Took a look at yourself! Get an A for Anthropology

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The Independent Online

“The mobile phone has become the modern equivalent of the garden fence or village green.” Discuss.

It is the type of question that is likely to be asked in a new A-level in anthropology being launched in schools next September.

The exam, being set by Britain’s biggest exam board – the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance – in conjunction with the Royal Anthropological Institute, will cover a wide range of topics across the anthropological spectrum.

For instance, teenagers – often considered grumpy and uncooperative by adults – will be able to study behavioural traits in other species and what motivates their tempers.

In addition, in a unit on “being human”, there will be a topic on “making and remaking the body” which will include studying why so many turn towards cosmetic surgery and what defines a person’s dress sense.

More seriously, they will be able to look at the reasons behind wars, racism and ethnic conflicts in a section labelled “Becoming a person: identity and belonging”.

Youngsters will also embark on a personal investigation into an anthropological topic of their choice.

One of the main reasons for launching the exam – which will be available at both AS and A-level – is the fact that, while many universities have degree courses in anthropology, there are qualifications which can be used for pre-university study of the subject.

Hillary Callan, director of the RAI, said: “Anthropology is an inherently fascinating subject and has a natural place alongside cognitive disciplines as a key part of a contemporary liberal education.

“Yet up to now it has been almost absent from pre-university curricula in the UK.”

She said the new exam, which was “intellectually challenging and will demand much of students”, would “fill this gap”.

“Those taking it, whether or not they go on to study anthropology at university, will gain an understanding of human life in society, and of diverse ways of seeing the world, that will serve them well as the globally educated citizens of the future.”

As to the question of mobile phones, it is an extract from a study of mobile phones published in 2004 which looked into the social etiquette surrounding their use.

A second question looked at Australian Labour Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s speech on taking office apologising to the Aborigine people for his country’s past treatment of them – especially for removing Aboriginal children from their parents.

It asks what problems they might have being brought up with white foster parents and whether the apology would help them.

Students will be able to study for the new A-level from next September with the first exam candidates sitting it in 2012.