Friday, 22 June 2012

Michael Gove, are you surprised I can write this?

As the coalition’s government tyrannical reign continues, I increasingly feel more and more downtrodden by the relentless onslaught of damaging and pointless reforms. It seems that every morning I wake up , there is a new headline, generally with Michael Gove’s name attached to it, declaring that he is about to shit all over my education system.

I say ‘my’ because I am 17 and currently in the education system, having just finished my AS levels. Incidentally something Gove wants to scrap. The education overlord has deemed that students should take all their exams at once at the end of the two years. This is a purposeful attempt to take away second chances from those who deserve them, to take away the opportunity to turn your education around. I have no idea how many hours of time I spent revising for my AS’ but I assure you, they were not easy. I felt challenged and frustrated by the subjects I took, having to learn huge swathes of information from only one year. Moving this to after two years will only add to an already large work load for students. The other advantage of AS’ is that you can reassess your options. I know huge numbers of people who began their A level courses intending to study a certain subject at university, only to find at the end of their first year, they were not as suited to it as they thought or their grades were not as high as they had hoped. Having the system split into two years allowed these people to drop the subject and to focus on others which they were doing better in. Without AS’ it’ll no longer be possible for students to re-evaluate what they want with their education in such a manner.

I have not pointed out being able to resit as an advantage of AS’ because I don’t believe it is. I’m sure to the outsider, resits must seem like A grades handed to students on a dinner plate, but they are in fact the ultimate Catch 22. If you don’t work hard enough the first time round, sure you can take the exam again but the chances are it will be alongside other exams which are likely to be more important. You’re then faced with the challenge of either not revising for your resit or taking away revision time from the more important exams. Resits do not guarantee your grade will change, all resits do is give people who do not feel they worked hard enough first time round to put the effort in and turn their education around.

The problem with our exams at the moment is the way they test people. Gove has made no proposals on altering the format of them, only taking away the coursework element, one of the few parts of exams which allow students to be creative and inventive, exploring avenues within their subjects which hold true interest for them. Gove is mercilessly ripping into a system which although nowhere near perfect, is not going to benefit by these unnecessary, bureaucratic and irrelevant changes. Yes perhaps exams should be made harder, but not in the way most people assume. At the moment, the majority of exams I have taken have been a mindless regurgitation of information onto an exam paper, with little individual thought having to go into it. To improve exams, you need to give students the opportunity to think for themselves and to show off their intelligence, rather than being force fed every last piece of information to impress an examiner. This is not what Gove is proposing, I repeat, this is NOT what Gove is proposing.

Finally, this is the thing that infuriates me most of all. I have had no say in any of this. If we ignore the fact we have a coalition, and assume that we have what is effectively a Conservative government, I was not allowed to vote against this government because I am under 18 and I am deemed not intelligent or politically minded enough to vote. None of this was mentioned in a Conservative manifesto, so even the fools who did vote for the Conservatives did not vote for this. There appears to have been no consultation with any students even though we are the people who will be affected by this. Michael Gove is not going to have to go back to secondary school and resit his A levels, nor are any of the current government going to have to pay £9000 to go to university. Yet, they continue to believe that it is acceptable to decide what is the right pathway for those mindless, idiotic under 18 year olds who are hardly conscious, let alone literate. I feel like I am watching an educative dystopia unfold, but there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Lessons from the Election

So after weeks of mud-slinging, swearing and not much policy propositioning, London finally came to the somewhat unsurprising conclusion that it would keep Boris Johnson as mayor for a further four years. But this is far and away the least interesting thing to take away from the election. In the aftermath of an election which focussed on personality more than ever, the two lessons to be learnt from are the problems surrounding broadcasting rules and the even greater ones surrounding voter apathy.

