Sunday, 26 June 2016

My Values: Education

This is a tricky one, especially as it can be argued that there's enough for children to learn as it is. But, I look at the education system and wonder what the hell it's for. The basic answer is, of course, that it's supposed to educate children, and to act as a force of socialisation, but to what end? Is it supposed to make them think, to reason out what they want from life, or is it just Pink Floydesque factory to churn out more tools for the factories and call centres? We must decide because it has huge consequences for our nation and our economy.

Received wisdom is that knowledge progresses from telling children what to believe, to letting them question things, and finally to undertaking research to find their own truths. Somewhere that has broken down, possibly in the obsession with league tables and the scramble to get people into universities. The problem there is that we're now in a one size fits all education system, which makes no regard for the different types of intelligence that pervade our species and seeks to encourage only what works for a very small number of people. In addition, to my eyes, the education system has been 'gerrymandered' to Hell and back, I remember the reforms of the 1980s and 1990s as schools sought to get better results for girls, and while I'm not sure I believe the argument that boys are now disadvantaged, it does seem as if something has broken down if you look at the disparate numbers of young men and women who now go to university.

I believe in education, it's one of the most important sectors in our society and it does feel to me as if the idea that students should think for themselves has been frittered away until there's almost nothing left of it. I also believe that the current education system doesn't do its job very effectively, partly because it doesn't know what it wants to be.

Herein lies the problem, because we're reaching for something where two, maybe even three, objectives need to achieve in schools, that the system resembles the Roman God Janus, trying to look in one direction for a change. I believe that all students should be able to think and make their decisions, to be able to discern fact from propaganda and to be able to argue some economic and political theory even if that's only knowing how each theory makes its case for its principles in relation to ideas about human nature. My spouse thinks that practical education needs to be emphasised and that every child should be able to balance a budget and cook nutritious meals (we aren't teachers so we're spitballing, it does feel as if that's something that needs to be included, because it's not the sort of thing that parents necessarily sit and down teach their children). Both of us think that there needs to be a push for better sex and relationships education, in my case including a need to broach issues like fetishism, BDSM and other murkier areas which children are probably more aware of because of the internet and things like Fifty Shades of Grey.

Whatever we do I do think we need more focus on education, and getting our people to be smart and informed. I suspect we need to scrap the GCSEs and A Levels we're used to for something that reaches across both academic and vocational teaching, possibly with a view to creating a more holistic system that doesn't favour one side or the other in the great Humanities/STEM debate, and which allows children to leave school with enough skills that they can face a future that looks like it will be more based on the portfolio career than on anything else. We must prepare them for a future that's more uncertain, and will put more pressure on them to look for work, to build their own careers and to navigate the waters of being freelancers.