Daily Mail features RSC Chief Executive's Views
22 June 2006
The Daily Mail lead its letters section (22 June 2006) with one from RSC chief executive, Dr Richard Pike, in which he expresses concerns about the erosion of British education, particularly with regard to the recent publicity over controversial multiple choice exam papers.
Your article confirms how intellectually compromised the English educational system has become. Real-life science does not have just four choices of answers with no mathematics. To assume it does will have dire consequences for a country that aspires to be a leading knowledge-based economy and at the forefront of high value-added technology.
Examinations should be a component for learning and skill development, not a means of providing a "feel good" factor to the individual using the cheapest tick-box method of assessment. One can blame the various competing examination boards but they are merely responding to the market framework which now characterises education here.
Underlying this is the marginalisation over time of universities in the systematic curriculum-setting and examination processes, so that these activities have been increasingly dominated by consultants, but in a fragmented, uncoordinated way. Some ideas are good, particularly in making science more exciting, but few of those passionate about biology, physics and chemistry could have imagined that examinations in the subject, solely based on multiple-choice questions, would be the ultimate outcome.
Education truly has become polarised. Leading scientists and industrialists voice to me their serious concerns over the future of the UK science base in terms of numbers and quality. Government is addressing this through a commitment to 3,000 new science teachers and, in the last week, a further announcement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on further education spending.
Yet delivery has been marked by commissioning and then failure to implement initiatives (such as the Dearing and Tomlinson reports), innumerable and confusing types of examinations and assessments with inter-linking "pathways", and mixed messages promoting excellence and wider access, while also implying a process of "dumbing down".
The time has surely come, not to continually repair a creaking system, but to re-assess the entire purpose, methodologies and funding of education. For the science examinations planned, there is still time for a radical re-think. We need numerate, literate and skilled citizens who can contribute to high-performing organisations in an increasingly competitive world, whether in services or manufacturing. We can learn from the clarity and decisiveness of overseas educational frameworks, and must act quickly to reverse the decline of international indicators for UK education.
Dr Richard Pike
Chief Executive, Royal Society of Chemistry
Department for Education and Skills - Tomlinson Report
Transforming the education system for 14-19 year olds
The Dearing Report
The National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education
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