A-levels 'too much like sat-nav' | Wilson Centre scholarship
A-levels 'too much like sat-nav'
London, June 18: The A-level exam has become "hollow preparation" for
university, by undermining independent study and original thought, says a think
The Reform group claims exam modules have created a "learn and forget
culture" - which it likens to using a sat-nav rather than map-reading skills.
It says universities should ensure the quality of A-levels, taken by pupils
in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Ministers said the extended project and the new A* would address concerns.
The Reform report analysed the views of academics in English, mathematics,
chemistry and history.
Researchers said academics reported today's students as having inferior
reasoning skills to those who started courses in the 1990s.
They complained of "high maintenance" students who sought constant advice.
Dr Dewi Lewis, chemistry admissions tutor at University College London, said
frequent assessment favoured the "shallow learner".
"Candidates are led through the exam in a sort of quiz or puzzle style, with
lots of opportunities to jog their memory," he told Reform.
Professor Bailey, professor of statistics at Queen Mary, London University,
told Reform researchers: "The most important change in exams over the period
1951-2008 is that sitting a mathematics A-level paper now is more like using a
sat-nav system than reading a map.
"If you read a map to get from A to B, you remember the route and learn about
other things on the way. If you use a sat-nav, you do neither of those things.
"The questions in the 2008 paper are heavily structured in this way and the
result is that students will retain very little knowledge and develop very
Prof Bailey also said today's students were given hints and instructions on
The Reform report criticised the introduction of modular A-levels, saying
this had broken up the coherence of a course - "limiting the ability of teachers
to ensure a thorough understanding of the subject".
"The ability to resit reinforces the mindset that success at A-level is
actually about a narrow achievement in six separate mini-courses," the report
The think tank concluded that universities should resume control of public
exams, "restoring their intellectual rigour".
"Historically universities have played a key role in upholding exam
standards; in the first half of the 20th Century they took a leading role in
setting school examinations," the report said.
"This link has become weaker over time, with academics giving way to teachers
and playing a progressively reduced role in the exam setting process."
Elizabeth Truss, deputy director of Reform, said today's students were being
badly let down by the A-level system.
"They are not developing what they really need: A spirit of independent
enquiry and confidence that will set them up for university and later life," she
Director general of the Russell Group, which represents top universities, Dr
Wendy Piatt, said: "Russell Group universities take a keen interest in ensuring
that UK qualifications are sufficiently robust and academically challenging so
that students have the skills and knowledge to benefit most effectively from our
"We are therefore willing to consider any way we can contribute to improving
the means by which students are taught and assessed."
Iain Wright, the minister with responsibility for reform for 14 to
19-year-olds, said: "The changes we are making to A-levels ensure that A-level
papers contain more open-ended questions, requiring greater thought and more
detailed written replies.
"We are introducing new extended projects, which will encourage independent
research, planning and study skills - exactly the sort of skills needed at
"The new A* will also encourage the best students to demonstrate the upper
limits of their ability." BBC News
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Sabiha Mansoor awarded scholarship by Wilson Centre
Lahore: The Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, in collaboration with the Fellowship Fund for
Pakistan (FFFP), a Karachi-based charitable trust, on Wednesday announced the
appointment of Dr Sabiha Mansoor as the Wilson
Centre's new Pakistan Scholar.
spend nine months at the centre, beginning in September, carrying out research
for a book on devising a professional development strategy for higher education
She is currently a professor and dean of the School of
Education at Beaconhouse National University. Previously, she has been a
professor and head of the Centre of English Language at Karachi's Agha Khan
University, and also a professor and lecturer at Kinnaird College. She has
written a number of books on higher education and language instruction in
Pakistan and South Asia, including "Language Planning in Higher Education: A
Case Study of Pakistan", published in 2005.
Mansoor will succeed
Ambassador Riaz Muhammad Khan, the centre's Pakistan Scholar from January-August
2009, who, during his stay at the centre, worked on a book looking at the impact
on Pakistan of the conflict in Afghanistan, as well as the broader regional and
international implications of that conflict.
The Pakistan Scholar
Programme is open to men and women from Pakistan or of Pakistani-origin.
Applicants should belong to academia, business, journalism, government, law and
related professions. Candidates must be currently pursuing research on key
public policy issues facing Pakistan, research designed to bridge the gap
between the academic and the policymaking worlds. Daily Times
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