I didn’t do much in my final year at secondary school, passing three Certificate of Secondary Education subjects was all I had to show for the period between September of 1976 and June of 1977. Only two of those three subjects were taught – English Literature and Environmental Studies: the third subject, World Affairs in the Twentieth Century, I did for myself.
It seems odd now that a sixteen year old would be left to his own devices. I remember being given the subject syllabus, which didn’t run to much more than an A4 page, and being told that was the course. I must have written essays or done some sort of work in an exercise book to demonstrate to the teacher that I was doing something, but I have no recall of doing so. Did I just go through the syllabus, item by item, trying to learn what each was about? I remember only one textbook, it included a photograph of the mushroom generated by a nuclear test – presumably somewhere in the Pacific. Could you pass the exam with just one book? I don’t know.
i do know that simply learning a list of facts would not be sufficient for a good pass of the current GCSE examinations. There is a requirement for understanding, analysis, evaluation. School is much harder now than it was forty years ago.
The one similarity with those distant days in the 1970s when I learned World Affairs by myself is that the student is now expected to be an active learner and not a passive recipient of teaching. The expectation of teachers now is that they do not engage in didactic teaching, that they do not stand at the front and talk, but instead they prepare and teach classes where students discover and learn for themselves.
Fulfilling the role of being a facilitator and scaffolder is considerably harder than standing and lecturing, imparting information while students sit passively and take notes is no longer acceptable. Spending three hours this evening trying to devise an activity for a class this week, in which it is intended that students will discover the teaching for themselves, and that they will understand it for themselves, left me with a headache. Perhaps the brain of a fifty-eight year old lacks the capacity to adapt to new ways of learning.
Pondering the emptiness of my 1977 certificate, I wondered how well I would have coped if I had been required to learn seven, eight or nine subjects in the active way of learning that is now expected.