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Psychology for the world we live in;Letter

IN RESPONSE to the article "Every move you make" (TES, February 19) we would like to make the following comments with regard to the Associated Examining Board ASA-level psychology and A-level psychology courses in general.

The writer refers to the AEB as having a "...standard, traditional approach to psychology, more theoretical and less practical. It is supported by textbooks, all featuring the same material with little new research".

If it offers a "standard" introduction to psychology then surely this is a strength, as it provides a foundation and also prepares students for further study in the subject.

The implications for higher education which the writer refers to mean that students are still required to learn the foundations before proceeding to more specialist advanced topics. Textbooks written with the ASA-level in mind reflect research that is significant to the subject content. This may include research that is historically significant as well as research that reflects contemporary research insights.

The example the writer cites is that of social influence, "...dominated by research carried out in the 1960s and 1970s". Social influence research focuses largely on the work of Asch and Milgram. Their research serves the important function of showing students (i) how research findings can never be isolated from the peculiar set of historical conditions in which they were obtained, and (ii) the potential abuse of participants in experimental situations.

The writer then goes on to talk about the new syllabuses for September 2000 which are being developed. It is implied that the "non-AEB syllabuses" will offer more scope for different teaching styles, more flexibility and will hence further "motivate and energise students" in their learning.

It suggests that non-AEB boards will be offering "attractive" peripheral areas such as educational psychology and criminality. The development derived from the current AEB syllabus offers, for example, topic areas deemed essential for a foundation in the subject and a series of applications (for example day care, stress management and eye-witness testimony) that reflect psychology's contribution to the world in which we live, and cultural diversity which allows students to study many different aspects of human behaviour from a global perspective.

In choosing any syllabus there will always be a risk that it may be "less exciting" for students. The "practical, popular ... approach" can also be unexciting. By adopting the "practical, non-traditional route" to the study of psychology as a discipline, students may well get a feel for the subject, yet be left woefully short in their knowledge of what psychology really offers.

Mike Cardwell Chief examiner for AEB ASA-level psychology Liz Hey Subject officer for AEB ASA-level psychology Stag Hill House Guildford, Surrey

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