In yesterday's Independent Sarah Cassidy wrote "Parents and internet help pupils from middle-class families cheat in exams", reporting on a new survey produced on behalf of the NUT. It's basic conclusion was that because middle class pupils have internet access, they are more able to cheat at producing coursework. At risk of simplifying, we have the idea that the more access to information one has (via the Internet or more 'old-fashioned' methods) the more likely someone is to cheat.
Can anyone say 'blinkers'? Surely the basis of any reasonable education, be it the sciences, arts or humanities, is to let people study and understand as much material as possible? Perhaps this idea of empowering people through studying ideas is no longer viable in a world where politicians cream themselves over 'vocational' education (teaching people Microsoft Word and Excel in order to satisfy the market's lust for 'skills'). Because this conclusion would also be applicable to libraries, and if my old alma mater (let's not hide the fact: it was a concrete behemoth that threw away most of it's book-based library in exchange for a pin-striped ICT facility) is anything to go by, books aren't sexy, the internet is only sexy if it's used for totalitarian 'net learning' purposes, while it's distinctly unsexy to have people reading of their own volition. Let's not kid ourselves here. Who wants an army of youngsters running around reading? Surely they are supposed to be driving in to each other whilst drinking Hooch, not fufilling their academic expectations. If they did do well in school, the nation would have nothing to moan about.
To solve this once and for all - make coursework in to a true academic document rather than the glorified homework assignment it is now (especially at GCSE level). Make it so that people have to write footnotes and a bibliography. And you get double the fun because once A-level students have learnt all about writing footnotes this will improve university standards as you'll have students who can write documents with proper footnotes. Huzzah! Teach people about academic honesty. With the carrot of context and the stick of plagiarism, people will not only be able to produce more useful and illuminating essays, but also teach them academic standards. Then again, I'm not sure academic standards are the aim (thank the lord for GNVQ's, VCE's et al.).
There are a lot of things that I blame the middle classes for: mediocrity, mortgages, makeover shows and, worst of all, massive off-road vehicles being used to drive around town centres. When I criticise the middle classes, I criticise the people who think that designer jeans and 'luxury' coffee are a pretty neat idea. Coursework, or at least the idea that because pupils have Internet access they are 'cheating', isn't one of them though. Because on the same basis, we should abolish libraries for fear that some people might have the initiative to go inside them and escape the sub-par education system that this country has spawned.