Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Pointing out the obvious

At school, as we prepared for our A Level maths exams, we got to take past papers from previous years - up to 10 years previously. My father also, as I did, took A Levels in both Mathematics and Further Mathematics, and he was able to look over the papers I was bringing home.

That was more than enough to make blindingly and completely obvious that A Level mathematics was getting noticeably less challenging over the years. Things that my father did in O Level had become A Level material and much of the Further Mathematics paper was things that he had done in Mathematics. The "third" paper from my year was basically pretty similar to the "second" (in terms of difficulty) paper from 10 years previously. And so on.

There's a report on the BBC news website today, based on an investigation someone or other's done into this, here.

Here's the bit from the school's minister:
Schools Minister Jim Knight said standards were carefully monitored by an independent watchdog to make sure they remained world-class and were an appropriate preparation for study or work.
The mind boggles! I don't like the casual way in which allegations of shameless lying are bandied around today, but I find it hard to imagine what kind of parallel mental universe the politicians who trot out this kind of statement are living in, and what the chain of thought is that leads them to such conclusions.

The report also says:
"We need a cultural revolution to transform maths from geek to chic".
That's absolutely what we don't need. A cultural revolution we really need is one where whether something is geek or chic is something we stop caring about. The worship of chic is the problem - we won't help maths by persuading people that by doing maths the gods of chic will be appeased. We need them to learn that maths is good for you, and you should learn it whether it's chic or not. The value of learning is not to be measured by the measuring rod of cool. On the contrary, "cool" needs to be measured and found wanting by the yard-stick of reality!

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