Debate Magazine

Education, Education, Education

Posted on the 10 December 2012 by The Great Pub Debate @greatpubdebate

Like the war cry from a lost battle the New Labour mantra of education, education, education now rings hollow – Blair introduced tuition fees, hiked under Cameron, New Labour’s trailblazing academies are failing and Gove continues to take schools back to the eighties. The rhetoric has long been exposed for what it was and the dream is dead.

Current Education Minister, Michael Gove, is not only stuck in the past, he is stuck in a past that never existed. So much so Ofqual have written to Mr Gove today expressing concern over his plans to scrap GCSEs. Still, he appears hell bent on returning to the school system that worked for him, even if it failed for others. The big problem was highlighted last January when Gove called for more facts in the national curriculum. The very idea of children learning by rope appals me and conjures images that belong in the Victorian classrooms and not the modern ones of the 21st century.

There are problems with facts. First and foremost, how many facts are there truly? Following Descartes, “I think therefore I am”. Everything else is mere postulations based on surrounding evidence. Worse are the subjective facts like the existence of God, the big bang or the theory of evolution. None of these are facts, they are viewpoints. Where the subjective is presented as fact then the education system is corruptible to indoctrination, and I fear this is at even greater risk in the new religious free schools. Schools have been dragged kicking and screaming into accepting that they have to teach evolution as an alternate theory to creationism.

What is more, facts are not all that useful. Why on earth memorise something when it can just as easily be googled. Learning facts is not a life skill, learning how to digest, evaluate and utilise information is. Surely this is what belongs in our classrooms? We should not teach our children what to think but how to think.

Making matters worse is the sheer lack of originality across the political spectrum. Labour offers no real alternative all the while continuing to chastise the coalition over education, even over policies that began under the last Labour government. The pre-2010 Lib Dems were bold calling for the abolition of tuition fees, the investment of £2.5 billion to help struggling pupils and the creation of a new general diploma. The tuition fee fiasco, however, will stay with students for decades.

When David Cameron took up the Prime Minister job the hidden education crisis already began. The UK placed 20th in the OECD’s world education rankings behind Poland, Estonia and Ireland and only one place above Hungary. Although a recent league table by Pearson saw the UK move up to 6th,the truth is these indicators are not that robust or useful.

The Pearson report did make note of a number of important things that the coalition must take into account:

  1. There is no easy fix – throwing money at education will not work
  2. Cultural values surrounding education are important and can be changed
  3. Teachers need to be respected
  4. Education needs to be for the future

Nonetheless, these points resonate what we already knew. There are not practical solutions, no ‘simple fix’ cures to repair the broken system. Parents and government should not be blaming teachers for the sub-par standard of education. In fact, we should move on from these ‘pass the blame’ shenanigans that have become so rampant and look to the future. We are on a precipice where technology and education can be combined, if only we looked outside the box. Maybe just maybe the hollow war cry of education, education, education may finally mean something.

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