School exams in the UK, including GCSEs and A-Levels were cancelled this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, which meant students were forced to rely on their predicted grades. However, these predicted grades were lowered far below what was expected, and students are confused, angry and disappointed.
“My future has been set back completely,” says Abbi Fitzgerald, who received a distinction* in her engineering BTec, which is the highest grade achievable, but her A level results arrived with a D in art and maths and an E in physics, and now she cannot attend her desired engineering course at Durham university. Fitzgerald said that “I had my heart set on Durham and it’s now not an option for clearing because there’s no clearing for my course.”
Teachers submitted the predicted grades to the exam boards and ranked their pupils based on who they thought would do best, which the exam boards then analysed alongside the data recorded for each pupil from previous years in order to adjust the marks accurately. Head teachers have spoken out on the unfairness of the results, and records show that private schools in England have seen the biggest rise in top A level grades, to which Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said, “Something has obviously gone horribly wrong with this year’s exam results, nearly 40% of young people have had their grades marked down and that’s thousands of young people whose opportunities could have been dashed.”
Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary for England has asked exam boards to encourage schools and students to appeal against their results if they fear disadvantaged students were being affected, saying that “There is sometimes a danger where you have an exceptionally high-performing child in a low-performing school to be in a situation where they don’t get the grades that they want to.”
In contrast, figures from UCAS, the admissions service, show that out of the 358,860 applicants there has been a 2.9 per cent increase in the acceptance to UK based degrees compared with 2019. Out of those applications, 316,730 have been accepted on to their first choice, which is a 2.7% increase from 2019 too.
Education correspondent, Sean Coughlan gave an analysis of the data, summarising that those trying to get into university may find that they are able to get accepted with lower grades than in previous years, which is good news alongside the appeal process for the students who didn’t receive the grades they had expected.
The overall state of confusion must not result in students losing their hope, to which Jeremy Clarkson left a tweet of encouragement (which also led to ‘N and a T’ trending on Twitter. You do the adding here).
Whether success to you is riches or wealth of experience, if you want to live in a luxurious home in the Cotswolds or not—is besides the point, there is enough evidence out there that you don’t need the best results in school to do well in life, no matter where you come from, but it is crucial that every student is examined equally in school exams and given a fair opportunity for higher education.
Looking back at our recent history, there’s validity and reason for our societal obsession and almost feverish fear of machines replacing human labour for good. But will robots actually take our jobs anytime soon? Approaching what can only be seen as the third wave of automation, what’s expected to happen in the near future seems much more daunting and intimidating than any other previous job loss crisis in history. A study from Oxford University claims that a whopping total of 47 per cent of all US jobs are at risk of termination, or rather upgrading in terms of hiring—no humans need apply. But how worried should we really be?
Even though we’ve been forced to understand the detrimental effects of the previous waves of automation, it’s important to note that with each wave, there has never been any actual job losses, as gains in productivity have eventually always led to more jobs. The true issue has been the disparity in technical skills that are needed for people to find jobs, once they’ve been automated out of their own field.
The first wave of automation came with the industrial movement. Beginning with machines helping discharge humans of manual and physical labour, this wave was known for taking workers off of farms and into factories. Many people lost their jobs, but it is important to note that all this work was exhausting, both manually and mentally. The second wave helped tackle tedious and dull work, typically affecting office workers who were performing excruciatingly repetitive tasks. Think telephone operators or the women who were the original calculators at NASA prior to computers being accessible.
The third era, and the one we are fast approaching, will be one which will not affect those in the farms, or factories, or even those doing dull tasks. Rather, machine replacements will be stealing jobs from what we can categorise now as knowledge workers or decision-makers. Educated people with university backgrounds and degrees in subjects that were always considered safe—until now. To put it simply, AI is becoming better at making decisions than we are and the next few decades will see the result of this incredibly quick change. We are witness to it now, with articles gushing over how smart machines are beating us in Go and Jeopardy, but soon these machines will be completely changing the job market, in absolutely all industries.
After reading tips on how to find our first job, how do we prepare and shift our skill sets to guarantee ourselves some sort of job-centric security? Technology is changing faster than laws and policies are able to react, making it even harder for individuals to equip themselves for what’s to come. An obvious answer, but one that’s consistently sidelined, is education: teaching people what they need to know in order to have the skills they need for jobs that will be available. In the past, waves of automation haven’t been as easy to predict, but even with the future as unclear and fast-paced as it is now, education is a clear answer to help solve the disparity between the skills demanded and the skills had. It’s mandatory to learn how to read and write, thus coding only seems to be the next logical step.
Canada, with its mid-size economy and stereotypically friendly political demeanour, has set some plans forward to deal with whatever dangers lay ahead. The onus lies on provinces to decide their own educational curriculum, as long as it meets country-wide goals with testing. Due to a decline in the country’s more traditional and dominating industries, British Columbia has recognised a new fast-growing industry for itself—the tech industry. In Canada alone, there’s already a demand issue for the number of tech jobs available, without enough people applying for them.
The region’s plan moving forward into this industry begins with education. The western province will be introducing mandatory coding in its school curriculum from kindergarten all the way through to 12th grade. While at the age of 13 my generation was learning to use Word programmes to create pamphlets, it will be expected of kids to learn a variety of computing programmes, as well as learn how to debug algorithms, have skills in visual programming, and then further on in high school have the opportunity to specialise in particular areas of technology—rather than taking a one time intro to coding course.
Canada isn’t necessarily being innovative in its tactics either, as other countries such as Britain and Australia have taken similar measures within their education curriculums. The world is getting ready for the nearing and possibly most disruptive decade in history—technologically speaking. My only question now lies with how my generation will be able to not only adapt, but compete. Growing up with technology, we’ve evolved as the different versions of iPhones have come and gone. Very early on we can remember a time without constant social media and instant messaging, but are still familiar enough with the tools to know how to navigate every new update. The future is tech, and while it might be coming for your job, it’s also creating new ones.