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1254216.  Mon Oct 09, 2017 6:45 pm Reply with quote

This topic, and in particular Jenny’s comment

member of the awkward squad who hasn't yet realised that he has a life to live and a living to earn.

does raise the quite interesting question – what is the purpose of examinations?

There is a tacit assumption that exam results are the key to future success in life (however that might be defined), but evidence from the real world belies that assumption.

In my experience, those who diligently chase exam results are primarily testing one thing only – their ability to conform.

Exams/tests can be useful in determining the effectiveness of the teaching ie whether the pupil has understood the teaching – but this isn’t really the case for the massed examinations of the modern Western style school system (I suppose exams ARE also testing the effectiveness of the communication skills of the teachers although I doubt that is a significant consideration, other than when an exceptional outcome – either bad or good – from a specific class is noted).

I was reminded of this recently when re-reading Simon Singh’s book on Fermat’s Last Theorem. Mr Singh has a PhD – not just any PhD, but a PhD in particle physics, and not from some correspondence college but from Cambridge (the English one, not the American one) University.

In Mr Singh’s book I came across a passing mention of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle – wherein Mr Singh says

Heisenberg showed that there was a fundamental limit to what properties physicists could measure. For example, if they wanted to measure the exact position of an object, then they could measure the object’s velocity with only relatively poor accuracy. This is because in order to measure the position of the object it would be necessary to illuminate it with photons of light, but to pinpoint its’ exact locality the photons of light would have to have enormous energy. However, if the object is being bombarded by high-energy photons its’ own velocity will be affected and becomes inherently uncertain.
(My bold).

Erm? (Incidentally, if I recall correctly, I scraped either a B- or a C+ in Physics at O Level, which was exclusively Newtonian physics, and never took a higher level examination in the subject).

Also apposite (and also mentioned in Mr Singh’s book) is the story told of Euclid that a student once questioned the value of the mathematics he was being taught – to which Euclid dismissively responded by paying him 3 pence “since he must profit by all he learns” (or something to that effect).

I would write more on this subject but

a) I have a life to live and a living to earn and
b) There is insufficient space in this margin to expand on the theme


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