As the dust settles on another results day; one which yet again saw lower grades produced than the previous year, it had me thinking-
What matters more than education?
At the existential core of every being is the process of physical and mental evolution, the path from unseasoned and inept action and knowledge to the path of dexterity and proficiency.
The problem starts at home, and early on.
We clearly need improvements in our system of education, yet the fundamentals laid out by our much beloved Education Secretary, Michael Gove, advocates a maladroit plan of rigorous study that only to obfuscates the issues at hand.
Mr Gove's plan is like an army without any troops, neglecting to examine ideas of conscription, instead opting for reforming the system of selecting generals; it doesn't take an expert to see the shortcomings.
The Education secretary aims to turn the entire education system into an intense memory test, thinking it will close the education gap created and sustained, by the leading nations. Whilst, in stark contrast, Harvard studies show an absence of exams can be to the benefit of students, with other education-leading nations shunning exams altogether. This promotes insightful, genuine reform- much unlike Mr Gove's plan: a colossal waste of money and time, neglecting student's needs, instead focusing on the misguided belief that such 'reform' may take us back to the golden ages of British history.
Critical, is the need for government to tackle the evident shortcomings of a system in which Britain has dropped in world education rankings. Paramount, also is to stop using those rankings as a focus ('Lies, damn lies and statistics') - rather address solitary, isolated issues incrementally until improvement can only come about through radical change.
Ever the pragmatist and realist, I understand that in these austere times huge expenses are not ostensibly viable. My crude, low cost suggestions focus on the curriculum first, addressing reading standards and arithmetic; book reading schemes for the former (a target of a book a month at prescribed reading levels, with loose and informal reports to ensure understanding.) The latter should be tackled through mental maths tests from Year Three and beyond; stimulating brain activity and growing confidence in using everyday maths functions (it is awkwardly painful to watch teenagers relying on calculator to compute the price of, and change from a venti latte and a brownie).
Maths should be streamed from a primary school level, enabling top students to excel and lower level students to fully understand content before over-complicating the syllabus, leaving them in secondary school with blanks in their mathematic repertoire. Far from 'dumbing down' the syllabus, this allows students to learn at a manageable speed, aiding future learning. This is especially important at secondary level, and as a student with voids in certain mathematic skills (curse those quadratic equations), I certainly believe I could have profited from a slower pace in that area of study.
Experimentation of various study techniques could be highly beneficial in the future if started at a young age. Group work could improve cooperation; role play could also increase assuredness in students' own abilities, as well as allowing for alternative forms of expression. Pen and paper alone cannot suffice in allowing young pupils to display their true cogitation, ideas and personality.
At secondary level, encouragement of examination alternatives - speeches and informal oral tests, should be tried. I am living proof that sometimes students cannot live up to potential through just essays and papers: Academic, with a poor memory, I often struggled through exams despite a comprehensive understanding of most subjects. Encouragement of modules and resits in addition to alternative examination techniques could allow students to excel at levels beyond their assumed capabilities- trust me, no student wants to contemplate failing the same module twice, if they re-sit, they will study hard to recompense for shortcomings in the previous attempt.
Machiavelli, over 500 years ago, discerned that each political situation is volatile and that careful consideration is paramount to every decision. Five centuries later, without consulting experts and without tolerance or dignified action, Michael Gove has scribbled down his rushed homework (did his dog eat his previous version?) and is forcefully defending its flawed logic, like only an out-of-touch elitist could.
We must be progressive. RAB Butler's act is not some Macaulayian gem education ministers should tote as the be all and end all of education policy. It is the first stepping stone in slowly- through continuous improvement- revolutionising the way in which we deliver the next generation to the world. In a world of infinite distractions, education should be endearing to students, not a force of repulsion- pushing potential cancer curers, and NASA developers towards social network engrossed nihilism. I hope Mr Gove takes on board the concept of incremental progressive reform to improve teaching, learning, and results. The existential core of our being, mental evolution, should be cherished and nurtured, not hunted and hounded.