With exams cancelled, the future of face to face teaching at universities in doubt and the expected return to primary school for some children; the effects on education imposed by the coronavirus have been extremely disruptive. The education system has been hit hard by Covid-19, at all levels there are have been unprecedented disruptions, effecting all students and their teachers. At primary, secondary, sixth form and university level, the impacts of the coronavirus have highlighted some home truths about the education system, perhaps indicating that the system needs reform. Do children aged four and five even need to be in education, let alone prioritised as the first ones to go back? Will cancelling exams this year actually lead to a fairer/ more realistic form of assessment and something we could consider in post lockdown life? Can university degrees potentially be delivered as online courses and if so, do fees need to be reconsidered?
The government has indicated that it would like primary school education to resume as early as the 1st June, attendance however is not compulsory and only required of reception, year 1 and year 6. Though this decision will be beneficial in getting parents back to work, it also poses serious health risks, potentially contributing to spreading the virus and causing a second peak. Is the education of the under 11s (for only a month before the summer holiday starts) more important than the health and safety of our older generations? Is primary education worth this risk? Young children will not be able to effectively social distance, and while not being badly affected by the virus themselves, they could bring it in to the classroom from home and pass it on to each other and their teachers. The decision to prioritise returning young children to education, instead of year 10s and 12s, who are mid-way through their GCSE and A Level courses seems illogical. These year groups will be much better at remaining socially distant, and time out of school during these crucial years will have detrimental effects on exams and opportunities to get into sixth form and university.
The UK’s decision to prioritise the education of the very young during coronavirus contrasts with the view on primary education held by our European counterparts such as Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic. In these countries, primary education doesn’t begin until the age of 7. Despite their late start to education, these countries produce higher academic achievers and have better rates of child well-being. Psychological and educational studies show that emphasising playful, rather than formal approaches to learning at a young age enables early humans to become powerful learners and problem-solvers. Should this approach be something the UK government considers?
The cancellation of GCSE and A-Level exams this year has received mixed responses. While some students are thanking their lucky stars to have been let off the hook, others are understandably gutted that their future is no longer in their own hands. As the summer 2020 exams will be based on a combination of previous performances and teacher assessment, the opportunity for students to showcase their ability at the peak of their educational career so far, will not be available. It is understandable that students might fear for their teacher’s assessments, but could this become a fairer alternative and a more appropriate assessment of a student’s ability?
The examination style for A-Level and GCSE exams in the UK is highly criticised. Some believe that exams are merely a memory test instead of an indication of intelligence. This argument is certainly plausible, as students are expected to memorise knowledge from the previous two years and then showcase it in one short sitting. Our current system is brutally cut throat and extremely unforgiving, as student’s have only one opportunity to perform in an exam and results do not necessarily reflect students work ethic and attitude to learning.
Exams take a ‘one size fits all’ approach, judging the ability of every student in the same way. Albert Einstein once wrote, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” This could not be more applicable to the current examination system, where exam failure leaves students feeling discouraged and degraded.
Would regular end of topic tests and coursework, combined with teacher assessment of student engagement and work ethic pose a more accurate measurement of ability and bring out the best in students? This method of assessment would be more humane, ethical and natural and would take into account the students commitment to learning and would measure their performance consistently throughout the course. If a pupil knew they were being assessed continuously, wouldn’t this have a positive effect on performance? Students would have to keep up the hard work to impress their teacher, instead of leaving revision to the last minute before the exam. Of course, this method of assessment has its flaws, if the teacher is inexperienced, new to the school or allows their own prejudices against a student to affect their professional opinion. Nevertheless, with a well thought out system in place, this could potentially be another area of educational reform that would benefit students.
Universities have had to adapt to the current climate by moving online. Most universities and courses are able to run exams online, meaning that they have not all had to be cancelled this summer. Both lectures and seminars have also been able to operate online with pre-recorded lectures uploaded as videos and seminars taking place on group Zoom meetings or on Blackboard Collaborate in my case. Even after lockdown, could university education online be an alternative that could be implemented in post lockdown life? Though it would be a shame for young people to lose out on the university lifestyle experience, would a course you could take online from home and for much lower fees be more appealing to some students? Furthermore, while I do not wish university to be an online course, the fact that it can essentially function online makes me question why students pay £9000 a year just to take the course in a face to face environment? The University of Cambridge has already announced that their academic year of 2020/2021 will take place online with no face to face teaching, in light of the coronavirus pandemic. Will this be the case for other universities across the UK?
The disruptions in education caused by coronavirus have particularly been felt by my family and I. My mum, a primary school teacher, fears her return to work and the inevitable difficulty of insisting on social distancing in a classroom with young children. My brother, who after his instinctive response to celebrate GCSE’s being cancelled, worries about his teachers predictions and the fact that his grades are now out of his control. For me, I’ve have had my first year of university cut short due to lockdown and I can sympathise with those who were meant to do their A-Level’s this year, as that could have happened to me last year. However, we are only three of millions of people who fear for their education and for an uncertain future.