Saturday, June 18, 2011

Rigor ends in rigor mortis...

I see that Michael Gove is now pushing for 'tougher exams' and an increase in rigor in education.

Always with the quick fix.  Always with the achievement of a standard which can be measured.  It doesn't matter that people come out of education with a dislike of learning.  A lack of confidence in their own potential.  Or their ability to grow and develop.  No.  What we need is 'more rigor'.

What's so bad about that?  I mean.  Shouldn't things be more rigorous?  Isn't that better?  Well... a good place to start is to look up what 'rigor' means in the dictionary...

Rigor: 1. harsh inflexibility in opinion, temper, or judgment 
(Source: Merriam-Webster)

Oh, and if you're wondering, the alternatives for it aren't much better.

Is this really what we want for children's learning?  Inflexibility in an age where to survive you need to be flexible?  Or are we considering rigor as 'a condition that makes life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable'?  Still not looking massively attractive.

Now, I know by treating these kind of statements literally it could be argued that I wasn't being fair.  That what he actually means is that we need to have 'better standards' for our qualifications.  But what does *that* mean either?  Qualifications don't equate to knowledge.  They don't equate to a critical understanding.  Fact retention or a test of memory in a 'rigorous' exam doesn't mean that you're more prepared to face a challenging, changing and complex world.

What I learned when I was at school was how to be invisible.  This isn't strictly true... because it wasn't always like that.  I was a curious child when I was little.  Could spend hours reading or creating things.  Loved finding out how things worked.  But then secondary school happened.  It was a vast sea of children and with its increased 'rigor' and reliance on tests, streaming and comparisons... I disappeared.  I learned instead how to avoid the teacher's radar and survive.  On paper I was one of the 'good' pupils.  I got the 'good' GCSEs I needed.  I got my A-Levels.  I did a degree.

I didn't learn a damn thing that mattered.

How could I go through 16 years of education from 4 to 20 and, 15 years later, barely remember a thing from all those years?  I have a degree in Economics - but I couldn't talk to you intelligently about Economics.  On paper I can speak French and German.  Laughable.  I have an A-Level in Maths... but an allergy to trigonometry.

Only when I was in my mid-twenties did I realise that I could have a voice.  That it was okay to be wrong.  That the qualifications I'd been led to believe were all important and that I *had* to have weren't the door opener they were made out to be.  That being 'good at school' wasn't the same as being good at learning.  Only in my mid-twenties did I realise what I was interested in and had the intrinsic motivation to take myself to other more interesting places.  I walked out of University aged 20 thinking 'I'm done with education'.  Well, in many ways that's still right.  The difference is that I have a further three degrees now... and I'm only just started with learning.

Rigor in education?  On the list of important things about learning it is very, very low down the list.  Apparently though, Gove would also like to see the influence of business as well as rigor...
Gove would welcome school heads taking a lesson from business: "We now have great headteachers who will become educational entrepreneurs. They will build a brand and create chains."
(Source: The Guardian, 18 June 2011)

Build a brand and create chains.

Build a brand.  Create chains.

This almost leaves me speechless.  Instead, I think that an author whose work I rather like can express some of my feelings better than me...

Learning.  What is so wrong with learning?  Messy, creative, exciting, enjoyable, fun, stimulating, puzzling... learning?  You don't need a factory-like educational experience to learn.  In fact, I wouldn't want an experience like that.

Yet here we are again.  Governmental calls for rigor.

Real learning looks like it's about to enter a state of rigor mortis...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Universities are...

Loved this quote in the article 'An unofficially brilliant way to celebrate Universities Week'

"universities are made up of people – strange, passionate and playful people who are humbly curious about the world – and that's what makes them so much fun."

... and that's why, no matter how insane they are to try to get your head round. No matter how difficult it might be to make change. No matter how complex and frustrating. Universities are exciting places to work.

And being around people who have the courage to be passionate about something is addictive.

Now... about how to spread that a little wider than academia...

You can't knock my ambition, right? :o)

Friday, June 3, 2011

RIP older browsers, Google ain't playing any more...

BBC News - Google to abandon older browsers: "Google is phasing out support for older browsers from 1 August.

Those using IE7, Safari 3, Firefox 3.5 and their predecessors to view Gmail, Google Calendar, Talk, Docs and Sites will then lose some functions.

Eventually, it warned, these web services will stop working for those sticking with older browsers.

The move is part of a trend to stop the use of ageing browsers which can be insecure and not sophisticated enough to handle the latest web technologies."

Bye, bye browsers. When the biggest boy decides it's not going to play with you, you might as well go home...

Mind you, the figures at the end of the article - that 34% of Chinese users are on IE6 suggests that size of audience doesn't matter so much as the direction the dominant player has decided to head in.

Google takes over the world. Again.
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