Independent Learning

A string stretched beyond its elastic
One of many markers of my geekiness is that I love to learn independently.

Yep, I said it: I love to learn, and I love even more to do my own learning. There's just something magnificent about trying to understand this universe and everything in it, and it's all the more magnificent to do it of your own free will.

Being a 17-year-old in the English school system, I still get spoon-fed information quite a lot and if I'm honest, I quietly resent it; I don't really like being told what and how to learn. I much prefer to do my own research - and I get pretty pissed off when someone tries to tell me that this is just the way things are.

Some of my materials notes
So I was pretty pleased when one of my physics teachers started to get us to teach ourselves a part of the course through making notes and doing experiments. Hanging weights off springs, extending wires until they broke and making rainbow-coloured notes, I got a lot more done than I would if someone had just stood and talked at me for three-quarters of an hour - and I understood more, too, because I concentrated mostly on doing experiments. I learned about how certain quantities could be mathematically expressed, though I haven't yet found why they can be described with those particular mathematical expressions.

More physics notes
In short, I learned - and I learned a lot.

I understand that this kind of system is not suitable for every 17-year-old and so I understand why my classmates were grumbling about our teacher supposedly leaving us to teach ourselves the AS course. I understand, too, why there was so much outcry that when term starts again I don't think we'll continue with the independent learning plan. I'm disappointed and a little angry, because I do very well if allowed to teach myself, but I understand.

My physics notes
What I don't particularly understand and what I don't think I ever will understand is the obsession with exams. If something's not on the syllabus, it's pointless: according to the infinite wisdom of 17-year-old boys, in physics, nothing else exists except to pass exams.

Now that's an attitude that makes me angry. I think terminal exams that carry over 50% of the marks are a terrible idea: judging performance over a year or more based on a single, nerve-wracking day is not a very good way to assess ability compared to doing smaller assessments over the duration of the course, and more to the point of this post, they encourage teaching to the test.

My physics notes
Maybe you think there's nothing wrong with that, and while I vehemently disagree with you I understand where you're coming from: you want to get into a good school or a good university, and in an environment where getting a good education is ever tougher, natural ability alone won't carry you through - you need to spend time and money on hiring a tutor to help you prepare for the all-important exams and game a seriously flawed system.

But I think there is something wrong with teaching to the test. I think there's something very wrong with the notion of education as something you only do to regurgitate key points on an exam paper.

You see - and this is pretty shocking - there's more to life than exams. There's more to learning than trying to condense a year or more's experience into a couple of soundbites. Learning can and should be done for its own sake - to help you understand the universe, to help you see how things work. You don't learn to get that longed-for A* on a paper, you learn to sate a deep curiosity about the way things are - or at least that's the way my mind works, and I'm happy that way.

Let's tear up the exam papers and let's have people learn for pleasure again.