Family & Education

Let's kiss goodbye to exams

Artificial intelligence will bring sweeping changes to our education system, predicts Sir Anthony Seldon


GCSEs and A-levels may have been cancelled for a second year. But students are still waiting to hear what precisely will take their place and whether they will still have to sit some form of externally set tests.

For the government, the main priority will be to avoid last year’s results fiasco when public outcry forced it to withdraw the notorious algorithm used by the regulator Ofqual to adjust teacher-assessed grades.

There are some, however, who believe the disruption to our education system caused by the pandemic should be prompting us to re-evaluate its purpose and the role of exams.

Among those is one of the country’s most prominent educationists, the vice-chancellor of Buckingham Unviersity and former head of Brighton and Wellington Colleges, Sir Anthony Seldon.

Within a decade, the summer exam regime as we know it may have become obsolete, he suggests in his latest book, The Fourth Education Revolution Reconsidered, an updated version of the first edition of three years ago to take account of the Covid crisis.

“The all-conquering cumulative exam is going to die, and we should celebrate its death,” he writes.

So far the government has shown no inclination to dethrone A-levels and GCSEs as the primary means of assessing a child’s educational achievements.

But that will change as a result of an inescapable transformation, Sir Anthony Seldon argues, brought about by the increasing emergence of AI, Artificial Intelligence. It will move us from our current model, which he dubs Education 3.0, to the new era of Education 4.0.

The book surveys the potential benefits and threats to society of AI. But concludes that if it used to our advantage, it can enhance children’s educational experience.

The present Education 3.0 system is a “conveyor belt” that shifts children along the school “production line”, year by year from kindergarten to sixthform, “to receive more injections of knowledge”. 

This factory system “rewards conformity not individuality, developing a narrow range of abilities and skills that do not reflect the needs of society or the job market, and with teachers weighed down by administration and stress”. For some children, the pace of the conveyor belt will be too quick, for others too slow, in some subjects, if not all. 

There is a bias towards cognitive thinking at the expense of the development of other areas such as creativity or emotional intelligence.
Instead AI could pave the way to providing more personalised tuition, with educational programmes tailored to the individual needs of the child. Continuous assessment will replace the exam battery, enabling a child to move from each phase of study at their own pace. 

Teachers will be liberated from many of their more mundane burdens and able to help a child enjoy a broader, richer education enabled by more sophisticated technologies.

The blending learning that schools have been forced to adopt to meet the challenges of Covid may well accelerate the move into a future that he believes is fast beckoning. And if he is right, there’s not a moment to be lost in preparing for it.

The Fourth Education Revolution Reconsidered, Anthony Seldon with Timothy Metcalf and Oladimeji Abidoye, is published by the University of Buckingham Press at £14.99

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