Manifesto for Teaching Online – Aphorism No. 14, Part 3 “Assessment is a creative crisis as much as it is a statement of knowledge”

“A licentiate taking the provincial examination may be likened to seven things. When entering the examination hall, bare- footed and carrying a basket, he is like a beggar. At roll- call time, being shouted at by officials and abused by their sub¬ordinates, he is like a prisoner. When writing in his cell, with his head and feet sticking out of the booth, he is like a cold bee late in autumn. Upon leaving the examination hall, being in a daze and seeing a changed universe, he is like a sick bird out of a cage. When anticipating the results, he is on pins and needles; one moment he fantasizes success and magnificent mansions are instantly built; another moment he fears failure and his body is deduced to a corpse. At this point he is like a chimpanzee in captivity. Finally the messengers come on galloping horses and confirm the absence of his name on the list of successful candidates. His complexion becomes ashen and his body stiffens like a poisoned fly no longer able to move. Disap¬pointed and discouraged, he vilifies the examiners for their blindness and blames the unfairness of the system. Thereupon he collects all his books and papers from his desk and sets them on fire; unsatisfied, he tramples over the ashes; still unsatisfied, he throws the ashes into a filthy gutter. He is determined to abandon the world by going into the mountains, and he is resolved to drive away any person who dares speak to him about examination essays. With the passage of time, his anger subsides and his aspiration rises. Like a turtle dove just hatched, he rebuilds his nest and starts the process once again.” (Elman 2000, 361)

Remember this?

Remember this?

And assessment lives on. In a speech by UK Education Secretary Michael Gove to the Independent Academies Association on 14 November 2012, he extended the argument for testing in schools. Competitive, difficult exams for which pupils must prepare by memorising large amounts of facts and concepts will promote motivation, solidify knowledge and guarantee standards. His logic of just why exams are important can be surmised his ‘manifesto for examinations’ thus:

1. They are tools of social mobility ensuring ‘society is ordered on the basis of fairness’ not wealth, class or prejudice. In perhaps the most prominent part of his speech, he argued that external assessment, because it is blind to class or background, offers a more fair and equal way of recognising talent and thereby of opening up opportunity in society.

This is the essential idea drawn from the Chinese Imperial Examinations, that it is a means through which to develop an aristocracy based on merit rather than linage. But as in the Chinese example, while entrance to the exam was open to most people only wealthy families had the time, money and resources necessary to devote the years of study required for the Confucian classics based exams. A high pressure academic environment, high pressure academic orientated home environment, no requirement to toil in the fields, good diet, opportunities to travel aboard, and importantly, a collection of associates and friends which are also subject to the same conditions who inadvertently reinforce positive behaviours associated with learning.

Supposing there was a persisting sustainable never-changing knowledge, such as in the Western or Chinese canons. Then beyond brute memorisation and memorised renditions, one has to defer to interpretations both in answer and in assessment, this requires subjectivities which may be harnessed by rubrics and criteria [themselves developed in accordance with defined ‘learning outcomes’, defined by … Bobbit style analysis of successful adult routines, an awareness of the needs of universities, an awareness of the socio-economic realities of the nation, futurists or bankers predication of the world in 2035 or what exactly???]. We can be fairly sure that, across the population of the world, students’ abilities do not change significantly from one year to the next.

What we can’t be sure of, or rather, what we can’t do, is create the same opportunities, contexts, communities and environments for students to exist and study in, and be sure of setting an exam of exactly the same difficulty on an absolute “criterion referenced” scale. And certainly not to the extent that you can say pass rates have gone up by, say, 0.7% and attribute that to better performance by the students.

2. They provide essential challenge, “humans are hard-wired to seek out challenges,” which helps provide motivation and stimulation for students.

We are ‘hard-wired’ to do and seek out many things. Evolutionary psychologists would put forward that we are hardwired according to the needs, drives and biases of stone-age hunter gatherers. You could argue that it is not challenges we seek but solutions to things we have come to view or identifying as challenges [think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs]. That’s big difference. Exams in formal education are a very recent addition, even those in ancient China. They are contrived, they are a distinctive kind of intervention. In life there are a series of challenges which most people arise just as a matter of course. For many of these events there is no easy solution, like bereavement or many untreatable health afflictions, or ageing. You have little or no way of stemming them off, and they may come to you or some close very suddenly. Many other challenges are fixable providing one can compromise and may be willing to enact radical changes, these include apparently inconsolable differences with another and the dissolution and failure of a business. Other challenges can be ranked almost in an order leading to the challenge of getting out of bed in the morning, to remembering someone’s birthday. Exams like all sorts of puzzle are aimed, devised, purposely designed with challenge in mind. They are supposed to be obstacles which are taken to be indicative of the state of the knowledge in the examinee’s mind. They are not spontaneous arising from the course and conditions of life or business, that is problems that must be coped or dealt with. They are abstract and based on abstractions indicating that the information age has been around for a very long time. That they challenge this level of experience to the exclusion of all others suggests a particular and peculiar challenge. The challenge of a video game or a crossword and Sudoku is one that people take upon themselves in an voluntary fashion for intrinsic pleasure.

3. They bring satisfaction and contentment; a job well done, a challenge overcome, all essential to future success (though this rather depends on individual achievement)

This point follows from the last in that if you can develop, confer, spurn that ‘holy grail’ of intellectual curiosity in students if they can take on the challenge of exams as if they were beating the ‘boos’ in a video game, that is covent change to game and invite collaboration and individual effort, and show their value to solving problems then you have a chance.

4. By providing stretch and challenge, they can help identify where more help or support is needed; “exams pitched at a level which all can pass are worse than no exams at all”

The correlate is also true, exams pitched at a level where all fail is equally useless and waste of time and effort. Again pitching the exam, getting it right, making it universal and ‘one size fits all’, should test only foundational aspects, socially accepted standard operations, description and explanations, which are necessary to ensure fair and equal communication between given members of society.

This would include literacy and numeracy, but would treat science as a series of debates and the structuring of governance and power within the local community, country, region and globe all under the umbrella of social studies – that is all subject to interpretation and debate. But Gove is a fan of ‘great works’ and ‘western canons’ as he has called for the reintroduction of Byron, Keats, Austin, Dickens and Hardy, those timeless tomes which have always adorned the bookshelves of middle-class homes and much preferred by parents over the watching of television, the playing of music and video games. He sees the King’s James bible as also necessary in this mix. This will help our eleven year old’s answer question like these: Each of the following sentences contains one error. Re-write the sentences correctly:

a) This is not an Infant’s School.

b) I am told that Tom Jones’s brother have won a scholarship.

c) The bishop and another fellow then entered the hall.

d) When the dog recognised me it wagged it’s tail.

e) The matter does not concern you or I.

f) Talking to my friend, the bus passed me.

