Education has been evolving over thousands of years. History has shown that we can educate scholars such as Aristotle in ancient Greece and Copernicus in medieval Poland. So why do we struggle to achieve an educational programme that is fully fit for purpose in 2010?
Whilst we learn of medical advances that push the boundaries in health care, educational achievements seem to have stagnated. Disease control, organ transplants, keyhole and robotic surgery have emerged yet teaching procedures appear moribund struggling in general to meet required literacy and numeracy standards in primary schools. The possible reasons for this situation are legion. The effects of the national curriculum, SAT’s, 11 plus, GCSE and special government schemes costing billions of pounds have seemingly failed to achieve any sustainable breakthrough.
The dilemma for parents wanting the best for their children starts when their child is five, epitomised by the sometimes traumatic activity to get their child into an “outstanding school.” Although five years old is the start of formal schooling for UK children, greater academic success has been achieved in countries where children start school aged six or seven such as in Finland and topically South Africa.
The type of school in the UK creates further headaches. The choice between Montessori, Steiner, Kumon, faith, independent and state schools complicates the decision as does that old chestnut of class size. Although some techniques appear to be marginally more successful than others no single teaching method emerges as the outright winner. The skill of the teacher emerges as the only significant denominator.
Technology in the schooling process has indeed moved on. Kids are taught keyboard skills, maybe to the detriment of handwriting skills, and our teaching resources are awash with interactive white boards. Soon many schools could be linked through the web to allow a strong teacher to simultaneously broadcast to several schools. So what is not working? There appears no simple answer. Various influences are cited as inducing a negative effect, notably teaching to test, where lessons are geared to passing exams and achieving targets rather than providing a broad educational strategy.
Strangely the collective might of the European Union have failed to influence the UK educational programme. This seems odd. Whilst we have the specification for the acceptable shape of bananas, one area we could seemingly benefit from is a European standard in education. A federal approach could identify the best practice from each member state. Although the potential benefits embedded in the International Baccalaureate and International GCSE are welcomed by trend setting schools these standards have been predominately avoided by most schools, and until lately, the government. Perhaps overwhelmed by current inefficiencies, the emphasis on targets and considerations of academy status, we are reluctant to adopt yet another change. Yet these schemes have proven effective in other European countries, whilst over the last decade the UK has little to show in overall educational achievements despite the effort and determination of its teachers and pupils.
The clock ticks on. Educational development must be the primary focus of any government. Technology, improved communications and the paradigm shift of the commercial centre of gravity towards the Far East has changed the emphasis. Our children will need to thrive in a now global employment market. They need the career flexibility commensurate with a broad based education to take advantage of emerging opportunities.
It has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that we need help. The average tenure of the Secretary of State for Education is around 18 months yet they are charged with the strategic policies influencing a child’s schooling journey lasting a minimum of 11 years. Perhaps we should leave teaching to teachers and establish a team tasked with the definition and implementation of a new curriculum and best teaching practices drawn from the very best in Europe. It must be better than the current situation, which, if unchanged, could leave us the poor relation, justly receiving the condemnation of generations of children to come.