Friday, 6 May 2022

Great Apes?

Year on year I find that candidates for the technical building services qualifications I deliver are less and less able to learn without chopping up the subject matter into bite-sized chunks. And of course, once you start cutting up their meat for them, they want it guided on demand into their reluctantly waiting mouths. How soon before we also have to chew it for them?

Yesterday, however, I had the rare experience of assessing two candidates for their inspection and testing practical task who were entirely competent. They did the work efficiently, sensibly and without fuss and demonstrated a thorough grasp of the reason behind every part of the process. Proceeding to fault finding they both also showed an excellent understanding and were able to explain their processes clearly and propose good, practical rectification procedures.

It is a shame, therefore, that they end up with only the same recorded attainment as those who rely entirely on rote-learned procedures and regurgitated stock phrases which, while providing a workaday route to completing the qualification, hardly inspire confidence. Some fully-qualified electricians are more equal than other fully-qualified electricians.

And just as in the broader world of education the poorly educated become the educators, looking for ways to make their lives easier. Every time assessments are reviewed and revised the apparent aim is to make attainment easier; the tail always wags the dogs as with any bureaucracy. Rigour disappeared a long time ago under a tidal wave of requirements to de-colonise curricula, increase whatever diversity is actually supposed to mean, and of course, to ‘leave nobody behind’.

Imagine my dismay, then, on finding that examination boards in the UK are looking at ways of examining GCSE and A-Level qualifications online. Worse, they are considering adaptive testing, whereby a less able student is given an assessment more suited to their level. Where does this end up, with everybody being awarded an A* for every subject? As we say here, we can explain it to you, but we can’t understand it for you.

For many, the thirst for knowledge just isn’t there. The school experience has prepared them for a life of having everything explained by others and carrying out work tasks in a perfunctory manner, much as in the old Soviet system – “we pretend to work, you pretend to pay us”. Few, in my experience, even see the value in reading. And we let these people vote, drive vehicles and procreate (not necessarily at the same time).

Worker's play time

I scan the horizon, but I can’t see any signs of hope, I really can’t. Each iteration of Homo sapiens appears to tend further towards Homo incognitans. Maybe it’s a good thing. At some future point when humans have lost the ability to reason, to communicate, to even use basic tools, maybe we will be less of a risk to the planet and we can revert back to being packs of hunter-gathering primates and learn to amble along on our knuckles again. I suspect we will be happier for it.


  1. This is why firms have tests for inexperienced starters. Basic tests and the laughs we have had with some of the results. Of course as time moves on we will find that there will be few competent people around and a new class of people will be created.

    1. It seems that with each iteration of smart technology we produce a progressively less smart user. But it's okay because to keep pace we aggrandise the job titles. So fitter becomes technician, technician becomes engineer and engineer becomes omniscient god... who then goes into politics.