If all else were possible to be equalised, not just the time spent with superb teachers, but also the social climate in learning and study situates and realised by students, their peers and parent alike, resourced and facilitated with superb resources and connections to business and community, and all embedded in a truly meritous society then all we would be addressed is aptitudes and capacities, drives, motivations and application. But the forces of wider pop and consumer culture, things and values happening in the now will still dominate over perennial knowledge unless this is translated or evidenced in the new. But an interest in football and pop groups can expand into all areas of grounded theory, investigation, exposition, and interpolations. You can begin with David Beckham and end with the impact of the bible on societal development after being translated into modern English and printed by the first presses, and his advertising presence being akin to Pantagruel and Panurge in Rabelais’ Storm of Frozen Words.

5. They ensure that a solid base of learning is complete before progressing on to further learning. ‘Assessment must not be seen as an end in itself, it must prepare the way for future learning’.

On and on until the end of formal education when presumably you fall off a cliff. What of the mantra ‘lifelong learning’ in which institutions is commercial or personal success, or even happiness measured by exam questions [accepting of course that some people make money out of issuing questionnaires that, amongst other myriad inquiries, aim to identify the relative happiness of countries].

6. They help facilitate ‘proper’ learning and support great teaching. Because tests require students to demonstrate what they’ve learnt, tests can, apparently, “drive creativity”

I am in no doubt tat asking a person a non-binary [yes/no, like/dislike] or multiple choice question question spawns them to creativity in the form of interpretation. But when you consider, for instance maths questions in the style of word problems tend to shift around one minute you are making cakes, the next you are a motorist, then you are an engineer. Challenges in life can force you to make creative decisions, but would they be based in anyway to the creativity one employed in the answering of exam questions in English or in maths or science?

7. They signal that a person is ready to take on greater challenge and responsibility; completing an apprenticeship is a signal that a student is ready to apply skills learnt.

An exam is not an apprenticeship, real life applications of skills and techniques like bricklaying need continual practice to make them semi-automatic routines where the contingent nature of the job i.e. is it a new build on a new site where the ground and foundations are regularised, or a renovation on an old property, where any new additional structure will have to account for uneven surfaces and the quirks and conditions of age dominate the challenge.

8. And finally, “schools that take exams seriously take students seriously”

My opinion is that schools that take the reality of formal education seriously, in all its splendid advantages and limitations, take students learning seriously. Schools and universities have to be janus faced. There is no market for reinventing the wheel or the mobile phone or come to that. But understanding something of of why it was invented, in all its benefits and pitfalls are important, as it is to realise how it has taken its shape and may be used in the future. To recognise trends and flows, eco-systems, and loops of cause and effect. The impact of literature in terms of its influence to social change and justice, and its rationales, is important for great works and pop culture as much as it is for understanding how scientific and technical ideas diffuse into public use. Gove is saying that teachers in that media and communications eco-systems called the classroom must be acquiesce t to exams written elsewhere by ‘betters’ – those who are in command and are knowledge about what has to be shown or demonstrated in order for you get that ISO approval. What about all the transferable skills which even industry has long cried out for and which are conferred upon pupils in school like Eton. In a BBC article one ‘old Etonian’ attributes this in part to a relentless series of speakers visiting the school, telling pupils they were potential leaders of the future. But he also says that the school puts a premium on individualism: “You’re encouraged to pursue any dream you might have. “Eton also allows a degree of dissent and, to a certain extent, encourages it. That’s very helpful to anyone who wants a leadership role.” Another sees it as the development of distinctive ability is to exude confidence, without appearing haughty or conceited.

All this points to the development of soft skills which even the Confederation of British Industry (CBI – the voice fo business) have been crying out for:

Businesses want graduates who not only add value but who have the skills to help to transform their organisation in the face of continuous and rapid economic and technological change. All graduates – whatever their degree discipline – need to be equipped with employability skills.

Employability covers a broad range of non-academic or softer skills and abilities which are of value in the workplace. It includes the ability to work in a team; a willingness to demonstrate initiative and original thought; self-discipline in starting and completing tasks to deadline.

Interestingly, in his account of the Chinese Imperial examination system, Justin Crozier also cites that various devices for ‘cheating’ exams also emerged. This is of course a coping mechanism a response to the examination process itself. Students usurp the test with the belief that they cannot, could not, handle or pass the exam without crib sheets or other technologies.

This and plagiarism seems rife in the developing world, practiced even by students who seem to hold promise, and appear quite capable of passing. Again, ritualised behaviour can move beyond the realms of rationales to loops such as “I go to school because everybody goes to school.” “I cheat at exams because that is what you do in exams; it is a game of cat and mouse” “Why are you studying English?” “I want to know about everything.” Very quickly enter a double-bind develops where you get locked in a scenario where it is your opinion against theirs, where your questions cannot be comprehended as nobody thinks that way. Where the teaching is not based on developing thinking and supported independent inquiry but learning how to answer in ways you are expected to answer.

I want to know about everything

I want to know about everything

Other forms of ritualised behaviour can be experienced. One colleague from the United States was correcting one local colleague on her English; she came back with an old photocopied English tuition book and showed him a sentence which was actually misprinted. She indicated that she had been teaching this for 8 years before he arrived, the book could not be wrong, that no student had ever complained, and then duly went to the supervisor to complain. There were even classes where students objected because the lecturer didn’t use the precise phrasing of what was in the revered book. He called it a parking space (British) instead of a parking lot (the book was American). The students had learned in a ritualised fashion akin to the memorisation of the ancient Chinese texts. The book was taken to be written by a ‘higher’ more unquestionable authority than even the teacher!

In such stifled and extremely restricted environments the notions of ‘critical thinking’ ‘creative thing’ and innovation in either pedagogy or approach to learning, or even curriculum content is extremely to put across to local colleagues or students. Even attempts to rationalise it may only get you into deeper water. People trying in invoke these tactics or even sharing them would be considered mad, if not dangerous (to the status quo and the students).

For millions of pupils and students worldwide, and for over a thousand years, assessment has been viewed as a final hurdle or obstacle rather than an opportunity to showcase the culmination of what they have learned in the duration of the course. It is expected, and it is moreover expected in particular fashions.

