Those not so young who read this article will no doubt recall a subject called Nature Study in their school days. In Nature Study we would study different types of birds and follow those that migrated, noted they all had different patterns on their eggs, identify leaves off different trees and press them in books, study the different types of fish in the local ponds, canals and rivers. We also learnt of insects, local wildlife and so the list goes on………
I used to enjoy Nature Study and went on to study Biology in what is now Y11. I didn’t enjoy Biology as much as Nature Study because it was too exam orientated for me.
This is what concerns me about a proposal for a new GCSE titled “NATURAL HISTORY”. The value of the natural world to us is immeasurable but the teaching of it will not be started until Y10 and then only to the those few who select its route. Surely all youngsters should be given the opportunity of learning of the natural world at an earlier age and without the pressure of an examination looming over them? More to the point why was the study of Natural History in the form of Nature Study taken out of the curriculum in the first place?
Examinations are killing the enjoyment of learning
Education is more than examinations and positions in league tables. They do not help those students that struggle or those who through no fault of their own are taken down a road that leads to depression and mental health issues.
Examinations are popular with the politicians and one can argue that they help in improving our memory power and sharpen the brain, but the results may not truly reflect what the student has learnt. The student may after all be memorising the content which is immediately evaporated once they have left the examination room.
The emphasis of stress does not stop with students, teachers also suffer from anxiety because they are also measured by the success of their students results. Paradoxically this leads to the teachers teaching to the passing of the exam paper depriving the students of a more rounded education.
Is there an alternative to examinations?
This is the 64,000 dollar question because we do need to have a process of identifying the ability of students. These can include course work and continuous assessment processes but sadly until we can come up with a universally accepted alternative we must tread carefully with the mental health of our students.