To kickbox or tickbox

April 7, 2000

I agree wholeheartedly with Alison Wolf on competence-based assessment ("Trying to box clever", THES, March 31). She has identified what we in further education have always said: "It is too top-down, too bureaucratic, too much work and becomes an endless process of rubber-stamping rather than learning."

During its introduction we were presented with a multitude of research telling us how competence-based assessment would raise motivation and increase access. These researchers surmised that it was easy to encapsulate the complete intellectual processing skills of an engineer, scientist or manager in a list of performance criteria statements produced in a short timescale.

Two serious interrelated assumptions were made. First, that if we requested students to jump through hoops, they would eventually ask why. Unfortunately, most ask only how they should jump and what help is available.

The second was that all the bits of information would gel into a complete area of knowledge, whereas in practice it stays a jumble and little more.

The method of assessment has determined the method of teaching and learning, that is, competence-based assessment encourages discrete teaching approaches and produces surface learning. The apparent results of this initiative have been a demotivated staff and student population. The staff are demotivated by the burden of bureaucracy and concern that they have failed in their academic duty to educate through the necessity to"rubber-stamp" assessments.

The students, while delighted to receive a certificate for their efforts (sometimes minimal), are also aware that they have not, in many cases, had a learning experience.

Bill Steele Bell College, Hamilton

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