“In the absence of an idea of the university there would be no need to dispute its nature.”

The idea of the university as put forward by Coleridge and Newman “not in their effort to isolate the precise functions of the university . It lies in their desire to elevate the university to the moral centre of modern culture and to do so by freeing the university from the grip of utilitarian and hedonistic schools of th9ught so influential in their day.” (p.21)

In order to be critical you must a).... b)..... c)......

In order to be critical you must a)…. b)….. c)……

Throughout the rise of formal education as we know it today there have been many commentators who have criticised what we may recognised as western education as being an intentional or even by-product of the manufacturing era with its functional and ideological outputs aimed at producing fairly placid accepting workers for jobs that no longer actually exist. This is a very serious threat indeed given the amount of time that people spend in their lives at school in formal education, and something that must be considered against further reforms that emphasises some romantic return to the days of higher standards. There is also the fanciful idea that all students given the proper resourcing can achieve these higher standards. It just needs a bit of disciplining of teaching staff, to make them see that it is their failings that is producing low quality.  Consider a recent Forbes article that suggests that more than half of the 71 members of their list of the World’s Most Powerful People attended the same 11 academic institutions. And then we wonder, was it something special in them, in their interaction with the institution, or perhaps something to do with the milieus they met there or had already dwelt within.

However, the fact is that school and university must move on as society does as well to face the realities of life and living in global locations that may remain agriculturally or manufacturing orientated, or the elusive post-industrial and knowledge orientated and also to consider that post-industrial occupations may never be exclusive to the geographic North and West as was expected with the rise of digital communications.


But a snapshot into Cambodian education in the late 1950s by Frank Hollister lends us a unique picture of how the aspirations of young learners were provided for and shaped by the needs of the colonial administration.

“In Cambodia only two reason exist for graduation from elementary school: (1) to satisfy secondary school admission requirements and (2) to qualify for employment in the nation’s civil service. Since the sole reason for attending secondary school is is also preparation for government employment, the two reasons become one … Since 1863, when Cambodia became a French Protectorate, to be a government employee has been the highest ambition of Cambodian youth. As far as they and their parents are concerned, no other reason for education exists. To wear a necktie and shoes and occasionally a white suit reveals that one is a success. There are evidence that one does not have to labor in the rice fields, work as a coolie, or have the dirty hands of an artisan. Even though the skilled work may earn a higher wage, his social position is much below that of the civil servant. Hence, every ambitious and intelligent young man aspires to government employment.” (pp.209-210).

Not only are there echoes of the Chinese system inherent in this account, which can also be witnessed even today in Cambodia, after the turmoil which more or less closed the schools and decimated the education system during the 1960s-1990s. The following is lifted from the thinking chinese blog.

“While in big eastern cities, such as Shanghai, Beijing or Guangzhou, education reforms seem to stress the psychology of the child, his/her rest and play time, as well as other values that are associated with liberal Western conceptions, in rural areas, ‘population quality’ and ‘quality education’ mainly stress the importance of obtaining education, encouraging parents to invest more resources in child education and preventing children from quitting school in early age, in order to engage in their household peasant work.”

This recognises something of the varied needs of knowledge with respect to socio-economic and even geographical realities. It is furthermore suggestive of a process where those who show promise can advance to higher levels of education and those who do not can be trained at vocational levels. As such it is a kind of reckoning that was used in the 1944 Butler Education Act, in England which introduced the eleven-plus exam. This was an attempt to parse the capacities and aptitudes of the primary school graduate with a secondary school type (Grammer, secondary Modern, Technical) which would suit their abilities. This would, by and large determine possible career choices.

But strangely I found an echo of the former set-up where those seeking jobs must do so in government service. Many of my students in Lesotho in Africa have followed the path expected of them and while studying various ‘21st century creative’ avenues. They have also entered government service who is the major employer in the country. I also note that increasingly ‘jobs’ or ‘existence’ in the developed nations seem to be becoming increasingly government funded in the provinces outside the big cities.

Who, what, why, where and when?

Who, what, why, where and when?

Also jobs become less skilled, making for a starker gap between those that wear the white suit, and those who must work in the service sector. A little more than a cursory glance at the courses taught at the local technical college in my hometown in Scotland and the jobs available illustrate some disjuncture between teaching and vocational training. When I was a boy the census would have revealed that one of the main occasions held in the town was ‘engineer’. Today it is more likely to be ‘homecare assistant’, council tax and benefits assistant’ ‘general operative’ ‘fresh good assistant’ ‘warehouse assistant’ ‘price integrity assistant’ in fact the few jobs available are all for minimum wage ‘assistants’. Service occupations are jobs that involve assisting or caring for others, for example, food service workers, security guards, janitors and gardeners, cleaners, home health aides, child care workers, hairdressers and beauticians, and recreation occupations. An increasingly need for this kind of work comes about as some sectors of the emerging economies ramp up and create new socio-economic stratus.

The likelihood being of course that you will be not only an assistant not only to an up-line human manager, a newly formed middle-class, but actually to a system and a machine. You will only be performing the fiddly bits on what cost-effectively a machine and intelligent supply chain mechanism cannot yet do. No chicken thigh is the same which is why skilled human workers have until now been required. But including X-rays the robot can accurately detect the shape of the joint, and thus closely imitate the work of human workers. That is fiddly physical functions, or mainly presenting a human face on an otherwise ‘not-touched-by-human-hands’ production and distribution process, or put to the service of the old and infirm or the young of those who have decision-making jobs. Think the ‘assistant’ who stacks the meat shelves dressed as an old fashioned butcher – the meat being grown from an egg, reared in an environmentally controlled hygienic environment with just the right genetically modified food mix, animal flours and antibiotics, killed automatically when the right size for the order, deboned, irradiated, deboned and packaged by robots, and loaded on to the container which takes it to the supermarket to be shelved up by the human. Is it important to have a wide conceptual knowledge of geography, history and maths, let alone the collected works of Frederic Nietzsche, or linear and logistic regression analyses to do these tasks?

Chicken deboner robot please click for video

Chicken deboner robot please click for video

In alarming figures released by the Office for National Statistics there is suggestion that over a third of graduates are engaged in McJob work. This surely beggars the question whether the significant investment in following a course of study, where some students in England, those who run up debts of up to $50,000, should have the hard sell urging them to pursue a career which does not, and will not exist. However, there is a rising amount of university places being offered and of course recent moves to increase this through the formation of private colleges. There were one million recent graduates in 2001, compared to 1.5million today. Of course not all universities and colleges have the same reputation so within this sample you would expect employers to start pruning out those who graduated from those institutions which are low in the league tables.

