This week, UK teenagers have received their A-level results. These are the exams that mark the end of secondary school, usually used as a basis for university admission. As always there has been a debate about whether educational standards have slipped, with the more traditional media saying how easy kids have it today and the kids complaining that hey, they worked for those results!
This year's record pass rates have intensified the argument, boosted by a new top grade, A*, a step above A. An A, we are told, is too easy to get these days, so rather than discourage the kids by making it harder we simply redefine it as what used to be a B.
I hate having to make the argument that educational standards have slipped, mainly because of the bedfellows I gain by making it. But a couple of things in the last couple of days have made me think about it.
C is still in touch with one or two of our lecturers from our university days. Makes sense, he's still an electronic engineer by trade while my hold on that profession is tenuous. One of them shared a tale with him recently of a student with a good A level maths result who had never heard of long division. Now engineering maths is difficult, I for one was crap at it. But long division? That's primary school stuff!
The other incident happened yesterday. I had to explain latitude and longitude to my young colleague for a Google Maps mashup we are working on. I also had to explain the trivially simple algorithm for selecting the points which lie within a bounding box. You define the box as anything between X1 and X2, and between Y1 and Y2, then step through your points and discard those that don't meet those criteria. He's not in any way thick and he holds a recent computer science degree from a respected institution. He'd just never been taught any of this, something I would imagine to be pretty basic stuff, general knowledge even.
Back in my day of course it was different... :)
Well, yes, it was different. We weren't short changed to the same extent in the way we were educated, and then we didn't have to suffer the ritual denunciation of our efforts when they didn't meet an imagined standard over which we had no control.
I always thought being a teenager in the 1980s was a spectacularly awful experience. I can't believe it, I've just found a reason to value my Eighties youth!