Why the Education System Should Learn From its Mistakes


It can be well reasoned that there is no objective way of evaluating intelligence or that intelligence itself is not objective. Yet there is still so much emphasis put upon the achievement of specific academic goals. While achieving high  A level grades and graduating from university degrees does serve as evidence for one form of intelligence, the inescapable evaluation of Britain’s educational system does not cater for all.

In Britain today, children are legally obligated to go through primary and secondary school before being judged by various exam boards as to their intellectual worth. While it is fantastic that free education is given to all UK citizens, it does seem unfair that the first few years of a persons life, a time at which humans are naturally the most volatile and have the least control over, are spent being tested and evaluated. The results of which hold a significant bearing over the rest of that person’s life. Education from a young age is unsurprisingly not the problem, but strict rules about what is taught, how it is taught and how a child is then tested restrict people to growing up in an almost robotic system.

It can be argued that the range of intellectual forms evaluated is actually quite large in subjects within the criteria of humanities as they require more than just good memory. However, these subjects are are harder to be examined on and are at least slightly partial to examiners’ moods and opinions. Even if the evaluation process was not a problem, teaching methods can never cater to everyone. It can also be proposed that the current system is effective as it can then evaluate one’s intelligence by testing how well one can adapt their own form of intellect to the academic environment. However, this is still unfair on those who have to adapt more than others. This suppression of diversity is unhealthy through the way the current system tries to fit everyone’s mind to the same mold.

It is natural for people, especially young people, to seek self-validation. So when what we are told is an objective evaluation of our intellect tells a child he or she is an A or a B or a C etc. it can leave them without the desired approval, having a momentous and potentially harmful psychological effect. Exams cannot be objective. So when a student is given his or her hierarchical academic ranking it can have no absolute bearing over how clever that student is and yet the results of these exams pigeon hole students with large social significance. If a person is not suited to the form of education offered it can leave them without a sense of appropriate self-worth and with poor financial prospects.

In the modern job market academic grades are seen as very important if not essential for getting a desired job yet, jobs for which applicants are judged by their grades usually require more than just someone who can memorise information for a test. Jobs are also given to people who paid attention in school and not necessarily those who are most passionate about or most apt. The current system promotes people to follow institutional rules and rewards those who do as they are ordered rather than rewarding those who take risks or simply see beyond what they ought or are told to do. This leaves Britain’s economy drained of initiative and spontaneous action but without the benefit of economic growth or superiority. It is obvious that Britain cannot compete with the largest global economies for sheer efficiency so why not stand out as being the most humane and diverse?

There can be no easy way to change the time-honoured traditions of education but it is clear that a revolution is needed to prevent the suppression of intellectual diversity and to promote the validation of all forms of human intelligence. Equal opportunities have been given to those from differing geographical backgrounds and now it is time to give equality to those from differing intellectual backgrounds too.


Discussion6 Comments

  1. avatar

    It is a bit of an exaggeration to say that academia requires nothing more than a good memory and the will to pay attention in school. Perhaps this is the case in primary school (a good argument against competitive applications for secondary school places), but GCSE’s definitely require a level of understanding, which only increases for A-level. Do you seriously think there are people who do badly at A-levels because they “take risks or simply see beyond what they ought or are told to do”? What sort of risks do you mean? Maybe drug dealing?!

    Jonathan Barrington

    I did not state that academia required nothing more than a good memory but that a good memory is essential for doing well, I did also make the point that ” It can be argued that the range of intellectual forms evaluated is actually quite large in subjects within the criteria of humanities as they require more than just good memory. However, these subjects are are harder to be examined on and are at least slightly partial to examiners’ moods and opinions”.
    My point about risk-takers and those who “see beyond what they ought or are told to do” was that these potentially beneficial qualities are institutionally drilled out of people and while it would not be a good thing for everyone to never do as they’re told or take risks all the time it is also not a good thing for everyone to always do as they’re told or never take risks. I never made any connection between academic grades and these qualities. I’m not quite sure where “drug dealing” came from either.

  2. avatar

    It’s difficult to tell what you’re even arguing for, whether it’s more vocational qualifications (of which there are already a lot) or segregating people of lower intelligence from a young age, or just generally anti-meritocracy where everyone gets a pat on the back regardless of skill or achievement. What you call “suppression of diversity” seems to mean rewarding failure. I don’t think it’s reasonable to say a basic education in literacy, numeracy, science and arts isn’t something everybody should have. Diversity doesn’t mean promoting ignorance.

    I’m also wondering what you mean by singling out humanities as requiring more than memory. Just learning by rote won’t get you far in a scientific subject either.


    “seems to mean you’d prefer rewarding failure” is what I meant

    I need a full-time sub-editor

    Jonathan Barrington

    The reason I singled out humanities is because I would say that memory plays a larger role in maths and sciences (not that a good memory is all that’s required) and because questions on those subjects can usually be understood as simply right or wrong.
    The point of my article was that the education system does not cater for all through it’s strict guidelines in both subject area and teaching methods. It therefore seems wrong that so much, in the way of job prospects, hinges on such a system. People who are not suited to academic study (and by this I don’t just mean people who receive bad grades) but are still perfectly clever are told, in the inappropriately simplistic form of a number or letter, how intelligent they are. This ignores the fact that exams cannot be objective. I am not trying to provide an alternative method of teaching and evaluating, I am trying to encourage people not to see exam results as absolute proof of intelligence or lack there of.

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