Questions over Education

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This news story caught my eye a long time ago. Basically it states that Cambridge University does not want applications from students who take a minimum of 2 ‘soft’ subjects at A-Level and that students ideally should aim to have at least 2 traditional or ‘hard’ subjects. Although the news article is quite old now, the University website (checked today) still emphasises that potential applicants should opt for subjects like Chemistry, English Literature, History, Mathematics, Languages or Physics.

Then this January this story appeared, continuing the idea of unsuitability of certain courses, the list included in the article comprised of the following:

  • Accounting
  • Art and design
  • Business studies
  • Communication studies
  • Dance
  • Design and technology
  • Drama and theatre studies
  • Film studies
  • Health and social care
  • Home economics
  • Information and Communication Technology
  • Leisure studies
  • Media studies
  • Music technology
  • Performance studies
  • Performing arts
  • Photography
  • Physical education
  • Sports studies
  • Travel and tourism

Thats quite a lot. The appearance of this third article just started me wondering. I dislike instensely the idea that some A-levels should be worth more than others – why should someone who has worked as hard or harder in a ‘soft’ subject be told that it is only worth a certain percentage of something that is deemed to be ‘hard’. I took 2 of the so-called ‘soft’ subjects (Art and Media Studies) as A-levels. And I’ve had more senior academics ask me directly ‘why I did that?’ with a tone of voice which clearly said ‘that was stupid’ and ‘why did you waste your time?’

One aspect that I fail to understand in regard to Media Studies; if the study of modern culture is so silly and unsuitable, how does that compare to a course which focuses on literature? The tools and techniques used are very similar, only the media is different. Dissecting a film in many ways is not dissimilar to dissecting a book. The creation of images, scene setting, and so on are all portrayed in a manner where the same methods can be applied. I do not see why the tools I learnt in one course are ‘unsuitable’ for application to another. I think many of the issues stem from the fact that as a subject, the course is perhaps relatively new… but that is a situation that all subjects would have found themselves in at some point.

Art on the other hand is perhaps more a matter of perception. People often assumed that an art course was sitting around waving a paintbrush at a canvas. I’m not sure what the circumstances are for other people, but the course I participated in involved discussion of artists and styles, of architecture and comics, of computer generated images, photography and pencil; a dissertation was necessary, as were presentations – all of which adds up to a lot more than paintbrush+canvas=art. The skills I learnt there I have found useful, especially since I focus on ancient iconography.

At the end of the day, people should be encouraged to take courses that they are interested in. Not just pointed in the direction of a set (and relatively small) list from which to choose because they are deemed to be suitable. Education relies on interest, I know very few people who have flourished with a subject that they dislike. I see it in the first and second year undergraduates at the University who simply choose courses that they believe to be easy just to fill up the spare slots in their timetable. Many end up in archaeology, and quickly realise that it is not an ‘easy’ course. What worries me more is that they freely admit that they don’t want to be studying ‘X’, they want to do ‘Y’ and they do not care what grades (so long as they are passing) they acquire.

If this is the situation, that soft subjects are to be avoided, I was extremely lucky that I chose History as my final A-level option, otherwise the Universities may have thought, I was, like, stupid or something…


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