Capital is today buying up national resources in other countries due to deficits in their own geographies in order to secure a flow of wood, and iron ore, and oil and gas [China], and improve food security [the oil rich nations of the middle-east]. At the same time why would one pay a western company with their expensive overheads to produce something you can get done in India or China for a fraction of the cost outsourcing it online. There is no creativity crisis in the west, there simply only enough space for a few truly innovative people to get to the top, and only a few more to support them there. All else beyond basic service jobs such as home care, cleaning, putting a human face on retail can be automated or outsourced or shortly will be. Production is automated or oursourced, with things made or grown in the most economically and fertile regions and supply chains rationalised and optimised to bring to consumer anywhere, anytime that they need and require it.

I tend to go with Michael Schrage in that he does not believe that there is a ‘creativity crisis’ in the west. As he sees it people, at least in America remain rich in ideas.

“Over two decades, I’ve not heard a single venture capitalist suggest any perceptible decline in the creative quality and content of the business proposals they see. If anything, their innovation buffet has expanded. Aspiring pundits shouldn’t confuse macroeconomic malaise with creative constipation.”

I personally do not polarise, as the UK education secretary Michael Gove does, between an illustrious past where exemplary Victorian orators such as Gladstone bedazzled those who could follow and understand with his exemplary oratory and products of his Eton and Oxford education, but at the same, he no doubt bewildered and stultified others.  Gove’s opening account in his speech cites Gladstone, clearly his oratory his hero, in his address to landless agricultural workers and coal miners in Scotland’s central belt. Gove uses this as an example to which we should all aspire.

“In the course of his oration he invoked Pericles, Virgil and Dryden, he poured scorn on Disraeli’s doctrine of Imperium et Libertas, he discussed the merits of the Andrassy Note and the Treaty of San Stefano and he outlined six principles of Liberal foreign policy – specifically a limit on legislation and public expenditure at home to conserve the nation’s strength, the preservation of peace, the maintenance of a balance of power in Europe, the avoidance of needless entanglements, the acknowledgement of the equal rights of all nations and a positive bias in favour of those people fighting for freedom.

In the same address, Gladstone also compared the arguments for Protection and Free Trade, enumerating the advantages of Free Trade, he discussed the folly of land reform and the break up of great estates as a remedy for agricultural distress and he went onto argue that wealth creators should be free from every unjust and unnecessary legislative restraint.”

I wonder what Chinese students would make of Gladstone’s or Gove’s speech? A copy of Gove’s speech is here. The argument is one appealing to a perennial philosophy of teaching that there is a accepted canon of literature and repertoire of maths skills that should be taught and examined.

The institution needs to know that those resources, including human resources, have been used to good effect. The student and whoever invests in their education – self, organisation, parents or governments – also needs to have perspective on this effect and its direct and indirect influences upon the state of their knowledge and skills, from time ‘a’ – the start of the course, to time ‘b’ the completion of the prescribed period of study.

I hold, as no doubt do many others, that the institution has to have some form of intervention in the development of the student’s knowledge and thinking processes in order for it to remain in anyway relevant. But this can range from an almost placebo effect, that is, I am enrolled at university therefore I am learning. This can include an idea that ‘studentness’ puts us in a frame of mind where we are more attentive to everyday life according to the field being studied. It can also be a ritual which comprises of activities that look and act like a school or universities – uniforms, carrying phonebook sized textbooks, using computers, pens and paper, being in a classroom with a person called a teacher and other students, but not really learning anything. This can be due to not having sufficient abilities to understand what is being said or even not having sufficient language skills to comprehend a course taught in a foreign language.

It can also go the other way where precisely they are presented theories, concepts, approaches, methods, and told painstakingly how to think and relate to them. The reality, as usual, lies somewhere in-between such extremes.

All students, staff and institution alike, and others including parents and politicians want for students to succeed and exemplify excellence. But who is to say that the education provided is of good quality?

I appsed the turing test

Managing guru Peter Drucker says that quality is not what you put into a thing (rather like usability actually). Quality (and usability) is what somebody else perceives. Management thinking arising primarily from the American management school system, with its Balanced score Cards is what drives the idea of productivity in schools.

But here is the paradox is that they cannot perceive it if they do not know what is good quality education is to begin with. In fact how do any of us define ‘good quality’ education?

Global education, global diversity or homogenized standards?

Internationalization of quality in teaching and assessment is not impossible, with a focus on universal examination, and again it has a long tradition in the UK. The University of Cape

Town in South Africa, established in 1829, affiliated with the University of London. The University of London’s International programmes, formerly called the “external system”, began in 1836 and aimed to “to provide education for all, irrespective of race, creed or political belief.” All English and Welsh universities founded between 1849 and 1949 offered University of London degrees before obtaining Royal Charters to award their own degrees. It provided the model London keeps control of student admissions, the curriculum and assessment, while students can study independently or through a local college.

“Changes in quality assurance over the years since independence were driven by a number of factors including: the end of mentoring relationships with European universities, weakening (and in some cases the demise) of the external examiner system, tremendous enrollment growth, significantly decreased expenditures on higher education per capita over the years, effects of the brain drain,11 the rapid expansion of private higher education…”

Alternatively, there is the Open University of the U.K. who boasts distance learning experience going back over 40 years.

The shear complexity of academic institutions, their relevance and meaning to a wide range of actors pose major challenges for quality assurance. There are often differences of opinion about what is relevant or about appropriate standards from the perspectives of faculty members, university leaders, employers, government, parents, students, the community, and professional associations. Any or all of these influences can sway priorities in the direction that universities move in terms of the courses, manner to to which depth they attempt to teach. Meanwhile we are constantly reminded of the need for a global education, and a degrees of homogeneity in delivery and standards to insure the transferability of students, and recognition of student degrees internationally.

But in today’s interpretation of the school or university it is a vast global market’ which continues to open for prospective student ‘consumers’, and of course the catch word should be caveat emptor – buyer beware. Now it is marketing and advertising which rules the day with teams of well-presented young people traveling as team round the world to education fairs in the emerging economies. They can be seen as the mechanism through which to make converts to the cause. Ask a poignant question and you will be fobbed off with whatever you want to hear, “Yes of course we cover engine design that on the course, but, please don’t ask me the details, I am only a dumbo who studied marketing…” One more set of parents sell the farm or garage and sign their child up to do something offered overseas that is not available locally. Of course when they get there and realise that it was not all that it was said to be, it is too late they are already a captive audience due to the upfront financial commitment. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king….

