For what it’s worth.

August 27, 2012 11:45 am

As thousands of people receive the results of their summer exams, be it GCSEs, A-levels or Degrees, the focus of success centres around the single letter or number printed on a sheet of paper, that presumes to measure how much a person has learnt. This raises questions about how we view education and how we, as a society, examine a person’s understanding and grasp of knowledge. It seems, that there is a vast difference between what a person knows and what they are expected to know at point of examination.
In its blinkered structure of measuring success, the education system at all levels seems to dismiss the relevance of curiosity and appreciation of subject matter, focusing only on the mandatory ending. The headlines these past few weeks have been emboldened with statements such as ‘GCSE results have fallen’ or ‘Number of As at A-level drops’ without a thought that these pupils may have learnt something more than the required narrow demands of the mark schemes.

I enrolled this year on a topic that I had no prior knowledge or understanding of at all, the D mark I received for it this summer was a real kick in the stomach as I had never achieved anything lower than a B before. That one written letter seemingly proposed to anyone who glanced at it, that I had learnt nothing from that particular course at University or that I hadn’t studied hard enough for it. Such presumptions, however, would be entirely wrong.

Although I had not achieved a suitable level of understanding, I had assumed to pass the exam with a more acceptable grade.  The fact that I had taken something in, to gain that grade D shows, at least, a ground level of understanding for a module that, 10 weeks prior, I had never come across before. In addition to this, during those 10 weeks, I had been introduced to new ideas and concepts that despite not being able to recall in the exam had, in fact, left their mark on me in my appreciation of the subject. In week 7, the lecture title was ‘Acoustic Landscapes’ a phrase that I had never heard before. In the following two hours, I was played a melange of different Operettas that, despite knowing they existed, I had never taken it upon myself to actually listen to. As it turns out, I fell in love with the music of John Strauss and Franz Lehár and, a century after their work was composed, it was still just as provocative and compelling. One particular composer that I enjoyed was Béla Bartók, whose enthusiasm of realistic sound led him to create a series of folk tunes that he, himself, had collected after being inspired by the folk melodies of Central Europe in the early 1900s. That evening I went home and found the piano sheet music for Bartok’s compositions and learnt how to play them. This emotional attachment and appreciation of the music and my enjoyment in listening to, and playing it was completely useless in the exam and earned me nothing in the way of marks. However, what I learnt in that lecture for my own self enjoyment and interest, in my opinion, was worth much more than any tick in the margin of a paper.

From this, I feel that it is important to realise that although the final grade is significant, there is also significance in what we learn for ourselves, in the appreciation and enjoyment of a subject and that we can take something away and continue to have a vested interest and curiosity in that topic outside the confines of simply ‘needing to know it’ for an exam.

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