During 1968, the question of the validity of exams became a big issue in student activist circles, after Tom Fawthrop, a student at Hull University, found himself on the front pages of the national press when he tore up his examination paper and walked out during finals. Fawthrop attacked the examination system in a book, Education or Examination? In Liverpool, the issue gained traction as a result of the chaos surrounding the organisation of the exams that summer.
This pamphlet was published by the newly-formed Liverpool University socialist Society the following November.
This may seem a surprising question with which to begin this pamphlet. However, in many respects its answer can point to the importance and right of students to question the content and method of their education.
Our critics would (and do) accuse us of being workshy and that attempts at reforms, especially regarding examinations, are just ways of getting out of work.
Does this really stand up in the face of facts?
- We have all gone through the existing educational system.
- This system is orientated by examinations: 11 plus, O levels, A levels, etc..
- Only 5% of our age group have reached this stage, ie, university.
In fact, we could be regarded as the successes of the present educational system. Surely, being the successes we have the right to criticise, which should belong to all men, but which only a few can claim in our society.
WE HAVE THE RIGHT BY ANY CRITERIA TO CRITICISE.
No person connected with any sphere of life should be expected to have no knowledge of that sphere. And in fact he should always be expected to increase that knowledge and understanding. And yet the student is expected to learn without any knowledge of the method and system of teaching beyond that necessary to enable it to work.
It should bo noted here that the student is not alone in his alienation from his work environment and that the working class suffers even more acutely from this form of oppression. The struggle of the working class and the students in this field is one struggle.
Criticism is only suppressed and knowledge withheld when something has to be hidden. The lack of knowledge flowing in our system of education proves that something is being hidden, and it is not because knowledge would be harmful to us……..It would be harmful to the interests of those who control us, whether they are academics, politicians like Salisbury as Chancellor, or the bastions of private enterprise on the many governing boards.
IT IS OUR UNDENIABLE DUTY TO CRITICISE !
Why question examinations?
In many respects the examination as it exists is the manifestation of the educational weakness in our system. It is, however, the symptom and not the cause, not the cancer strangling education. Still, the present examination system does epitomise the character of our education system and also of our society……The character of competition not co-operation, of qualification not knowledge, of regimented brain power not intellectual freedom.
EXAMS EPITOMISE THE EDUCATION SYSTEM AND SOCIETY!
As socialists, we will join any struggle against the evils of examinations. However, we must warn everybody that this will not be a short decisive battle, and that for real victory the struggle will have to develop into a war on the root cause of tho weakness – the use of education as a tool for capitalist oppression.
THIS CAN ONLY BE A PROLONGED STRUGGLE!
A short study of examinations
1. Examinations of what?
Examinations are claimed to be a guide to intellectual ability, plus a certain level of hard work. We students attained our position at this University, and will in the future attain security, through a sound combination of hard work and intelligence. WHAT RUBBISH! Most of us, even if we worked hard and were fairly intelligent, gained our present, positions through various non-academic influences, not the least of which was ‘exam technique’, usually developed by a crafty master, not even by ourselves…..How to write quickly, how to time answers, where to put ones best answer….these are the criteria of examinations and they have nothing at all to do with intelligence or education!
EXAMINATIONS DO NOT AND NEVER WILL ASSESS THE DEGREE OF ONES EDUCATION TO A SATISFACTORY LEVEL.
2. Examinations for whom?
Ideally, we should be examined for ourselves, but in fact we are being examined in the interests of some future employer. Most of us will of course want to gain security from our education, but not security based on achieving a slightly higher level of exploitation – not security based on the interests of capitalism – and above all, not security based on the interests of an unreliable and uncertain system of education. Examination is a system that breeds insecurity, instead of giving security.
YOU ARE BEING EXAMINED IN ORDER TO BE EXPLOITED AND MANIPULATED!
3. Examinations by whom?
Is the assessment by examination trustworthy in respect of who does the examining, the setting, and/or the marking? Freedom of education requires intellectual curiosity. However, within any of the present examination systems the bias of the examiners towards their own theories – which in many cases turns to arrogance – restricts the freedom of the student to use his ability of analysis.
THE STUDENT IS UNABLE TO USE HIS ABILITY IN EXAMS BECAUSE OF THE BIAS OF THE EXAMINER.
Are there any alternatives?
It is always essential to prepare alternatives to anything condemned. At the present time the situation for a system without assessment cannot be used as a programme for reform without a much wider perspective for social and economic change.
However, there are many credible alternatives that can be put forward within a system of assessment:
- Open book exams: Aimed at restriction of pre-exam memory-packing, which in itself defeats education – tried successfully, although in a limited way in certain A-level exams.
- Free time exams: aimed at restricting the crippling and unfair time limits on exams.
- Orals: allowing more discussion and argument on a subject – for those wishing to do orals of course .
- Non exam assessment: a system of continuous assessment over the period of study. Disagreements over the findings of the lecturers can always be resolved by a conventional exam.
- Objective tests: Short answer tests useful to judge basic facts without the possibility of penalisation for different interpretations.
- Theses, Dissertations, and Research Projects: These give the student enough time, material and scope for a full intellectual analysis.
THESE ALTERNATIVES ARE THE BASIS FOR DIALOGUE !
This survey could only by its nature dabble in the problems surrounding examinations. For a good, clear and rational account, by far the best book is Tom Fawthrop’s Examination or Education, available from the Socialist Society stall in the Union Foyer on Friday lunchtimes.
It is important that you also discuss these problems among yourselves. The Socialist Society will be pursuing the question of problems in education and all students are more than welcome to participate in this dialogue.
The question of examinations is disgusting enough at any time, but when the examination is for examination’s sake the sublime has been reached. This is the situation that faces the students at Christmas when the termly exam is taken. It is admitted that these exams count for nothing, do nothing, and mean nothing. Why then examine examine nothing? We call on all students to work through their departments to urge the abolition of Christmas Exams. This must be done if education is to have a chance at Liverpool University.
STUDENTS MUST ACT NOW AGAINST THE CHRISTMAS EXAMINATIONS!
A Socialist perspective
As pointed out earlier, the struggle for examination reform cannot be taken in a vacuum if success is to be achieved. The faults must be analysed; and the causes, not the symptoms, must be eradicated. Socialists see the root cause of the bad education system as one of the many contradictions of capitalism – our brain potential is necessary for the maximising of profits, especially in the social and technological fields. However, this potential must not be allowed to develop via intellectual curiosity because this would open the capitalist system to criticism. Therefore we are barred from education by the use of such instruments as examinations. In the same manner capitalism uses productivity deals to make workers believe that they are gaining something, when in fact their exploitation is being intensified.
The struggle is the same – workers and students.
Reform of examinations must be fought on the wider issues of the system of capitalist exploitation, with our allies to be found among the working classes, not only of Britain, but of the World, who share our common enemy – Capitalism.
The University campus is not apart from capitalism. It is an integral part of it. The issues of the World are our issues, and our issues are the issues of the World.
FOR VICTORY WE CANNOT REMAIN ISOLATED -WE NEED ALLIES IN THE WORKING CLASSES
Published by Liverpool University Socialist Society 18thNovember,1968.
Printed by the International Socialists.Tel: Anfield 7685.