In some cases it may not be a ‘little red book’ and posters with ‘brave young people striking heroic stances’, it may not be neat uniforms and swastikas on everything in possibly the most vast and devastating use of integrated marketing ever accomplished, but youths, sometimes western youths ecstatic throwing their mortar board hats in air resplendid in their academic gowns holding aloft their diplomas, or otherwise it is people in a similar rapture settling round a desk top computer, gazing out blankly to us in mimicked ‘Pop Idol’ fashion, saying “we’re having such a great time here while we’re learning.” How different from that austere, bare country school you went to in Tajikistan.

Everyone and everything becomes a product in the parliament of education systems. In hyper-consumerism everyone and everything also becomes a product. The implication of this idea is that students become not just ‘consumers’ of education services, that is the lip-service to crack a whip over those people who are supposed to service that consumption, that is the teaching staff. No, the students are products themselves, or raw materials at least in a factory view of education where the university is a job shop or factory, and this is against a wider reality where our very experience of life becomes a product on social networks, our social life and relationships are work in progress and so forth.

It is this kind of ruthless functionalism that predicates the purpose of people and things to institutions in the emerging regime with one’s detached existential self, being little more than a symbol of what were once genuine roles. Bureaucracies in these kinds of institution is an accountancy of the role staff and students are supposed or designed to play, not what they actually do and experience, but rather what they symbolise to the systems of prospective customers, accreditation agencies and others who wish to visit. It illustrates what happens, when you realise there is nothing you can do about it, and no one being prepared to be the whistle blower. It depicts the copying of the American Model, of management, as going for accreditation, extra staff allocated for the day of the “exam”, everything carried out as should be, no cutting corners, on the big day, performances picture perfect, next day back to the real world.

The month before the big day of the visit from accreditation teams, extra staff are employed to catch up on the paper work. Staff and student ambassadors are tutored what to say when questions are being asked. Everything is focused upon keeping up the appearances, attending to the external image, and to only those that matter (prospective customers, students, parents and governments and their agencies). It is akin to one of those convertible illegal gin dens in Chicago during prohibition, it suddenly becomes a hall of temperance. In a sense the accreditation team are aware of this, and are in fact, complicit as they are a private sector organisation as well. They, like the colleges they accredit cannot be too ‘harsh’ lest they lose a costumer, the institution wishing to have the badge. Any ex-student that has made or accomplished any form of status in the local society will be paid and pushed to make endorsements.

gender turing test

Basically, as we have covered to the point of exhaustion, the only to couch purpose or ‘use’ in education for students, is when it offers a set of tangible and desirable outputs, job, status, higher salaries and respect. However, corrupt private operators are cynical regarding this which they view as the mere mediocrities of people who have bought into a mass delusion that only they themselves are too clever to buy. As governments are typically involved in somehow directly or indirectly funding learning institutions, or at least legislating for them and their use, big ‘p’ of education has also had a significant role to play in shaping education systems.

In his election campaign ex-British PM Tony Blair promised that, if elected, “education, education and education” will be the passion of his government. Statements regarding the objectives of education liberally festoon the jeremiads, rhetoric and speeches on television, in the press and on the government education ministry web sites. The message and tone put forward is remarkably homogenized and congruent, if they were student essay you would wonder who had done the plagiarising.

They are typically along the lines of: “a good sense of self-awareness, a sound moral compass, and the necessary skills and knowledge to take on challenges of the future.”(Singapore) globally competitive quality education (Kenya), “educate and develop an intelligent, versatile, productive and well rounded child.”(Trinidad) “To draw up strategies, policies and plans for educational reform and development; and to draft relevant rules and regulations, and supervise their implementation.”(China) “‘Produce ‘successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors, and responsible citizens’ (Scotland). “Ensuring that all Cambodian children and youth have equal opportunity to access quality education consistent with the Constitution and the Government’s commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, regardless of social status, geography, ethnicity, religion, language, gender, or disabilities.” (Cambodia).

We can get the gist that certainly the broadcast aims of governments worldwide are pretty much the same with a few obvious exceptions such as China which seems to prioritise centralised planning and policy reforms which is about right for a Socialist state. But this is keeping with their socialist market economy, where macroeconomic plans are used as general guidelines or government goals for the national economy. Smaller and less developed nations such as Cambodia, or their batch of western education sector development consultants also takes great pain to highlight, probably in the light of their troubled history, their upfront commitment to the United Nations declaration on the Rights of the Child, which includes; “The right to recreational activities and free education.”

But at the same time the homogenized rhetoric masks the fact that this globalised world is certainly not flat when it comes to education, there is great diversity. Universities, schools, education systems, students, teachers, parents and other stakeholders groups are not the same across cultures. While advocates of the free market, globalized flat world, private education perspective praise the neo-liberal manner in which North-south, and West-East global provision is taking off, they pay lip service or applaud even louder South-North, and South-South developments as well. However, the spread of the free market economy now firmly includes education as a private good, the result being a rise in opportunistic suppliers who aim to reach their new economies of scale through overseas campus or online. Others wish to flag up a presence in the west to showcase how they, through being there, must be implicitly of a global standard.

However we can notice that in all countries education stakeholders are endowed with different types and levels of political resources, and thus policymakers confront legitimate disagreements regarding the goals of education and education finance reform priorities and implementation. These disagreements, as they include values which cannot necessarily be reduced to common grounds through rational debate. Do you hire a guy who boasts Indian degrees awarded in Kenya for a job in Lesotho with a Malaysian University whose curriculum originated in Australia and the United Kingdom? Especially when you find website and email addresses of offices that never reply, and even if they did what are they going to admit that they are not in any way ‘world class’? The common theme in all these cases is that such businesses engineer their way out of their need for large concentrations of skilled and properly qualified academics, and the high-wage environments that sustain them, thereby they cut costs.

The aim is fairly simple. Can you can cut costs and do with expensive academic faculty and support mechanisms completely and operate from a lock-up at Wyoming airport, sending out official looking degrees and banking the money you share with the poorly skilled and poorly paid local operators?


