OPINION: Exams haven't met the 21st Century yet

Columns & Opinion, Internet, Websites

final-exam.jpgIt’s easy to forget sometimes that the 21st century is now. Information is the currency that the world runs on, and is far more transferrable and globally relevant than actual cash. However, despite its focus on knowledge, the education system is hopelessly out of date. The traditional “exam” involves sitting down with a pen and some dead tree, and trying to remember when the battle of Sevastopol was. A school in Australia is trying to change that.

Students at Sydney Presbyterian Ladies’ College are piloting a program which will allow their students to call people, use the internet, listen to podcasts, whatever they like, during exams. They’ll be assessed on their ability to find credible and correct information, and cite sources, while writing quality prose.

One example given is Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have A Dream” speech. Students can get each other’s opinions in the exam, but will be just graded on persuasive language. The English teacher behind the pilot said that they wanted to prepare students for accessing real-world information: “What they will need to do is access information from all their sources quickly and they will need to check the reliability of their information,”

She’s absolutely right. There’s no point trying to remember who was the king of England in 1408 when the almighty Google can give you an answer in ten seconds (Henry V, says Ubiquity). In the real world, now that so many jobs are sat in front of an internet-connected computer, and phones have internet connections too, having these facts in your memory is completely unnecessary.

Unfortunately, students won’t be able to use the internet for maths exams. I think that’s a pity. There’s a big jump between seeing a Wikipedia article on differentiation and actually knowing how to do it yourself. Allowing students to use the internet in all exams teaches them to be a better searcher of information. Time limits are still applied, so if you can’t find what you want fast, then you won’t score as well.

Maths aside, though, this initiative in Australia is a fantastic step forward. A future generation who are taught how to effectively sift through information and find the truth through the huge cloud of noise that is the internet will be considerably more effective and productive workers. I’m in strong support of trialling this program in the UK.

What do you think? What’s the most obscure fact that you remember from school? Would this have made you better-educated, or just distracted? Let us know in the comments.

Sydney Presbyterian Ladies College (via Wired)

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Duncan Geere
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One thought on “OPINION: Exams haven't met the 21st Century yet

  • I’m all in favour of this. Too much pressure is placed on memory skills, as opposed to practical daily work skills.

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