Mr Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Education stood up in Parliament today and told us what had been reported elsewhere: that our education standards are basically slipping. The performance of pupils in the UK has fallen to 26th place in the world, well behind most far eastern economies and even some eastern European ones. Nowhere has there been a proper explanation as to why this should be so, but I will offer my own which is up for comment or disagreement.
Over the last twenty years or so the education system has been changed by successive governments, of whatever colour. I have personal experience with two daughters in their 30s who went through several changes during the Tories in the 90s and Labour in 00s. It seems that once again politicians know better than anyone else, be it technology, education, finance, foreign dealings, in fact just about anything. In the late 80s/early 90s they went from GCEs to GCSEs and now they want to change it again. So a new scheme was dreamt up almost monthly. Luckily my kids were able to work through this buggeration and achieve good results, ending with a half decent education, even though it may not have exactly suited their needs. Which brings me to the point of education: its not just the ability to read, write and add up. As is proved by those countries at the top of the league, even though I don’t know what they specialise in, they want to produce engineers, technologists and innovators. You cannot run a country on the arts only, but as an adjunct to creating wealth in the only reliable way: making and exporting things. Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore are places where, besides being at the top if the education chart, are focussed on the production of goods. This is why China is now one of the biggest economies in the world, where it used to be one of the lowest. And yes I know Churchill (the wartime Prime Minister not the insurance nodding dog) said what are are we fighting for if not the arts (sic), man cannot live on arts alone. In this context education of the next generation is just about the most important thing that we should be concentrating on for the future. Not being able to secure a recording contract or get on the telly.
It isn’t helped when that same Education Minister just a week or so ago said in a newspaper article that most children these days only aspire to be celebrities or famous. In fact the figure is just over 50%. He blamed Simon Cowell for this trend, who also boasted that school never did him any good and look ‘what I’ve got now’. Sorry chum, but being thick doesn’t necessarily give you the wherewithall to be successful in life. Most of us have to work at something, and to do this you have to have the ability to retain and use knowledge. Being able to sing, tap dance or act will only do you any good if you are very good at it, and most aren’t. So what to do about our falling education standards? Well I wouldn’t advocate the South Korean model of working pupils up to 11 hours a day in two shifts including in the evening. For several reasons that wouldn’t work because of working time directives, the unions, child cruelty etc. I don’t blame hard working, hard pressed teachers, or the environments of schools. To be fair, if a child is intelligent it doesn’t matter what the education system is like, they will still succeed because of intellect. Its the lower levels we should look at and here I have said before what I think should happen:
Tony Blair’s Labour didn’t want competition or demeaning of children and wanted everyone to go to university, probably because he did. This is not absolutely necessary. Lately the apprenticeship has come back into fashion, where once they were coveted. They went out if fashion during the Labour era, but unfortunately they didn’t take unto account that some children weren’t suited to further education or academia. So, instead of an 11+ type exam (I know they don’t have them any more), why not stream children at 14, to determine whether they are going to be academic or practical or both, and plan their future education to suit. Why not start apprenticeships at 14? Get them doing practical work and do day release for academic subjects? In most cases practical work is the domain of apprentices, so what is the point of keeping them until 16 to do meaningless (for practical subjects) lessons like history or art? These are not meant to be dismissive of these subjects but are examples. That way those pupils who show an aptitude for practicality can get on with it earlier.
This will of course take years, but there is no reason why we can’t change the education system; look what’s happening in Vietnam of all places: 17th in the chart and improving all the time, yet a third world country in every way not many years ago. The USA is ten places below us and that is no surprise, but they have 5 times more people than the UK, and they are still the 2nd biggest economy in the world. This government and its successors should concentrate heavily on getting our education system back up to scratch, or we will be reduced to a third world country ourselves.