Or do you ramp up a bit, and adding more and more props in this virtual world to make it look more authentic? You do not need a Ph.D. in economics or accountancy to realize this means hiring ‘faculty’ for a bargain basement price, it can mean getting hold of an old dilapidated government building for zero or preferential rent, it means supplying a cheap cosmetic make-over, ice over the deficiencies. It means using cheap migrant labour to conduct the renovations and put in place the minimal amount of equipment. It means drip feeding the hastily made-up and dumbed down curriculum material, itself inconsistent, redundant, patchy and incomplete being the ‘product’ of a harangued, typically unqualified and disenfranchised ‘content development’ team of two back at the home campus. Largely based upon and appropriated from off-the-shelf material from lower tier British and Australian universities. Otherwise it is lifted from books verbatim, or lifted from the Internet and slaughtered by poorly motivated and inspired staff that are meant to police any localization and updating by the downtrodden staff. It would be better off if they could automate the whole process and do away with academic staff entirely, as they harbour discontent with the production line working conditions and other less qualified staff put in positions of power and control over them because they curry favour with senior management or have shown that they can do their will. There is no place for expertise, in such a system for the workers who did have talent or intelligence, or proper qualifications gotten at great expense and personal effort in studying abroad. They would be given the same poor teaching materials, a module pack containing slides, notes, a module outline which detailed the rules of engagement with students and topics for each week, and copies of assessments. In fact they would be akin to the heuristic stage leading to the algorithmic stage. Of the knowledge funnel idea of Roger Martin.

I am greatly in favor of the emancipation of knowledge from universities, such as M.I.T. perhaps the most famous case of open source education. But we should note that somewhere, some guy with a fake Ph.D. is busily downloading in preparations and repackaging this material, and whilst not fully comprehending it himself, is willing and able to deliver it as his own to equally confused and frustrated students who come to him after class where he confidentially tells them that for a price they can pass, he can get someone who is expert in the field (himself) to write the paper.

In the same way as clandestine software copied and old in Asian markets or on the street, it will be used to teach a class of fee paying students the next day in a subject he knows nothing about, nor really is barely interested in anyway apart from his stipend at the end of the month.

turing test 2

It reminds me somewhat of John Searle’s famous Chinese room scenario. While this has become a highly contested area in cognitive science and not to be dwelt upon here, suffice to say I see as at least an analogy to both rote forms of learning and teaching devoided of any form of intellectualism and scholarship. Searle (1999) summarized the Chinese Room argument concisely:

“Imagine that people outside the room send in other Chinese symbols which, unknown to the person in the room, are questions in Chinese (the input). And imagine that by following the instructions in the program the man in the room is able to pass out Chinese symbols which are correct answers to the questions (the output). The program enables the person in the room to pass the Turing Test for understanding Chinese but he does not understand a word of Chinese.”

Searle’s argument centres around his belief that “syntax is insufficient for semantics” and holds that a program cannot give a computer a “mind”, “understanding” or “consciousness”, regardless of how intelligently it may make it behave. “the direct manipulation of symbols to create an original knowledge product, or to add obvious value to an existing one” (Mosco and McKercher, 2007), which limits the definition of knowledge work to mainly creative work.

Collins and Evans gave rise to a term which they call interactional expertise which is where a researcher may even get to the point where they can answer questions about plumbing or physics as though they were a real plumber or physicist even though they can’t do plumbing or physics. This is how I view these kinds of teachers. And they are plentiful in the consensual hallucination we call global education.

Most importantly all this activity, manufacture of educational stage props and bureaucracy, all the fake Ph.D.s means getting a guaranteed amount of raw materials in the door courtesy of emerging government funding from countries down the development pecking order in awe of your nation’s development ‘miracle’, 1000 funded students per year for the next 5 years. Now add to this mix a healthy dose of ‘magic’, and hey presto out comes lots of money, and even more cynicism ladled upon those who try to morally do the right thing.

Meanwhile while all this is going on in emerging economies making sense of their new wealth, the same corporatist managerial and investment culture which persecuted public institutions like the national health serviced in the UK is becoming increasingly regnant in education. For instance, countries like England have put in place new funding systems which will apply new commercial and competitive pressures to universities who will have to look for other sources of revenue. Stefan Collini, is an erudite and outspoken critic of such moves and I have sympathy of much of his position. He brings us to a familiar polemic, one deep rooted in debates regarding the ‘idea of the university’ and that goes back at least 200 years.

Rather than being a revisionist harking back to never-never golden eras, Stefan Collini and others such as Harry Bravermann, stand to defend the unique places and relevance of the university as an institution within societies today, and tomorrow.

They defend the right of universities to stand outside of commercial and competitive pressures to show relevance and set outcomes, which to a large extent is not really harmonious with either their traditions of academic freedom or their operation as a space of thinking. The desperation involved with ‘lust for result’ are corrosive to thoughtful reflection on data, texts, and discussions which typify, identify, what happens in a university certainly if contrasted with a purely vocational education. Certainly, people can emerge from their time at university capable and ready for action and key performance indication and any anxiety and stress that often go with them. However, it was certainly put forward to me while studying for my Ph.D., and I think rightfully so, that this is a time when you should have some freedom to study whatever you see fit, immerse yourself in many ideas and learn to make sense of the complexity of human ad technical systems. You might even learn some morals and ethics along the way. This is the period which Oakeshott (1989:p.101) spoke of as “the gift of an interval.” You may not have one again until retirement or sabbatical.

Most phenomena in life can be unpacked into its psychical, chemical, biological, material constituents, or otherwise it can be referred to in its social, psychological and economic determinants, or otherwise in a literal or philosophical sense. All of these are valid within a university. As they are in the outside world of commerce, media and sociability. If one adopts the stance of actor-network analysis everything around us involves both human and non human interventions, actors and actants, which can according to Bruno Latour and his colleagues dissected and considered equitably. One can scope or scale as they will to make for a useful and insightful project which exudes both general and specific thinking modes, and serve as the basis for entrepreneurial projects after university or as a more diffuse general index that the learner practitioner is able to address new bodies of diffuse pieces of knowledge and certain skills and make them into a cohesive whole with articulations, reports and accounts of how, why and what was achieved.

This of course would depend upon prior knowledge or experience, some declaration of what is needed in terms of knowledge, skills and material, and how this may link to vocational aspiration beyond the university. Sewall is forthright regarding the necessity of this in the political relations between teacher or knowledge holder and student:

“By encouraging, or even requiring, students to take stands where they have neither the knowledge nor the intellectual training to seriously examine complex issues, teachers promote the expression of unsubstantiated opinions, the venting of uninformed emotions, and the habit of acting on those opinions and emotions, while ignoring or dismissing opposing views, without having either the intellectual equipment or the personal experience to weigh one view against another in any serious way.” (Sowell, 2010)

Those who have taught subjects in societies where English is a second language, and where they have had little exposure to ideas which most OECD children would be familiar this is a problem. Not only are there deficits in communication skills, but also in a shared general knowledge of literature and the world, and the lesson therein.

