Google, Education and Mediocrity

This evening, I searched for “how to take your GCSE exams early”.

My daughter is 12. I know that GCSEs are designed for 16 year olds, but she is ambitious and inquisitive. She wants to know her options. For those outside the UK… GCSEs are exams kids normally take at 16. (The rest of this post is country agnostic.)

I was surprised to find Google’s responses pandered to what can only be described as mediocrity. A character trait to which I felt Google has strived to avoid at all costs. The overwhelming message in the results was to suggest that taking GCSEs early was detrimental for children.

This is concerning, on so many levels. It would seem that all of the results stem from a single Ofsted report which starts by saying that bright children have been successfully taking GCSEs early for years, but recent changes in behaviour are creating slightly below average results. Looking at the underlying data, I think that this ignores the aspirations of the child and their maturity in seeing that, quite frankly, they are able to retake if they do just “OK” and why shouldn’t they? But educational aspirations aside, Google has failed on so many levels on this one:

Where is the answer?

I queried “how to take your GCSE exams early”? Telling me that doing so is bad for me (or my daughter’s) health is certainly not answering my query. It is indoctrinating me and answering a completely different question which – if I was a cynic (and I am) I would say that the result on the right are deflecting my question. The results say:

1: Children lose out by doing what you have asked

2: Duplicate: Doing GSCEs are bad for you

3: Why would you want to do what you asked?

4: No. We won’t let you do thatin French

5: Why would you do what you asked? (Dupe?)

6: You are about to damage your child

7:  You are about to damage your child

8: Bright children lose out (actually… the report did not exactly say that).

9: Ofsted study referenced again

10: The actual study which the other results refer to.

That’s the results I see on the image on the right. They seem to try to affect my opinion, rather than resolve my query. If I was Google, I would worry about this result, because it doesn’t answer the question. But worse – it tries to indoctrinate me into NOT trying to excel.

Would Google be happy with Mediocrity?

I doubt it. Google is anything BUT a mediocre company. I admire them more than any company on earth except the guys at Majestic (see.. no link). For Google to be seen to subvert what is, after all, an entirely aspirational query should send alarm bells through the hollowed halls of Mountainview… or at least get the volleyball players off the pitch and back into the spam team room… because this result is the most insidious for of spam. The results are clearly wrong… but they are the Guardian, the BBC and the Independent. Are we to be dragged into the Fourth Estate by the very organisation that was looking to change the paradigm? And worse… are we being asked by Google to tell our kids to just give up?

 Why didn’t Google get it right?

This is where is gets more murky. Earlier this year I suspect that Google would have pretty much got this result right. Surely, it is not beyond Google’s ability to answer this question. “How to” is a pretty clear signal in the search query to Google to say that the user wants an answer, not an opinion. Over er the last year or two, Google has fought back against companies that have tried manipulate Google’s search rankings. On the whole they have done well, but they have – at scale – devalued websites that do not come up to their mathematical grade. In the process they have clearly damaged their objective which must remain to harness the world’s information and instead of results being influenced by spammers, results are getting influenced by authority. In this case, it is not for the best.

 And in the Meantime

Whilst writing this, my 12 year old downloaded an app which gave sample GCSE questions. She is aghast that these are the questions that 16 year olds are being asked. She looked at me at the question:

2(x+2) =………

The answer was multiple choice by the way! (If you think that’s hard, the answer was 2x+4).

So… anyone want to offer my 12 year old a Bursary? Because I don’t believe I’ll be doing my child any favors by listening to the results on Google…

One last question…

My child is in the last year of a comprehensive middle school, aged 12. This week she was berated by her English teacher when her interpretation of “clear bullet points” was to number them. She wants to achieve. She wants to do well. Does anyone know the answer to this question:

“how to take your GCSE exams early”

Answers by anything but Gmail please.