Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Pub quiz facts citizenship test - or "Life in the UK" (3rd edition)

The National Union of Teachers' conference has criticised the Education Secretary, Conservative MP Michael Gove, for his support of a "pub quiz facts curriculum" that favours rote learning over active learning.

No one to my knowledge has noticed that this view of education may have deeply influenced the new Life in the UK citizenship test, too. The test handbook is now mostly composed of historical facts -- mostly about the activities of men, but even more problematic it contains rich amounts of relatively trivial information.

For example, new citizens are now expected to memorise the years of birth and death of every person mentioned in the 160+ page handbook. This comes to literally dozens and dozens of names. (I'm sure Private Eye will tell us how many in due course...) Plus, new citizens most know the place of birth (hint: not the UK) for Florence Nightingale (who surely deserves mention in a list of the most important British persons in history) -- and where she first studied nursing (hint: also not the UK). Hint: much of the information you must memorise is about world, not British, history.

If such details don't yet strike you as pure trivia, then try this: on which street did Britain's first curry house first appear? What was its name? Who started it? Which foreign army did he serve in? And how did he marry "an Irish girl"? Answers: George Street, London; the Hindoostane Coffee House; Sake Dean Mahomet; Bengal; he eloped. Now I know all this because I'm good at tests, but how relevant is every fact? Note: the problem is the kinds of details -- who slept with who? On which street did they work? What year born and died?

You might say that the "pub quiz facts" analogy is particularly striking for the citizenship test. The test has gone from being testing trivial knowledge (about bureaucratic arrangements and programmes) to the purely trivial.

Another opportunity missed.

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