Today, Thursday 21st August, the GCSE exam results come out. In my schooldays, we went through the same results procedures for our O-levels and CSEs, although coursework generally wasn’t assessed. This was the first time we’d ever experienced result nerves, as the staff rifled through sealed envelopes until the correct name was found.
It was considered normal at my large, good, comprehensive school to take somewhere between four and ten exams. Today, teenagers regularly sit many more than this, and marvellous alternative qualifications are available for young people whose examination skills don’t match their real-world virtuosity.
We had most of the benefits that modern times bring: safe food and water, the National Health Service, easy transport with much cheaper petrol, luxuries spread around more classes than in our parents’ time, and lots of entertainment on record and cassette tape.
But we didn’t have the Internet with the immense, often anonymous, social pressures it brings to young minds.
A sixteen-year-old today can debate directly over Twitter with, for example, Richard Dawkins, Buzz Aldrin or Lily Allen; but he or she is also subject to anonymous and permanent criticism or attack on any aspect of their life, real or imagined, from any corner of the globe. Likewise, almost every media outlet was heavily edited: we had newspapers, radio and tv, but zines and self-published information were much more scarce than they are today. Blogs or instant social networks, outside radio hams and CBers, were just a dream. Now, teenagers must think editorially from their earliest exposure to the Internet, or be misled.
For sixteen-year-olds today, it seems to me that there’s much more to learn, and to refute, than there was for us in 1980, thirty-four years ago.