But this essentially would be a time, an interval from productive economic life where you can explore, research, reflect, create, present and discuss to your heart’s content. This contrasts with either employment or entrepreneurship, where one has to cater, and therefore focus upon the tasks being set or constrained for them by owner, up line manager, research agency or client.

An awareness of the role of reflective thinking, research and exploration, suggest outright a view of education that develops and builds social and cultural capital as well as human capital. Collini and others, such as John Carey, and many others who have addressed this issue argue that university education is becoming increasingly skewed towards vocational degrees, and this devalues the arts and social sciences – subjects that have interpolated amongst themselves to allow for creativity and political inquiry to flourish. The irony is that they also, almost by default, give rise to moral and ethical understanding, and are as fundamental as an electricity supply to the creation of text on the internet. As I have argued in another post in this series while no-one denies we live today in a visually dominant culture populated, perhaps oversaturated in a glut of symbol, mediated scenario, interpretation and image, text still commands a key place in knowledge transference and dissemination. The thought experiment I use is to consider the use of the internet if all text was removed, even from the .pdfs. Consider the use of the internet if all images were removed, which is basically more or less how it was in the beginning and for those of us who like to read something of depth, typically in pdf files is how it today.

Thomas Sowell defines intellectuals as “people whose occupations deal primarily with ideas” as distinct from those who apply ideas practically like a plasterer, factory production line worker, mechanic, nurse or lorry driver. The onus is upon reflecting and researching, coming up with new synthesis as opposed to aping in the hope of mastering. Those who promote ‘learning by doing’ opposed to the stance of experiential learning (i.e. Kolb) ‘thinking and doing and thinking again and doing it better’ or ‘thinking of how other people may think about doing it’ are those who see life and social and technical interaction as merely knee-jerk reactive and impulsive. Something you respond to without understanding either context or conditions.

The rationale sustaining this fact is compelling. A quality education, beginning with good pre-school and primary education, becomes fundamental to endow individuals with the capacity to successfully establish and pursue their private goals set against the reality that these goals must be recognized social constructions themselves, enabled and constrained by what is already known of and what is viable to do, have, or reconsider.

Supposing few in power have been to school, say because of war or strife in the country, how would they know what education is, let alone, good quality education is? What should it look, feel, smell and sound like? Therefore, you can’t answer the question of whether your service is any good. Only your customers can. You don’t get to say whether you are a good parent. Your children answer that or other family members or neighbours, or social services.

If every other school offers very poor teaching, learning and assessment, then surely according to an orthodox, developed ‘quality education’ nation perspective good quality would just appear ‘hard’ or even unnecessarily and impossibly difficult, or utterly ‘unusable’ and invaluable. If you can get a ‘bachelor’s degree’ from the more ‘easy’, ‘usable’ option, why put yourself out by following a more difficult course offered by those boasting a truly ‘international quality’? Word would soon circulate regarding your reputation for being impossible and hard? Your published attrition rates and mortality would further testify that ‘the market’ has decide your worth and value.

Proper certificated teachers, well-produced curriculum and decent facilities come at a price. Why spend considerably more by enrolling in this difficult, hard institution than the easier options for the same bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degree recognised in the local skills market? Rumour has it that if you fail a course, the quality institution insists upon you retaking it at your further expense and investment of time. Rumour has it that you must attend when required, or even do a pre-test.

Other institutions will be happy for you to sort inconvenient matters out with a little extra payment to compensate for your shortcomings. After all, attendance and time spent is only in lieu of the unaccredited certificate and the ‘happy graduation day’ – certificate and ceremony. idea takes on a life of its own and symbolically represents that all that time and payment, struck with the occasional inconvenient and perplexing idea given by a foreigner who just read the undergraduate textbook the night before, was worthwhile. This points to ‘flexibility’ in respect to the needs [of a certificate] of the student, compared with the rigidity in the rules and operations of the austere quality institution.

The reality is that the quality institution, with its rigorous teaching and assessment would soon be out of business in such a market environment, a market and educational reality which, to a large extent, has been inculcated into children by their poor primary and secondary level education.

From the administrator and marketing perspective, teaching, learning and assessment remains, and will remain, a paradox within private sector education. Private schools’ interests in the general economy and its development, the public good, the proper preparation of students for the types of jobs and positions being sought globally nationally and locally, and the needs, issues and interests of the local community in which they are installed can only ever be marginal and negligible. Even books become optional to these outfits as the internet is heralded not just as a great vast depository of infinite knowledge, but also that it is free, and it is definitively modern. All those philosophies on student-centred learning, open source, egalitarian distribution of coursework is cynically view by these institutions as pure madness whilst at the same time opens the chance for them to use in the marketing blurb. It does not matter that in computer equipped classes, half the computers don’t work for various reasons (maintenance, lost passwords, lack of internet access, viruses, and student downloads), but those that do are on fashionable clothes and shoes, fast sports cars, and football while the lecture is going on.

Education is viewed as a commodity, and one which is sought by rich and poor parents alike globally as means to consolidating wealth and to improving their lives and that of their children. The focus is firmly on ‘teaching’. The desire for which is as ubiquitous as the desire for television, even more so, and very, very lucrative.

Customers, students, are expected to pay for services like the provision of classrooms, websites, administrators and teachers, which are optimised as props for a vast marketing effort which supersedes in budget and effort any efforts to teach or facilitate learning. Why should customers, students, also pay to be interrogated? In this model they are product developers (the syllabus they appropriate off the internet) and service providers (‘being there’ in an existential sense in a place called a ‘classroom’). Performance orientated mantras are circulated to inspire instructors in such an environment “If a student fails then you are a failure.” This of course could in principle lead two ways. One there is an increase in individual effort to ascertain and locate weaknesses in students learning and address this in extra tutorials and individual sessions. It can also lead to another response, despondency and paralysis, and more probably so when faced with the prospect of students which are not committing themselves to the study, or have been admitted with neither the ability nor the language skills to participate or understand the course material. In such cases there is hardly any option but to ‘lower the bar’ and start passing everyone. In such a ‘customer-orientated’ environment, wishing to the most optimal usability for all, the onus would be on the ethically orientated teacher to ‘prove’ that the student deserves to fail.

