The "Blair generation" will be the best educated in history, the school standards minister, David Miliband, promised yesterday.
Alas, our well-educated young people are finding that their lives are being ruined by a despotic tyranny.
STUDENTS who failed to understand the words “despotic tyranny” have been complaining about their history A-level exam.To be fair, I'd find difficulty in describing exactly what distinguishes a despot from a tyrant (aren't despots a bit more capricious than tyrants, and tyrants more cruel than the average despot ?), but I get the general drift of the question well enough - and I imagine most people who did their A-levels more than twenty years go will get it too.
It is claimed the question “How far do you agree that Hitler’s role 1933-45 was one of despotic tyranny?” was too confusing for some students to understand.
A protest group called Despotic Tyranny Ruined My Life has been set up on Facebook.
So far 1,151 people have joined the group, leaving comments such as “My life is DESTROYED because of this exam. Seriously” and “This exam made me sad”.
The essay question featured on an Edexcel A Level exam paper sat last week.
A number of teachers have also posted comments on an online history teachers’ discussion forum, claiming that their students would not know what the words “despotic” and “tyranny” meant.
What's at once impressive, pathetic and sad are the self-righteous complaints of the students. Look and despair. These are next year's university intake. And I'm sure they have worked hard, and are no less bright than previous generations. I seem to remember that the Brave New educational world was going to be skills-based, not facts-based - that students would be 'taught to learn' and then they'd be self-powered, self-motivated learners, 'accessing and evaluating a range of sources' etc etc, instead of all that dull rote stuff, those dates and Kings and Queens. Yet here they are shouting 'it wasn't in the book'. Don't tell me that it was all a load of leftie cobblers dreamed up by the Institute of Education the month after some particularly good Colombian arrived ?
What's happened to education ?
"... in all the wider reading I did in preparation for the exam, written by leading Historians, I did not once come across the phrase "despotic tyranny" when describing Hitler's rule ..."
"This exam was not intended to test our knowledge of the English Language; it was a test of our knowledge of the Third Reich in the years 1933-45. As a higher ability student, i did a considerable amount of background reading leading upto this exam, and not once did i come across the phrase "Despotic Tyranny"."
"... in our wider reading which I assure you myself and other students at my sixth form completed, the focus was not on Hitler as a despot but on how the system of government impacted everyday life and how it operated. Perhaps if we had have been learning about tyrannical leaders whereby we drew comparisons as you describe then we would have read the necessary materials to enlighten us as to what the term despot meant in relation to Hitler. As it was we did not and it is elitist quite frankly to assume every history student is going to have come across such a term."
"I do not, however, think it is right for Edexcel to use it in a question without giving a definition. All it has achieved is the alienation of thousands of students who, despite having a more-than-adequate grasp on the history of the Third Reich, have been left helpless. I agree that marks are given for the use of specialist vocabulary, but a student's grade should not hinge on his or her understanding of one "specialist" term, which is effectively the situation Edexcel have created. Even a brief definition in brackets would have been sufficient."
"My daughter sat this Edexcel History exam last week and like most pupils in her sixth form left the exam in tears. Only a couple of students actually got the correct answer and one of those was a lucky guess. Many of these high ability students will now probably loose their places at Uni because of this one very badly worded question.
This was an exam on on Hitler and history...not on swallowing a dictionary. What is more distressing for students like my daughter is that facebook is claiming many schools were either read the meaning before the exam or were allowed to take a dictionary into the exam with them!!"
"To say that our revision was not done properly is insulting. I don't know about other colleges but in our lessons we didn't study this term or come across it in any text books. As for wider reading there was a very slim chance that we would come across this term and those who did were lucky. The exam board should consider the syllabus and text books better before writing questions and it is a shame that peoples work over the two years may not be properly awarded."
"Edexcel has a responsibility as an examining body to create an exam for the broad spectrum of students who sit the paper. The use of the term 'despotic tyranny' excludes students of a lower ability."
"I am a student who achieved 5 A grades as AS level last year (including full marks for two out of three of my history modules) and have been predicted 4 As at A2 this year. I have been offered a place at Cambridge to study English literature and I was not familiar with the word 'despotic' at all despite intensive revision and reading around the topic."
"People who say they knew the word "despotic" when they were young must be about 40 or 50. Unfortunately, schools don't place that much emphasis on learning terms anymore, exam styles change. Times change. We don't sit exams in the same style you may have done. So get off your high horse and stop criticizing younger people."
"After revising solidly for weeks before this exam i feel completely let down by the fact that my misinterpretation of an extremely confusing phrase appears to have made all off my efforts void. I understand that to be an A level history student you need to have a wide grasp of specialised vocabulary but can i realy be blamed for never hearing the word despotic before? I have never read it, let alone had it taught to me and i was under the impression that exams should be based on a student's knowledge of a topic not on their knowedge of a word."
"... having just read some of the outrageous comments above, some of which I presume are from the older generation of today, I feel totally disappointed at your lack of compassion and general attitude to this whole scenario ... The question was totally unfair, students had learnt everything from propaganda to women's roles in the Third Reich, slaving hours over textbooks and sources, all knowledge that we expected to use to our own advantage in the exam. The word despotic as said by many others has never cropped up in our textbooks - maybe if the word autocratic was used students like myself would have been able to grasp the full concept. The word tyranny is easy to comprehend yes, but there was no need for the word 'despotic' to be used - no need at all"