Simply being able to reel off facts isn’t proof of ability to perform a task. Yet the primary emphasis of BOHS modules is on rote learning where trainees are required to learn masses of facts in order to pass their exams. In practice there is very little testing of the ability to apply the knowledge to solving problems. To me, this approach is rather old fashioned and doesn’t really reflect the needs of modern occupational hygiene practice.
An enormous amount of information available to us in the modern world – and it continues to expand exponentially. In our profession new substances continue to be developed (this is particularly true in the field of nanotechnology), information on toxic effects of familiar substances continues to increase (REACH is likely to ensure that this process accelerates) and control methods and good practice continue to be developed. On the other hand some facts that occupational hygienists have traditionally been expected to remember have become irrelevant with changes in industry and society.
It is not only unrealistic to expect a professional to absorb and remember a mass of facts, it is, in my opinion, poor practice. It is more important to know how and where to locate information than to memorise it – and then to be able to use it to analyse and solve problems. Of course, some facts need to be learned – but these need to be relevant to current circumstances.
The revamping of the BOHS’s module exams is an opportunity to revisit the syllabi and the exams. I’d like to see proper learning objectives established, based more on application of principles rather than memorising information, much of which is not that relevant to modern practice, and new questions set which can test these objectives. The underpinning knowledge that needs to be memorised really needs to be reviewed, weeding out those facts and principles that are no longer that relevant.
At the moment it looks like this won’t be happening – the sample questions I’ve seem appear to be mainly reformatted versions of those currently in the multiple choice question bank. The new short answer questions should allow for more flexible marking, and negative marking is being eliminated, so overall the changes should be beneficial. However, I feel that a lot of work is still needed to bring the examination system into the 21st Century.