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Wednesday, 2 November 2016

RELEVANT A LEVEL SUBJECTS


It is fair to day that in most schools, the curriculum changes over time. There are many reasons for this: the job market demands new or different skill sets; universities take on new courses which require different entry criteria, and so on. Another change that we sometimes forget is that certain subjects simply go out of fashion or are not deemed relevant any more. For instance, when I was at school, if you wanted to pursue an Arts degree at university, all the best places demanded students take Latin at O level (the forerunner to GCSE). Compare that with a KY student a year or so ago who wanted to take Medieval History at St. Andrews: she was required to study Latin throughout her first year, in addition to her undergraduate work.

Latin (and Ancient Greek, too, for that matter) are still studied at major UK universities, of course. One of my favourite writers is Mary Beard, Professor of Classics at Cambridge, who writes a very entertaining blog in the Times Educational Supplement, called A Don's Life. In a similar vein, there is the issue of foreign languages, which we are told, are in decline worldwide. They are still offered at most universities, maybe in reduced numbers or in combination with other subjects, but they are surviving.  This has been a major change. Again, remembering my own schooldays, the minimum requirement for university entrance was a pass (at O level) in four subjects: English, Maths, Science and a Foreign Language. In my case, French was the latter, while Chemistry was my chosen science.

Foreign languages are still acceptable A level subjects today, as are Music and Art. I have often thought it would be great to teach Art at KYUEM: we have a few students every year who wish to study Architecture, and an A level in Art (together with Maths and another subject) would be an excellent combination. The logistics, however, are daunting. Not only would a dedicated room (with all kinds of facilities) be required, we would need a suitably qualified teacher and the resource budget (paints, paper, media of all kinds these days) would be significant. Our current budding Architects need to submit a portfolio of their work in lieu of Art A level, and this seems to work relatively easily, so for the moment, we must be content with that.

Subjects that were once on the curriculum, but are now less successful, include Law. Potential lawyers are better off choosing an A level such as English Lit., History or Psychology in combination with, say, Maths and Economics. The UK universities simply do not value A level Law as highly as previously. There is no point in us offering it.

Another major consideration at KYUEM is offering subjects that will only attract small numbers of students. Occasionally, this proves very successful. Last year, we offered Marine Science for the first time and obtained Best in World from CIE at AS level. This year, we have gone one better and obtained Best in World at A2. This is mainly due to the energy and enthusiasm of the teacher concerned, but its continued viability ultimately relies on the number of students wishing to study it.

When I was working in the Higher Education sector in the UAE, the colleges were single sexed and individual institutes were able to offer specialist subjects solely for their own college or gender. For example, Aeronautics was only offered in men's colleges and when the numbers dipped below an agreed minimum, we had to make the difficult decision to lay off certain staff members. There has, perhaps, been a bit too much in the way of comparison between education and the marketplace in recent years, but there are similarities, undoubtedly. This is one of them. If you don't have enough "customers," there is no point trying to offer the same "product."

Curricula change slowly over time, but they do change. In years to come, we might well see Software Engineering or Virtual Reality as A level courses - we simply don't know. All we can be sure of in the medium term is that KYUEM will offer subjects at AS and A2 level that are highly regarded by the best universities in the world. We are equally committed to listening to what they consider important and be guided by that. We owe our students nothing less.

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