This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers.
This is a useful statement of the case against cramming for examinations. Interestingly, despite his unnecessary attention to the appearance of schoolgirls, Samuel is enlightened enough to suggest that they perform better in examinations than schoolboys.
The South Kensington Science and Art Department was a British government body which from 1853 to 1899 promoted education and set examinations in art, science, technology and design in Britain and Ireland.
'The Song of the Shirt' (text): a very influential poem by Thomas Hood, published anonymously in the Christmas edition of Punch 1843, to. articulate outrage at the lot of working women in Victorian society and the oppression of those in the ‘sweated’ trades.
James Crichton (born 1560) was killed in his twenty-second year during an argument in the street with the son of his employer, the Duke of Mantua. He had already become a noted scholar, linguist, swordsman, horseman, musician and poet, and had outstanding good looks. James Barrie’s play, The Admirable Crichton (1902) and a subsequent film of 1957 draw on this reputation. —— David Skilton
t this period of the year when spring should, but does not, appear in all the glory so praised by the poets, the examination fiend is holding high revel throughout the length and breadth of the land, and the educational conundrumnists of the South Kensington Science and Art Department are doing their best to puzzle thousands of students whose lives for a period of four or five weeks they will make scarcely worth living. They are a most interesting study these Kensington examined examples of educational cram, and to thinking people do not present an edifying appearance. They remind one, somehow, of the woman in 'The Song of the Shirt,' inasmuch as they appear not to have time to spare for a bright look or a smile. They are victims led to the sacrifice, and the altar upon which they are to be slaughtered is the scholastically terrible Government Grant.
What matters it now
If a teacher can vow
That he is all round quite a Crichton
If he cannot pass straight
Of per cent. '98,'
The school folks will say he's no right 'an.
And the students to be seen in the examination-rooms of the present day are the result of the slave-driving principle which, to the detriment of all rational teaching, is in vogue in all schools which send in students and teachers to try and pass the 'May Exams.' The thing which strikes anyone not used to scholars and teachers who belong to the 'crammed' order, is that they all look tired and worn out. Even the young ones, especially the girls, do not look as they should do; and as for the pupil teachers, they one and all have a hard set expression on their faces which tells tales of long hours and eternal drudgery.
And the appearance is but the reflex of the truth, for a modern pupil teacher's life is not a happy one — far from it. It is a perpetual round of study, backed up by anxiety as to results. There is no profession more fagging in its elementary stages than that of the teacher, and it is more than usually trying during the weeks immediately preceding the dreaded examinations. Dress is invariably an important factor with the ladies, and it is no less so on the occasion of an examination. There are to be noticed among the female candidates signs of special care in the matier of dress, and the daintiest ribbons, the best frocks, and the prettiest ornaments are certain to be displayed by the lady students who are tempting fate under South Kensington rules and regulations. I would almost go so far as to say that no girl would have much chance of success if she sat down to an examination in her poorest frock.
Why, the mere knowledge that her rivals were plodding ahead 'all in their Sunday clothes,' would so disarrange her mental balance that she would be certain to get her answers into a perfect state of hopeless and non-resultable muddle.
But, given the requisite personal adornment, lady students do their work as thoroughly, if not more so than their male rivals.
The youthful candidates of both sexes waste much valuable time by their anxiety to impress an examiner with their care and neatness. They come to an examination armed with bottles of red and black ink and a ruler, the latter of which is used when ever an opportunity occurs. In fact the ruling passion is particularly strong in young candidates who go in for examinations. Lines are carefully ruled, in red ink, between each answer, and wherever it is possible to rule a red ink line it is put in. The only result of all this is the wasting of valuable time, for the effect upon an examiner may be put down as nil.
It is most interesting to watch the faces of candidates when they are thinking out some portion of a paper which either the density of their own intellects or the subtlety of the examiner does not enable him [sic] to grasp.
On these occasions I have frequently noticed that there appears to be an extraordinary interest attached to a blank wall, while the amount of attention bestowed upon the ceiling or the windows of the room is simply marvellous. Yet it is from the sources named that most examination inspiration seems to come.
A favourite position with thinking students is to lean their heads sideways upon their hands. They sit thus for a few moments with a far away expression on their faces, and then suddenly make a spasmodic dive with their pens at their papers. They have got an idea. What it is worth will only be known when the results come out. Many students fail to pass an examination from the fact that they take too cursory a glance at the problems they are expected to solve — a fault most fatal to their chances of success. Students should always take the greatest pains to thoroughly master the meaning of a question they are about to answer.
Whether the present style of examination is conducive to the best educational results is open to considerable doubt, and I am, after a lengthened experience of examinations and the students and masters concerned in them, decidedly of the opinion that the whole system is wrong, and calculated to do much harm to the students who are crammed for results.
It is usual to laugh when a schoolboy is said to have developed brain fever from cramming, but I am certain that many a scholar has had serious and lasting injury done to both his mental and physical powers by cramming for an examination.
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Last modified 16 May 2022