Monday, 19 April 2010

Eye Witness Reports & State Students At Oxbridge

Good to be back in Cambridge. Not really had any time to write any sort of major posts, so this is just my thoughts on a couple of things I saw at the end of last week and over the weekend.

The first was a study into how well we can recollect memories of incidents for eye-witness reports. The answer is, apparently, not very well. You stage a crime in front of a group of people, conduct police interviews afterwards, and a lot of them got the wrong culprit. Not only that, one of them was adamant they'd not even seen anything, despite looking at it the entire time.

It's interesting, because this is a proper fair test. If you know you're being tested on your memory, you make a conscious effort to remember things. This was a test of how much your memory naturally retains of your everyday life. The results at least suggest that we really retain very little, and that we can both forget things and also remember incorrectly.

This sort of research, if it's studied more and the results are backed up, must have a fairly huge impact in the way the police operate and the way courts view eye-witness testimonies. Most people would assume that an eye-witness would be pretty good evidence. I mean, they've seen it, right? Yet apparently not, and compared to DNA and fingerprint evidence a mere eye-witness is still fairly doubtful, shaky ground.

These sort of studies must have fairly strong implications for long sentences as well, and especially things like the death penalty (as pointed out by one of the comments - a rare instance of a BBC comment not being retarded). Eye-witness events really aren't that stable at all. How do you know if someone is telling the truth, lying, or just innocently remembering key details and facts incorrectly? It can make the sort of difference that can imprison an innocent man or let off the real culprit.

Plus I like that article because it makes my generally appalling, ditzy memory seem a bit more acceptable.

Second article is one on how Oxbridge still aren't getting enough state school pupils. Which, to be honest, is something that'll probably keep dragging on year after year until either state or private schools are banned, or some sort of actual restriction is placed upon Oxford and Cambridge on who they can admit to the universities.

I was privately educated into a place at Cambridge, but I'm also a socialist, so I've got a fairly mixed stance on this. I agree that they should try and factor in upbringing when they're assessing applicants, because I think that as a general rule if there is a kid who is privately educated and a kid who is state educated and they both have identical results, the state educated one is likely to do better at university because they've probably got a better work ethic to make up for the inferior schooling.

However, this is only a very general rule, and I think to divide schools into state and independent schools as if to say all state schools are worse than all private schools, then you're being stupid. I'm sure there are a crapload of independent schools that are worse than a lot of state schools.

Sure, if you look at the 2009 school A-Level league tables then the IND schools seem to have utter domination. So do schools in the south of the country as well. I could be getting things wrong here, but by my count only three of the top fifty schools are state-run, and only two of the top fifty are north of Birmingham. Why don't the media make such a fuss about how Oxbridge aren't accepting enough applicants from the North of England?

I'm being a bit stupid here, because the population distribution between North and South isn't anything like the distribution between state-educated and privately-educated pupils going into university. It's fairly clear from the statistics that a disproportionately high amount of pupils from private schools are going to Oxbridge.

The thing is, I really hate this shitty notion of a "quota". There shouldn't be targets that the universities are aiming for. It shouldn't ever approach the case that the top universities are rejecting superior candidates because they're trying to meet arbitrarily set targets. It's unfair if people have had access to a better education because their parents are rich, but it's just as unfair if people who still work hard at private schools are unfavoured for university places because university want state school candidates instead.

It's a difficult balance, but really to set targets is to look at it the wrong way. Universities should assess the level of education the child has had, not whether their school is private or state, but how good the school actually is ultimately. Because there are shitty private schools too.

It also just seems like such a retarded way of trying to correct the issue as well. The problem is that state schools tend to be inferior, so you've got rich kids getting better education than poor kids, and it's unfair that poor kids can't go to top universities just because they're poor and haven't been taught as well. Surely the real solution to that problem is just to teach the poor kids better? That has to be the way that really fixes things, that works out better for everyone overall. Instead of setting shitty targets to try and get state pupils into Oxbridge, there should be a focus on bringing state pupils up to the standards set by private schools, so that they can get in purely on their own merit and money is no longer such a large factor in the equation. Take out private schools by providing levels of state education that actually match them.

Treat the cause, not the symptom.

Not sure how often I'm going to get blog posts out. Could be fairly often because it's decent procrastination from revision, or not often because I don't want to procrastinate. Will probably depend on my mood. Either way, going to be fairly busy I think with anime soc, mahjong and MII and WII coxing. We shall see.

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