The Nobel Prize winner, Professor Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, the Cambridge biologist and the President of the Royal Society, considers England’s A-levels to be amongst the narrowest upper secondary systems in the world. In his view, they do not help to prepare young people for the good jobs of the future. In his speech at the Royal Society’s Business Forum, he called for a radical change. According to Sir Venki, a new wave of changes driven by new technologies, including artificial intelligence, will result in changes in the job market. Some jobs will be lost altogether, many others that don’t yet exist will spring up. With these changes, a totally different set of skills will be needed, which will require as Sir Venki states ‘a much more flexible education’.
A-levels were devised in 1951, at the time when the Queen was still a Princes, and no one had thought of the World Wide Web, let alone mobile phones. As the 21st century progresses, the exams devised in the middle of the 20th century will drag the young generation down, depriving them of the broader range of skills they will most definitely need in the brave new digital world.
Sir Venki is not the first visionary to talk about the rigid nature of the current school curriculum. Educationalist and liberal thinker, Sir Ken Robinson has long argued that by using the rigid system with its narrow scope of subjects, schools stifle creativity. His TED talk on the matter had 56 million views, the highest in TED history.
But liberal thinkers are one thing, and the Department of Education quite another. In its statement, the Department claimed that “The world-class A-levels were designed with input from subject experts to ensure young people leave school with the knowledge and skills they need to go on to higher education and get a job.”
This statement directly contradicts the Nobel prize winner Sir Venki and the distinguished educationalist Sir Ken Robinson. The latter are more convincing then the government’s bureaucrats. However to make the shift, the bureaucrats must be persuaded too. And humans are intellectually stubborn, especially if a change of opinion requires a radical overhaul of their worldview. Particularly the bureaucrats, defensive in the face of change, resisting new tendencies for as long as they can hold on to the old ones. Just because progressive thinkers are right, does not mean that their ideas will spread like wildfire. Change takes a long time.