Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Do GCSEs favour women?



You know. I never really thought about it that much. I first came across this notion during my A levels studying education as part of sociology. Since, at the time, women and girls had had such a long time being the second class citizens of education and work it didn't really bother me. I did notice that in all the top classes guys were generally absent. That left me pretty lonely. I hadn't really thought that the structure of the GCSE with its emphasis on coursework might actually favour women over men.

Not until I read a daily mail article I found on an education discussion group. I'm only half way through the article but with the extra years I now have I can see exactly what it means. I like most of the men I know prefer short bursts or sprints of intense activity instead of long term patient effort. I never enjoyed school because it was so focused on painstaking work that girls preferred. Like any guy my age I just wanted to be active. That's why I pursued it all the way to a sports science degree.

So I was wondering why Michael Gove felt the need to replace GCSE's. Now I feel I understand. I don't expect the implementation of the new system to be amazing. It's likely to simply tip the balance the other way and promote boys over girls. It may also devalue the aspect of coursework that I really appreciated. It proved the value of having completed work in the bank.

Overall though I can see why a change may be needed to balance out the equation for boys. Thought will  it take a generation for us to see if this really has the benefits we hope?

To be fair though I'd rather have much more regular testing amd much smaller forms of tests. If it's supposed to prepare you for work then it should reflect work and help you understand that in real work you're often learning on the go.

I deliver websites and software applications. Each week there'll be a set of bugs to address and every few months new features or sites to work on or create. Many times there'll be something I haven't covered before. Maybe an entire product I've never used and I have to build a piece of software out of it in a stupidly short amount of time. That's life. It's the same in all spheres of work and the ability to deliver is what gets you work. Each time I deliver it's the same as passing an exam or delivering coursework.

What is key is that it's an accumulation of knowledge and skills which of course is experience. The constant learning and applying or knowledge. At school what was missing for me was any one explaining the relevance of school and testing to work. That's because I don't think they know how to explain it or they might not like how it sounds if they do. My view is that work is like school because the school stuff you don't like is preparing for the work you don't like. Everyone, even those living their dreams have aspects they don't like. In fact those most successful are those who have learnt how to succeed and even appreciate the stuff they don't like. Rihanna, Tom Daley are a couple of examples.

I encourage regular testing only if it's accompanied with good support. I like sports because it's about putting yourself on the line. You can be great in practice but poor during a match. It's just like an interview or making a web site under really short deadlines with no resource. The pressure is the test and how you handle it is what you're practising. So failing at tests if they're regular isn't important. There will always be another. But learning the skills of passing tests is crucial to getting ahead. Looking back I've notice a consistent trend that the exams and pressure situations I did best in were those where I'd had lots of practice in those pressure situations before. Subjects that emphasised several mock tests prepared me better than those with none.

I'm not saying regular testing is easy and I don't like the stress it can create. I'm saying we should get better at helping teachers and students handle the pressure. Life is full of pressure much harder than exams. So it's better to learn how to deal with these lesser pressures so that we're better prepared to deal with work, marriage, parenting and all the other really difficult things we'll be doing later on.
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