t conjugate verbs either

    “I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever…”

    She may have had you in mind.

  55. Bloke in Costa Rica

    “Real mathematicians don’t spend their time doing this stuff – if they don’t know the answer to an integration, their computer does, faster and more accurately than they can work it out.”

    That is, as Wolfgang Pauli might have said, nicht einmal falsch. That particular integral for example: if you use one substitution you get one answer. If you use another then you get a different, but exactly equivalent answer. Understanding why this should be so is a stage on the road to becoming a ‘real mathematician’. All exams, right up to the point where you stop taking them (at the end of a Master’s degree, usually) function as a pons asinorum. Oh, and it should be noted, that when Shing-Tung Yau proved the Calabi-Yau conjecture and won a Fields Medal, he did it by solving the Monge-Ampère equation, which just so happens to be a very difficult integral—a differential equation, to be exact—that you can’t solve on a computer.

  56. Nice quotation, but that’s not what Pauli meant.

    Understanding stuff is good, but for most candidates this question will just be an exercise in handle turning. It’s like saying we should include tests of proficiency with a slide rule, on the grounds that Fields Medal winners sometimes use logarithms in their work.

  57. Real mathematicians don’t spend their time doing this stuff – if they don’t know the answer to an integration, their computer does, faster and more accurately than they can work it out.

    As usual, you have totally missed the point – only this time you have seemingly missed the point of most of what you’d learn on any engineering or science degree. The aim is *not* to teach students how to do things they will be required to do in future employment (which is only one of the reasons why your nonsense about the exams getting easier because that is what the job market wants is laughable). Rather, the aim is:

    1) Ensure students understand the underpinnings of their discipline so they a) can trust a premise without having to revert to first principles every time and b) can revert back to said first principles in order to find the root cause of a problem. Hence in mech eng we learn about the second moment of area of an I-beam: something few engineers would need to calculate in a workplace as a computer can do all that for you. But you’d be a pretty shit engineer if you didn’t understand second moments of area.

    2) Such problems combine to ensure a student can “learn to learn”. I never learned a language in school or university, nor a musical instrument. I can now speak 2 languages and play a musical instrument. The reason is, my university course – and to a lesser extent A-levels – taught me “how to learn”. Once you know how to learn something, you can learn whatever you need/want to later on. But learning how to learn involves learning lots of stuff which appears on the surface to be pointless.

  58. Tim,

    Bang on. My prime sellable work skill is being an expert with Microsoft Excel. Excel didn’t exist when I was at school. I got through university without the knowledge of what a spreadsheet even is. But my education in maths and the formal logic side of philosophy equipped me to get very very good at Excel. Music theory was valuable too. Not because I’ve ever used any actual music theory at work, but because music was the only genuinely difficult GCSE, which gave me valuable training in working my arse off to get good at something difficult.

    I think we also need to object to the whole idea of basing the school curriculum on what the workplace needs. No-one knows what the workplace needs. When I was at school, the kids with an aptitude for science were steered away from biology, because it wasn’t a proper difficult important science like physics. In retrospect, not only was genetic engineering about to become one of the most important and lucrative fields on the planet, but it had been going on for a few years by then. The schools just didn’t know. Or care. Not only can they not predict what’s going to be important to the workplace, but they can’t notice what’s already becoming important. So how about they just give kids a decent broad knowledge base?

  59. Oh, and this as well:

    > The syllabuses have evolved to teach useful stuff which most people are capable of learning.

    I have no doubt that there are some cases where the piss-poor education is the result of a careful considered (though wrong) decision about what employers need these days. But a lot of it’s down to bloody trendy teaching fads. Like teaching kids to read using fucking “whole-word learning” by associating words with pictures and refusing to teach them the pronunciation of individual letters. Why did they end up leaving school with a reading age of seven? Because they hadn’t done anything for eight years? No, because eight is roughly the age where you start learning words that you can’t draw simple pictures of. So, eventually, after years of miserable failure, most of the teaching profession admit that the trendy theory didn’t work and we get the swing back to “phonics”, or, as we used to call it, “learning to read”. But phonics is still controversial, because some teachers are so reluctant to let go of the trendy pet theory.

    In the meantime, while they figured this out the hard way, how many years of guinea pigs had to have their educations fucked up?

    See also the refusal to teach grammar in foreign languages.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *