“Students have forgotten more than half of what they learned in their A levels by their first week of university,” reports the story “A levels? Forgotten long ago” (News, 3 July). Shall we treat this with a yawn and move on? The answer is almost certainly “yes”.
Nearly identical results were discovered when first-year physics students at Monash University were retested in the late 1970s, and a decade before that, Lewis Elton posted a similar research finding. Nothing was done in either case. Is it, then, taking half a century before anyone sits up and registers that short-term rote learning is endemic in schools? The answer is probably “no” - there is still not the slightest sign that anyone with policymaking power is taking notice.
It would be interesting to see how recent university graduates would perform on a simple test. I would be surprised if many people remember more than a tiny fraction of their degree even a few months after they finish. Claiming this as evidence of a flawed teaching approach is purely speculation unless we have a control group taught in a different way.
Ask how many academics can remember lessons from a recent training course if they have no need to use the knowledge (such as how to use tools in the virtual learning environment six months after a course when you want to use them in a class the following day).
I retain some of my A‑level education (one became my profession; another is a foreign language I can still speak), but I have also read that “education is what remains when you’ve forgotten everything you’ve been taught”.
Glarryford, County Antrim