ICT exams are the problem

I almost promise this will be the last time I write about GCE and GCSE exams, in particular those exams that are to do with computers. A ‘bit bored’ with the whole thing does not really go far enough to describe my mental state as a...

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I almost promise this will be the last time I write about GCE and GCSE exams, in particular those exams that are to do with computers. A ‘bit bored’ with the whole thing does not really go far enough to describe my mental state as a new term prepares to start here at College.

We find applications for GCE ICT at A level are down continuing last year’s trend and mirrored nationally...writ large in the 2012 A level results. ICT entries were down to 11,060 (10% drop) and Computing was down for the tenth year in a row to only 3,800 students. Computing by the way now accounts for a mere 0.4% of all A levels.

However the much criticised as ‘too easy’ and thus abandoned GCSE ICT this year perversely showed a rise of 6,069 candidates which represents a whopping 12% increase. It’s replacement which is described as ‘more challenging’ as it combines a bit of computing with ICT should, if A level Computing is any guide, reverse that increase sharply.

Basically, and this has been pointed out to me by so many in the computing industry as well as by those who supply vocational training for the next generation of IT professionals, GCSE and GCE-style exams are the problem.

It’s not that we don’t have the young talent interested in IT it’s simply that this type of syllabus-driven assessment is near useless. And don’t tell me that the problem is that the ‘old’ syllabus was outdated and so we need a new syllabus without floppy drives as that is a) fatuous and b) gives exam boards another excuse to issue a new product-exam.

After all, in other subjects we have long since stopped worrying that say GCSE Science is in any way preparation to work in science any more than is GCSE French now any use in communicating with a French person but for some reason we agonise at the unsuitability of GCSE ICT.

The fact we have to face is that the GCSE and GCE examination system is no good if you actually want to be able to ‘do’ something. We have a marvellous vocational education system running alongside the GCSE and GCE which have the acronyms BTEC and HND.

They issue diplomas of the highest standard in being able to do something. When I completed my Ph.D (a practical qualification) I attended various preparation for work courses, there I found invariably I was in the minority having come the academic route ( A Level and Degree) most were ex-HND students.

So my plea is can we just stop our infatuation with the GSCE and GCE along with their obsession with written examinations and teaching to the test. Maybe it’s acceptable for an ‘educated’ Civil Servant to parade their knowledge of the arcane but work needs doing out there folks and GCE is not helping.

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