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A Better Way to Universal Education

It Was All So Different Then

Around a hundred and thirty years or so ago, parents still paid for their children’s schooling. Then eighty five to ninety five percent of children left school at between the age of 12 and 14 able to read, write and handle arithmetic. Today, in common with other ‘advanced’ countries like the USA, that level has dropped to circa seventy percent. Yet we are spending more money on training teacher, teacher salaries, school buildings, reducing class sizes, providing equipment and other facilities than ever before.

Hunger for Education

In developing countries mass education provided with meagre resources is eagerly lapped up by hordes of knowledge hungry pupils who respect possibly ill-equipped teachers for their knowledge and efforts. Meanwhile our educators face verbal and physical abuse, often from whole bored and disinterested classes who ‘know their rights’ and coerce parents into supporting them.

So, where is the mismatch? What is ‘education’ all about?

Marriage - and Separation

It used to be a ‘marriage of convenience’ between employers keen to get fundamentally competent workers for their mills, and government anxious to manage the mass movement of people from countryside to cities; a form of ‘social contract’ to avoid disturbance and keep the peace.

Today, as our manufacturing industries have declined or left the country, the focus has shifted to higher education competencies; but the automated, computerised service industries at which these are targeted employ fewer people. Indeed, many have shifted jobs ‘off shore’ to places like India and Pakistan. At the same time, our population of school, college and university leavers has increased and continues to increase.

Education as a Social Tool Today

In consequence some people argue that Government attention has shifted to using ‘education’ as a tool to keep people off benefits and out of unemployment, also extending this to mature students. It is easy to justify this. It provides the government with improved statistics and occupies many people nationwide. It supports and encourages ‘life long learning’. Notionally it creates a better, ‘degree’ educated population. But with what result?

As was inevitably going to happen, there are no jobs for many of those now pouring out of secondary and tertiary education. Companies are still relocating to areas of the world where there is an even better educated, lower cost pool of labour. So, the one hundred and fifty year ‘marriage of convenience’ between business and Government has all but failed.

Seeds of Spontaneity

However, there are signs that a spontaneous, independent approach to education may be emerging; and it is all the result of the World Wide Web Internet revolution.

As pupils discover their own real interests. As they find that there is more to education than just being equipped for a ‘job for life’, so they are beginning to educate themselves. With access to the net they can find all the information they want. They can solve problems, create things in cyberspace, and relate to others with like interests around the world to further stimulate and satisfy these. When this happens teachers often find that many of their students get way ahead of imposed curricula which they feel hold no real significance for them. Some even have difficulty keeping up with their skills and knowledge. In these situations they are becoming more facilitators than teachers to students who have less and less need for conventional books, classrooms, or learning.

How to Address the Future

What then is the future for schools, colleges and universities? Has the emphasis on higher education been misplaced, especially when there remains a vast number of young people, and others, who lack the basic skills to join in this search for ‘self actualisation’. Should we be concentrating more on the ‘cradle’ rather than the grave end of individual development? And, whatever the answer, what type of teaching, teachers, buildings, equipment and so on are required? Should future society provide paid time for study at different stages of and points in our lives, and what for? What will our realm needs be?

Please add your views and suggestions to the “A Better Way to Universal Education” Forum, now