In the news this week was an article around the inherent flaws in engaging young people in the UK education system, focusing on the failures to children are not destined for academic life. It got me thinking about the examination system, how we judge people and what my own opinions are. Obviously I think that the education system is incredibly important, it is what gives us our next generation of scientists and mathematicians – but does this view of education make me the very thing the article was complaining of? Should I be viewing education as a more rounded way of making the next generation of humans? Probably.
The first suggestion that really jumped out at me was that the national curriculum should be finished at 14. This is totally wrong. I think the heart of what people are saying is that students shouldn’t be forced to follow a set path until they are 16, however the issue must be the content of the curriculum rather than the existence. The age in which we educate to on a compulsory basis has been under debate for a long time [I would be interested to know what the age is in my non-UK counties of compulsory education?], but no part of me feels that in the modern world anyone should leave school before 18. I think in terms of general maturity to say someone is an adult at 18 is generous and before adulthood you should be allowed to stop learning.
Use me as an example. I made, what would generally be considered to be good decisions – I have a reasonable crop of A-levels and went on to get a first class degree in Mathematics and Economics from a Russell Group university. So I don’t even fall into the category of someone who has been potentially disenfranchised by the education system – but as you may well know I wasn’t well equip to make the right choices at 18. Granted I have the chance to turn it around and do a second degree because my choices were wrong but not bad – however the point remains that the average person is unable to properly make up their mind.
The key line focuses on the constant assessment and academic focus – is this the correct thing to do? Well my mind is really split here. Let me tell you why..
- Assessment is the way we sort people, it happens in many aspects of life and it is the most efficient way of ensuring people are targeted in the right way;
- School by its very nature is predominantly an academic institution, there is plenty of time for non-academic pursuit so why water down this important start in life; and
- In ensuring that we cater for everyone, we must not be afraid to protect the top of the class; whilst it isn’t always a popular view, having a strong academic top benefits everyone. In focusing on more choice and alternatives to academic rigour, we must not ignore the very foundation of the accomplishments we have made in science and mathematics – which is academia.
- Having people being forced to take subjects they are truly disinterested in only causes disruption and is bad for everyone involved;
- I do want people to look back on school with positivity and feel that it was an enriching experience – this won’t happen if there is bitterness; and
- Most people will go on to do non-academic careers, so providing the basics are grasped it seems sensible that they should be allowed some exposure to things that may be of use to them in a work environment.
What do I actually think on all this? My answer is quite boring and that sitting firmly in that safe middle ground. We cannot have all of the changes that the article I linked to suggests, it would be madness. But we also cannot keep going the way we are and expect everyone to think the schooling system is great. My solution is to give people more choice, within a very strict boundary.
Up to 14: This should be the common core. In this period you should be taught everything you need to know about all of the important sciences, english, mathematics and humanities. There can be no escape from this, it may not be pleasant but it is essential. It should be made as interesting as possible of course, but we all need to do things we don’t want to in life for our own good.
14-16: This should be where the options start to blend in. In this region I think you should have two options – one to continue with more advanced studies of the common core, or one option to spend around a third of the time doing something more vocational or business related, but no more than this. The remaining two thirds you continue to learn.
16-18: At this point the academic student knows if it is catered to them, but those who have taken the other path have not so much sacrificed their academia that they could not continue. At this point you can choose to specialise academically, or at this point it would be healthy to focus on a vocation or business but the important point is that it is all taught in a school environment – I believe this is better.
This is hardly ground breaking, however I think this approach is the right way to dampen some of the concerns that students have whilst not sacrificing the top. I think the education system is all too easy to criticise, but unless you have a better answer to educating thousands of children from different backgrounds with different abilities then the critic has little traction. What are your thoughts? Do we have the best education system we could, does it need a little overhaul or a major revamp?
To this point I have totally ignored anything to do with university – this is a different story!