This is of course worse for those lecturers who were supposed to have benefited by they or their parents investing at great expense in their own education by studying abroad in a genuine ‘quality’ education environment. They have no choice but to return home and seek employment working in such conditions, shoulder to shoulder with those who turned out to be ‘wiser’, paid much, much less for their certificate, spending only a little of that saving on paving their way through a local degree, and now make a return on their investment, on the side, by touching up their student’s final projects for a fee, just as they had done, had been taught when they were the student.

I hope I have captured something of the systemic effects of this paradox. Its effect is wide reaching in global education, and because education is so pervasive and pivotal in the sustenance and generation of society, global realities. There really is little appropriate discussion of it. I am concerned regarding the UK governments move to permit more private sector operatives of higher education. I have yet to see evidence of the benefits of this.

There seems a world of difference in paying for something that you experience, after all we do the same thing when we visit a cinema, or a football stadium. But it is another altogether different and unique idea to pay to be examined in what you experienced, and with the prospect of failing and taking on the burden of paying additional costs and spending even more time in study. In some cases you must simply accept you have wasted your time. In his Aims of Education of 1929, Alfred North Whitehead declared that the university’s task was the welding together of imagination and experience. He saw imagination as a special gift of youth and experience as an attribute of a mature professoriate.

“The proper function of a university is the imaginative acquisition of knowledge… A university is imaginative or it is nothing — at least nothing useful.”

While Whitehead, like many philosophers before him, appreciated the power of formal reasoning and the empirical foundations of science, he also recognized that nothing new can arise from deduction or induction alone. Data becomes ordered and meaningful only through imaginative insight.

It is ‘the boss’ of the videogame, the final virtually unbeatable sprite which all through the game you have practiced for. If the finals are ‘high-stakes’ there may not be an opportunity to re-sit and the only option being to repeat a year. It all depends. The argument of the Imperial examinations was that the consistency and traditions laid down by these methods, while promoting stability also produced stasis, or a lack of intellectual innovation, thus limiting the possibility for development and creativity. “A rigid examination system does provide an opportunity for intelligent individuals to better themselves; however, the inflexibility inherent to a system used across such a vast nation meant that many talented individuals failed to meet the exacting examination system, and will be left unfulfilled and angry. It is something akin to the ‘intelligence’ of Big Blue the chess playing computer. It lacks anything like the agility to make a good cup of tea or pass the turing test.

Crafting assessments is a creative affair, as is developing courses. There is a fair amount of crunching of ideas and selectivity that must go into making the call with to include and disinclude. These would be guided by learning outcomes, themselves a negotiated and fiercely debated list, which would state what types and kinds of knowledge, skills and experience the student should be exposed tom that they should acquire during the course, and some explanation as to what ends. Foundational knowledge is those elements which are crucial and pivotal, universal if you will necessary in the project to scaffold more particularised knowledge where it is deemed relevant. These kinds of courses pave the way to more specific avenues of inquiry, that is, other subsequent courses where it would be a ‘pre-requisite’.

Curriculum development suggests that individual courses have both an integral integrity and cohesion in the treatment of material within themselves, that is at course, unit or module level, as well as foundational or complimentary relations to subsequent and concurrent courses and syllabi that make comprise the overall programme.

Fantastic hats and wide sleeved gowns. Terrific convocations in the functions rooms of chain hotels in various global cities.

Fantastic hats and wide sleeved gowns. Terrific convocations in the functions rooms of chain hotels in various global cities.

Using basic outlines or generic blueprints of the course perhaps developed by predecessors, individual lecturers may create and develop materials and lecture notes and a reading list to suit. They will take in to account all the mechanics and administrative details such as credit or contact hours to craft what they consider to represent the state-of-the-art in the given field. They should have sympathy with scientific and technical developments in the wider world, industrial and professional practice [if relevant], political, moral and ethical issues [if relevant], and their syllabus material in relation to other courses, modules and units given by other lecturers, or even interdisciplinary concerns. This is the ambition anyways if not the practice.

All of this acts as a filter so that the salient and relevant points discussed in a lecture give a comprehensive and fair rendition of the subject area with respect to the literature and research in the area, current issues [i.e. technical, environmental, political and regulatory, socio-cultural etc.], and recognised case examples. The choice of what is emphasised is under the jurisdiction of the lecturer. They may go as far as to emphasise one book chapter over another, one theory in the place of another and so forth. It is conceivable in this regime that they may be biased, politically or even in terms of over- emphasising those aspects which considered with the own particular research interests and orientations. Therein lays for me the roots of any sort of ‘creative crises’.

As the student considers the bundle of theories, ideas, concepts put before them, and make their own readings of the literature, including that which has been neglected, and as they dwell upon own experience and knowledge of the world beyond the classroom they may formulate alternative perspectives and quite different points of emphasis which contradict or even change what was given or recovered. While it would be practically useless to debate an alternative epistemology for 1 +1 = 2 – the uncertainty which exists in the post-Newtonian physical universe and the uncertainty that was ventured by the collapse of the modernist programme of ever perpetuating development and rationalisation [post-modernism] has made many knowledge claims up for grabs. Many real world problems are described as wicked problems, health, and poverty again populations have no absolute resolution but rather seek negotiations and compromise. This opens many fields to interrogation of ‘salient points’ and opens the debate in terms of the relevance and applicability of knowledge in given circumstances and situations. Since at least the 19th century and the retorts of the Chartist movement there has for instance been the debate regarding just who classifies what is ‘really useful knowledge’.

From the material given the student then has to precipitate and assemble a further selection and model of the topic and knowledge domain. But this may not concur with their anticipated responses, that which is expected of them, by those who have been invested with the power to set the questions, and wait patiently counting the time, waiting for the submission of answers whilst armed with their rubrics. What is selected and chosen to be included, what is recommended to be read, even instructing how to interpret is suggestive of a superior intellect and approach to the subject, a tendency towards administration and away from the thinking, inquiry and exploration of the student. Even with sets of ‘learning outcomes’ guiding selection of materials taught, and questions asked, this does not guarantee the ‘usefulness’ of certain knowledge over others.


It is quite laughable seeing examination committees arguing over items for hours not only ascertaining their level of ‘difficulty’ and ‘relevance’ relative to previous exam questions, as well as the subject as it is claimed to have been taught, and to the learning outcomes. This is not in any way a precise science any more than reading or marking essays which are extremely well-written ,and seem to have grasped and regurgitated precisely what was asked for.

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