Watch out for those computers: they might break down!

I thought it was great to see a Principal of a government school brave enough to come out this week and remind us all how silly it is (in this day and age) that we actually get students to hand-write long (ish)  pieces for important assessment, and call this a contemporary education.

Actually, Michael Phillips from Ringwood Secondary College didn’t need to remind me. I’ve told anyone who was foolish enough to stop and listen that the Year 12 exam must be about the last time many of these students will ever write anything substantial, thoughtful and structured by hand.

And, it’s not as if they’ve been handwriting through much of their school life.  My students, like the students at Ringwood, have been working with computers extensively and in a sustained way for most of their school assessment through years 7 to 10. Then we get all olde-worlde and put the computers away so students can get their pens out. What?

Or more precisely: why? When I’ve raised this with people from VCAA they’ll argue it’s about equity. Not everyone has had access to a computer so no-one can use one in the exam. And, if pushed, they’re worried about security too in a high-stake exam. But what about equity for students who have been learning, thinking and writing with these tools? ‘Put them away sonny, this is important’. Or equity for those students whose hand-eye coordination results in writing that doesn’t look as good as someone else?

The AGE reported that:

SIX weeks before VCE exams, students at Ringwood Secondary College dump the computer keyboards they have used since childhood and start practising their handwriting.

It’s a forced necessity, given students must write three-hour exams in longhand, that has principal Michael Phillips gritting his teeth. ”Illegible writing has become much more problematic in the last few years because kids are used to working on a keyboard,” Mr Phillips said. ”I think it’s ridiculous that in 2011 we are still doing pen and paper testing … It’s holding the learning back at a time when we’re actually saying there are a whole lot of skills they need for university and the workforce, which involve the use of technology.”

By 2000, we should have found ways of doing work differently.”

In 2007, the Rudd government launched its Digital Education Revolution, pledging every year 9-12 student would have a computer by the end of this year. Given this investment, Mr Phillips said there was no reason why there would be insufficient computers in schools for VCE students to sit their exams. He said assessment should be more sophisticated than students regurgitating facts they have memorised in essays. Instead, exams should test how students solve problems and research and analyse information within time constraints.

VCAA’s response was forthright:

Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority chief executive John Firth said in order to be fair, VCE exams needed to be sat under exactly the same conditions across the state. He said there were security risks with the use of technology and the possibility computers could break down. However, using computers was certainly an issue that had been raised, and the VCAA was keen to conduct trials using word processors in exams in lower year levels.

”Our strategic plan over the next three years is we want to make some progress along these lines, but we wouldn’t start with [VCE] English,” he said.

Hasten forward slowly!!

Below: ‘Dont use those modern brass instruments!!! They might break down’*

*Okay, not the best tie-in but I was looking for an olde-worlde illustration and this is the best I could come up with!