Our education system needs reform if we are to revitalise our nation
For what seems like my entire life in education, critics and journalists have been talking about an apparent “dumbing down” of learning in this country and about a system that is failing future generations of British children. They say that exams are getting easier (despite many being less than familiar with the subject matter taught) and argue that too many children are leaving school without basic standards in reading, writing and mathematics.
On the other hand, supporters of the current system will point to ever-increasing pass rates and increasing university attendance as signs of a system in rude health. However, both sides of the argument fail to get the point – our education system is neither practical for the majority of children leaving school to enter the world of work nor encouraging the analytical skills needed to pursue a top-level career at universities or complex jobs that will provide for our economy in the future such as green technology, economics and even our own universities.
The current system has too many exams. It has SATs throughout a child’s school life and uses these results to test schools and to predict the future academic performance a pupil will have. These exams however do not act as a test of a child’s intelligence. Think about the amount of times a teacher has taught a child a complicated subject, say that perennial school favourite Shakespeare. They are taught the points of the play and told what the exam will cover. They are never taught deep-thinking and analytical skills to properly question the play they are given. They simply parrot the information they are given. Our exams have become a test of memory rather than understanding.
At the same time, practical courses are failing our children. Teaching a child office skills or how to work in a business don’t succeed in helping our industries or our economy in the long-run. It simply teaches a child basic skills but never prepares them for a situation outside of a particular speciality. What our economy needs is not more children learning how to type word documents. We need more children who know a trade, we need more apprenticeships and we need a wider variety of lessons to encourage children of all levels of intelligence and with interests in all subjects.
Finally, our education system does not adequately prepare students for the outer world. We teach media studies yet fail to teach our children about how our democracy works. We teach children algebra but not about our banking system and how to open an account. Pupils have knowledge of John Steinbeck but fail to use apostrophes correctly. We teach business studies yet not economics. Children are not allowed to learn more than a set number of subjects at GCSE or A-Level and are forced to choose career paths at 14 without properly understanding where subjects will take them in the future.
We need to move on from an education system that rewards those who learn information parrot fashion yet never gain the skills to use this information correctly or come up with fresh ideas. We spend so long teaching children what we think they need to know but never spend enough time on what they should know. A baccalaureate system would allow for prospective employers to look at the actual skills a child had gained over a period of five years (up to the age of 16) and again until the age of 18. It would enable students to receive a rudimentary education across a broad range of subjects instead of forcing specialisation on children who do not know what they want to do with their lives. We have to ask why nations like Canada, Finland, South Korea have higher rates of academic performance and why Cuba and Georgia both have higher literacy rates than the UK.
There are many reasons why the youth of today feel let down by the older generation – lack of employment opportunities, lack of social spaces to play with their friends and a tendency to try to suppress exploration of the world around them. We are left with an education system that does little to produce anything but people who can follow the ideas of others. If we are to rebuild an economy in the doldrums we need a schools system that can equip our children for the task ahead.