Tuesday, June 12, 2007

And as if by magic, the Physics teacher appeared!

Earlier I wrote about the Civitas report into the dumbing down of education including the sciences. Well thanks to Dizzy Thinks, here is an open letter from a physics teacher to the "AQA" Board which sets the curriculum. The teacher, Wellington Grey has his blog here.

The letter starts:
I am a physics teacher. Or, at least I used to be. My subject is still called physics. My pupils will sit an exam and earn a GCSE in physics, but that exam doesn’t cover anything I recognize as physics.
Depressingly the letter continues with some examples of which this is one:
On topics that are covered by the specification, the exam board has answers that indicate a lack of knowledge on the writer’s part. One question asks `why would radio stations broadcast digital signals rather than analogue signals?’ An acceptable answer is:

* Can be processed by computer / ipod [sic]

Aside from the stupidity of the answer, (iPods, at the time of this writing, don’t have radio tuners and computers can process analogue signals) writing the mark scheme in this way is thoughtless, as teachers can only give marks that exactly match its language. So does the pupil get the mark if they mention any other mp3 player? Technically, no. Wikipedia currently lists 63 different players. Is it safe to assume that the examiner will be familiar with all of them? Doubtful.

And here is another:

Lastly, I present the final question on the January physics exam in its entirety:

Electricity can also be generated using renewable energy sources. Look at this information from a newspaper report.

  • The energy from burning bio-fuels, such as woodchip and straw, can be used to generate electricity.
  • Plants for bio-fuels use up carbon dioxide as they grow.
  • Farmers get grants to grow plants for bio-fuels.
  • Electricity generated from bio-fuels can be sold at a higher price than electricity generated from burning fossil fuels.
  • Growing plants for bio-fuels offers new opportunities for rural communities.

Suggest why, apart from the declining reserves of fossil fuels, power companies should use more bio-fuels and less fossil fuels to generate electricity.

The only marks that a pupil can get are for saying:

  • Overall add no carbon dioxide to the environment
  • Power companies make more profit
  • Opportunity to grew new type of crop (growing plants in swamps)
  • More Jobs

None of this material is in the specification, nor can a pupil reliably deduce the answers from the given information. Physics isn’t a pedestrian subject about power companies and increasing their profits, or jobs in a rural community, it’s is about far grander and broader ideas.

This simply is not physics, nor is it science. What is more the people "responsible" (though irresponsible would be a better description) The Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (or rather the lack of any real assessment and no qualifications alliance) seem to think this load of drivel will "provide work related learning" for pupils.

Are they serious? Do they really think that employers want people who know nothing about a subject like renewable energy to sit around all day discussing what a journalist who also knows nothing about renewable energy has to say about it? You just couldn't make this up.

Daniel Finkelstein has this.

Update, Wellington also has another blog here, and you can read the comments on his article here.




Elliott said...

All too sadly believable. The vandalism of British education must rank as the single greatest political disaster of our generation.

Ted said...

Wish I'd had those questions in my Physics O Level - might have got an A instead of a B. More than dumbed down - think I could have answered both those questions at end of standard 5.

Benedict White said...

Elliot and Ted, Thanks you for the comments.