In this trio of articles by Harriet Sergeant, written over a period of about a year, we are presented with some key arguments for why the education system in England is failing our students. It makes grim reading, but enlightens us as to how we can move forward and re-think our educational values:
1. 'Sorry, kids, you’re all going to Smoke-and-Mirrors High' (Timesonline, Feb 8 2009)
2. 'I've seen how our education system betrays children - it's enough to make you weep' (Mailonline, April 22 2009)
3. 'Schools are churning out the unemployable' (Timesonline, Feb 21 2010)
It's really the most recent of these articles that might hit home to you - esecially if you have aspirations of going to University and enhancing your unique qualities and skills for the world out there. Here are some real-life knowledge issues you might like to reflect on:
To what extent does your work ethic make you employable? How efficiently can you think for yourself and work to your own initiative? In what ways can you overcome your limitations as a learner and challenge yourself to excel? What do you value most in your learning experience? To what extent is your education fulfilling? How far should the goal of education be to create happiness?
That the answers to these questions are firmly in the negative, especially amongst young people from poorer backgrounds, is clear to see in the articles above. So why is this happening? What are the arguments to suggest that schools are not fulfilling their special purpose in our society?
There are three key arguments:
1. The 'political correctness' argument
According to this argument, schools must promote the values of liberalism and equality so that 'every child matters', as the Government initaitive would have it. No one child, nor any group of children, is discrimminated against in the delivery of education. A grand objective, but in practise, the urge for such equality means that there is a tendency that learning (and teaching) gravitates towards the lower end of the achievement scale. In short, there is what some people often refer to as a 'dumbing down' of standards; a suspicion and sometimes downright dismissal of anything that appears too academic, intellectual or abstract and 'difficult'. It leads to an attitude whereby students are infantilised and teaching becomes merely a duty of babysitting and patronising youngsters.
2. The 'Government ideology' argument
This is also known as the 'politicisation of education' argument, whereby Governments use their education policies to win votes and thereby stay in power. In fact, it is in their interests to promote actively, and not to interfere with the movement for, political correctness. Why? If standards are reduced, the Government, either existing or waiting in the wings, will be in a better positin to control the minds of the young - in words which a student of ours put it extremely succintly, 'if we're kept stupid, we're more likely to vote for them'. Government ploughs money into education so as to build an edifice that will make them look good. This means, more often than not, that the needs of students become secondary to political point-scoring.
3. The 'target culture' argument
Over the last two decades, we have been steeped in a state of mind that is unquestioning in its belief that the only way to guage success or failure is by measuring performance against targets. It has infiltrated nearly all forms of life from business, to hospitals and now into our schools. The argument goes something like this: we need a method of measuring students' progress, of judging whether a school and its teachers are fulfilling the educational needs of our young students, so that we can build up a series of data that tells us which are the best performing schools and which schools require help to raise standards. Like in business and the health service, it is argued that setting students targets and measuring their (and hence their teachers') performance against these is the best way forward. At present, the measuring scale is something called 'Current Value Added' (careful, it's a 74 page document!), the complexities (and vagaries) of which even the most logical of mathematicians will have troube in decoding. The problems of this approach are nicely traced in Harriet Seargeant's article. What we are interested in is that making targets the singlemost important purpose of a child's education means that teachers often lose sight of what teaching is all about.
What is teaching and learning really all about...?