In this video, while I walk around Cambridge I talk around what I believe is seriously wrong with the British educational system in which high school ends when kids are only 15 and at 16 they are forced to choose only very few subjects to study.

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Henrik Ahlen on June 6, 2007  · 

The British school system indeed seems out of sync with today’s need of multi-talented people. But all nations school systems are based on medieval, church-created pedagogical foundations that have changed very little. You don’t agree? Consider this:

Let’s imagine we have a time machine that can transport people from 150 years ago to today.

We take an industrial worker from 1857 and put him in a modern factory of today. He will be amazed at all the advanced machines and totally unable to operate anything.

Then we take a farmer from 1857 and out him in a harvester out in the field today. He will not know how to drive it, and he will not recognise the milking machines and the feeding computers in the barn.

Then we take a school teacher from 1857 and put him in an elementary school class room, teaching for example English. He will be surprised to see that the board behind him is white instead of black, but he tells the kids to open their books and continues teaching like he is used to!

Food for thought: why have we not been able to evolve more the way we prepare our young for today’s society?

And what happened to the “life-long learning” that everybody supposedly should be into now?

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Prolific Programmer on June 7, 2007  · 

Compared to what I’ve seen of the education system in the United States, the British system is far superior and leads to a greater level of absolute knowledge and grounding in the basic skills. I’m reminded of taking someone out to dinner my first year of college in the States and having her pull out a calculator to do the tip, before she was finished, I’d already signed the receipt. Note to all: we were both studying at one of America’s top engineering schools.

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Amir Chaudhry on June 7, 2007  · 

I agree that there is a rather severe bottleneck between GCSE (school) and University (degree).

A-Levels (the bit you call college) has only ever allowed a few subjects to be taken whereas students can choose a huge variety of degree courses. The trouble arises when they realise the prerequisites of the degree courses that interest them. On top of this, there is the issue of the value of individual A-Level courses, for example, Cambridge University has decided that certain A-Levels “provide a less effective preparation”. This effectively renders those courses to a second tier.

I’m not really a fan of the US system since students don’t necessarily achieve the same depth during their degree courses. However, anything that can reduce the bottleneck at A-Level has to be a good thing and its because of this that I favour the IB.

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mendinho on June 7, 2007  · 

I am an engineer form a Spanish university but with an MSc in a British univ. so I think a can compare these two educational systems.

To summarize the main differences, Spanish undergraduates usually have a better global vision of the problems and a quite strong scientific background but there is very little specialisation. Even compared to some US&Canada undergrads I met, British students are extremely specialised in a few topics they like since they are young. The A-Level is not more demanding than the Spanish national examinations. In fact, I believe that Spanish students work more hours than the British colleagues but, unfortunately we have never developed communication and planning skills and we have never learned how to sell an idea.

As a whole, the British system is quite good because they enfasise skills achievement and “do what you like” instead of memorising and “do what the professor wants”.

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Dennis Howlett on June 10, 2007  · 

Martin – I’d agree the British system has weaknesses but if you don’t like it then you don’t have to educate your children that way. To be frank, most people I know would consider your remarks offensive if for no other reason than you’re not a British tax payer.

But the thing you seem to be forgetting is that the UK has a long tradition of educating some of the finest minds the world has ever seen. You were in Cambridge, Oxford and many others attract some of the best scholars from around the world. Why? Might have something to do with the system don’t you think?

You may not know this but kids are not compelled to complete their education in the way you describe. It is quite common for kids to take a year out before going on to university so they can travel an d experience other cultures. The UK government encourages that. Things need to be seen in the round I’m afraid and simply picking on a system because it is ‘different’ is a very narrow view.

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