As the battle got bloodier between Ken and Boris, unsurprisingly Londoners began to look for other options, only to discover that there weren’t any. Or so it would seem from media coverage. The televised debates refused to put any other candidates than the four main ones (Boris, Ken, Brian Paddick (Lib Dems), Jenny Jones (Green)). This ignorance of the three other candidates on the polling slip was impossibly frustrating. Independent candidate Siobhan Benita’s, who eventually stormed into 5th place with over 80,000 first preference votes, annoyance was evident from her Twitter. IN an increasingly media savvy age, most voters find out about candidates through the newspapers, radio and television. How can we live in a “democracy” with a fair voting system when there is nowhere near an even spread of time between all the candidates, particularly on the BBC? There was a cruel irony to the fact that as the candidates got up to do the speeches one by one after the results, the BBC cut away from them after the main 4 ( the same 4 they had given air time for) had spoken, just as Benita opened her mouth. It’s time for a change to allow more diverse candidates to step up to the challenge of taking on the main parties, and our media should be supporting that.

The second shocking thing to take away from the election was the astonishingly low turnout of 38%. This can be attributed to everything from disillusionment with party politics to the fact that it was raining on Thursday but the fact is Boris Johnson has been elected mayor of a city with almost 8 million inhabitants, with only 17% of their support. The London mayoral election is one of the more confusing ones, with voters being asked to make two preference votes along with voting for councillors and the GLA. But aside from that clearly we need to find a solution to the political apathy which is plaguing the UK and again destroying democracy. Whether it is electronic voting, compulsory voting or lowering the voting age in order to politicise younger people, something must be done. Politicians can no longer sweep the issue of low turnout under the carpet and I hope somewhere out there the coalition are thinking of ways to tackle it now. Somehow I doubt it.

In many ways the London mayoral election was an absolute farce. The loss of two ballot boxes delayed the result for almost four hours until eventually at almost midnight it was announced, to a resounding “meh” from the majority of London. Britain: doing democracy right. 

Friday, 17 February 2012

The Politics of Being Taken Seriously

Last week, feminists in Britain took a stand on two occasions: the Unilad saga and Top Totty-gate. The political reaction, or should we say ridicule, with regard to both events demonstrated how in this country we are still unable to take women, and problems of the female equality, seriously.

For those of you who missed it, was a website specialising in ‘banter’ for male university students and it fell afoul of the feminists after posting an article which condoned rape. Although the website has since been closed down the reaction of ‘lads’ to its demise highlighted how the country still finds it impossible to see sexist jokes for what they are: misogynistic comments perpetuating sexism.

In a Westminster bar a beer named Top Totty was removed after Labour MP Kate Green (also the Shadow Equalities minister) complained about it. And she was right to do so. The beer was advertised with a scantily clad woman, and keeping it would have continued the myth that it is ok to objectify women when it clearly isn’t. However the highly educated politicians who help represent the country did not agree and Kate Green was branded ‘a humourless sort’ by Mike Nattrass, UKIP MEP for Stafford.

In fact, Westminster is probably the best example for the problem. Britain is largely still run by men and female politicians often talk of ‘bullying’ or are accused of diluting the feminist message. In 2009, foreign office minister Caroline Flint resigned after feeling she was being treated as ‘female window dressing’ and complained of ‘this negative bullying’. After an interview with male magazine GQ, Conservative MP Louise Mensch was asked how she expected her gender equality principles to be taken seriously. Because by being photographed for a magazine she should of course be excluded from the feminist sisterhood. This is a prime example of the culture we live in, where female MPs are expected to not partake in photoshoots with male magazines but it is fine for male MPs. Who can forget David Cameron gracing the front cover of GQ?

We already have a problem with female representation in the political system. 22% of MPs are women when it clearly should be 50% and we have only had one female prime minister since women got the vote, nearly 100 years ago. It is time to follow the lead of Scandinavian countries such as Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark where women make up around 40% of MPs because it is no longer acceptable for women not to be taken seriously, because of their gender. Until Parliament realise this, we can hardly expect Britain to realise this. So until Parliament realise this, it is going to continue to be a problem.