The education systems we have in place are archaic and not up to the job. Yet still they remain.
As a dyslexic I didn’t really have a lot of fun in school. From what I remember of my youth (which isn’t much) it was worse at a younger age, struggling to read basic sentences while the other children progressed onto the more advanced books. Luckily, as I got older I was diagnosed with dyslexia which, while a damn shame, helped me realise that I’m not just a moron. Older still and I began to realise that there was much more to a person’s intelligence than just their literacy and numeracy skills and this made a huge difference to my life. Unfortunately the school system doesn’t seem to have had the same epiphany. What makes matters worse is that my parents spent quite literally almost all of their money to send me and my dyslexic sister there (my brother went there too but the lucky bugger got off learning-disability free). This was a wonderful school and I can never thank my parents enough for sending me there, but it was still pretty similar in its most basic form as all the other schools in the country – a strict adherence to curriculum, exam boards, and academia and a disregard for the multitude of other aspects that make up a good, rounded human being.
In my opinion education is the most important thing in the world, by far! There is nothing more important than to instill a rich love of learning, and the tools for the job, into every child that comes into this world, yet we’re all still terrible at it. Some countries are doing much better than others, but on a whole our shortcomings are costing us dearly. It’s costing us huge amounts of money; it’s costing us our emotional wellbeing and I’d argue it’s costing us our planet.
Let us go back to Victorian times; at the start of this era education was only for the select few, by which I mean the rich few. Women weren’t taught academic subjects and instead were taught how to net themselves a husband. Most of the poorer children were working in mines or cramming themselves up chimneys to help feed their working class families. Luckily for the poor, and the women to some extent, someone in government realised that as the industrial revolution continued the machines these children were using were becoming more complicated, so complicated in fact that they thought they should probably try to educate them at least a little bit before sending them off to work to avoid mutilations and what not. This also helped them get around the new Health and Safety issues that forbade children from working in a large number of industries. It wasn’t until 1891 until education became free for all and by 1899 the school leaving age was 12, and so British children were finally in school.
I won’t go into much detail about the horrors of Victorian schools; everyone has heard stories or at least seen a BBC period drama or two with boys being thwacked across the knuckles with rulers. What I do want you to consider is how far our understanding of education, children and their development had come by this point in history. By this point John Locke (1632 – 1704) had dabbled a bit, practically making up these fields of psychology, but he wasn’t actually a scientist, he was a philosopher. It wasn’t really until the late 1800s and early 1900s that these areas of psychology really got some attention, long after the basic sit, listen and shut up classroom structure had been formulated. So why, hundreds of years down the line, are we still using this archaic format? Admittedly, we have made great steps forward (no longer hitting children for one), but we have also gone backwards through the use of nationally standardised tests – a topic which may warrant its own article someday. I’d say we need a full rethink and overhaul of the entire educational structure, but that requires time and money, money that our governments would rather spend on things like nuclear weapons in order to compete in the dick-swinging championship that is global politics. What could really make a difference in your country are smart people, happy people and people who understand the inner workings of their minds and would happily sit with their own thoughts for 10 minutes rather than give themselves an electric shock.
I have the utmost respect for anyone who commits themselves to a life of teaching and educating. The world is full of those who have become teachers to make a difference to the lives on the younger generations, only to be stifled by the inflexible money making systems in place. Trawl through the internet a bit (I often use subreddits like r/education or r/ukeducation) and you’ll easily find a multitude of articles written or posted by troubled teachers feeling the weight of the system on their back. I recently read one particularly troubling article of a teacher forced to keep a young girl’s autism secret, as the headteacher didn’t want to lose the tuition fees. Read it here. Articles like this make it clear that the focus for many schools, state or private, is on keeping the parents happy and keeping the school bank full above all else. As always some of the worst examples of this can be seen in America.
This brings me onto my next personal issue with schools; the way they treat parents. Now, if you’re a parent and you are thinking “Yes they are often very rude, telling me how to bring up my child.” you’re wrong, that’s the positive side. Schools and teachers become the parents bitch. The schools don’t want to lose the money or make any parents angry and as such the teachers are told to step in line, nod and smile. Teachers need far more free reign to tell parents when they are being shit and fucking their kids up. Not all parents are shit – in fact most aren’t – but most also aren’t trained education professionals who spend their days analysing the school work of their children. Just because you have been able to have children it does not mean you know what’s best for bringing them up. It’s a pretty fundamental part of all life; it doesn’t make you special or wise! Parents need to listen to teachers, and teachers need to be able to tell parents the truth, no matter how much they may not want to hear it. I apologise if my wording has made this sound like a personal attack, it isn’t… unless you are one of those arrogant parents; then it very much is.
As always I have come to the end of this article feeling like it’s all been pretty negative, so it’s time for the closing pep talk! This world is full of individuals who are just dying to make a difference to this world and the lives of the children in it, but many of them have too much faith in those in charge. Those in charge in America believe that they need to make their education system more like that in China. Slave driving children into submission and immense workloads. While Asian countries like China may lead in the test scores they are having some problems of their own… namely serious depression and suicide rates in their students. The Chinese system also appears to be almost eradicating the creative side that all humans are born with, causing Chinese educators to attempt to replicate the more Western methods. A huge part of the problem on both sides is the extensive focus on testing, as if it’s the only possible way to get things done. For a glimpse at how it can be (and should be) done lets stroll on over to beautiful Finland. In Finland, children only have to partake in one standardised test at the end of high school. All other tests are used as a no pressure method of checking in on children’s progress. This is the original goal of tests, but standardisation takes away from this by introducing widespread comparisons and competition between schools. All this and they are still producing test scores on par with China without destroying the creative and emotional aspects of their student.
What this tells us is that it can be done, but you should have known that already – of course it can! We just need to find a way to remove our governments focus away from money and onto the important thing, the children. Unfortunately that is no easy task. They love their money, those boys in suits!