There’s an interesting story on the BBC website today about cheating in school exams, specifically the use of technology in both aiding and catching cheaters.

For me, the companies selling the products, the schools buying them and the exam watchdog Ofqual have got this all wrong.

Cheating

Technology presents us with an opportunity to change our antiquated, almost draconian exam system which puts a premium on a person’s memory and wrist stamina as opposed to their ability to find, process and place into context information relevant to a subject.

For one thing, a clampdown on ‘technology cheaters’ smacks of hypocrisy and sheer bloody-mindedness. In an age of rampant digital piracy, how can you expect kids to take a moral stand on not secretly using the Internet in an exam, when everyone is ripping music, films and software from the Internet? The music and film industries have accepted this and adapted their business models. Education resolutely refuses to budge.

Secondly, technology has changed irreversibly the way in which we all communicate and interact. To try and remove from an exam situation a reference tool such as the Internet is so counter intuitive it actually offends even an 11 year olds intelligence.

And thirdly, unless you’re sitting a technical or scientifc exam where defined answers can be copied without going through a necessary process – therefore demanding a certain amount of isolation – the written exam is just about the worst form of test imaginable.

Course work has already been scaled back due to issues around quality, so surely we should be embracing new technology as a way to find a new way of testing pupils and pushing them to the limits of their mental ability? Instead we seem to be demonising children for doing what now comes naturally when they’re tasked with answering questions.

All of the main political parties in the UK are banging on about information superhighways and the importance of getting families on-line, so why are schools getting all Stasi on our children at a time when, arguably, the Internet could be of the most benefit too them? It makes no sense.

What’s needed is a root and brand reassessment of the written exam with the express intention of putting the Internet and other technologies into the examination hall as a tool, not threatening pupils with expulsion if they try and Google Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Boots Cash Chemists Ltd [1953] for their law GCSE.

Of course there is a great temptation to cheat and copy verbatim answers that are already on the Web, but we have developed sophisticated methods of authenticating and filtering information on the Internet. It’s hardly a technological stretch to checks papers against text already on the Net.

And besides, we should be setting exam questions that can only be answered by original research and thought. We should play to the strengths of controlled, time-limited exam conditions not view them as strict rules of governance within which careers can be decided depending on how individual pupils perform.

The bottom line for me is that unless you’re planning a career as a magician or a card shark, memory tests are no measure of intelligence. It’s about time our education authorities realised that, rather than coming down hard on the Internet generation.

@paulwooding1973

 

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