Real Reform

25 Jul 2013

Politics Matters. 
Politics touches the lives of everyone everywhere and each should be able to influence and expert opinion on the issues that concern them the most. 

But education, perhaps, matters more.
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.


We clearly need improvements in our system of education, yet the fundamentals laid out by our much beloved Education Secretary advocate a maladroit plan of rigorous study that serves only to obfuscate the rudimentary issues at hand. Schoolchildren are 'completing' primary education unable to read and write, let alone understanding how to conceive the most basic of essays- a failure of the most intrinsic purpose of education.

Gove’s plan is like an army without any troops, neglecting to examine ides of conscription, instead opting for reforming the system of selecting generals; it doesn’t take an expert to see the shortcomings. Gove aims to turn the entire education system into an intense memory test, thinking it will close the education gap the leading nations are creating and sustaining. 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. Here, is insightful, genuine reform- much unlike Gove’s plan- which is 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 presiding over the drop of Britain in world education rankings. Also integral, 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, ever the realist, I understand that in these austere times huge expenses are not ostensibly viable. My rough, low cost suggestions are that we should 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, informal reports to ensure understanding.) The latter tackled through mental maths tests from year 3 and beyond; stimulating brain activity and growing confidence in using everyday maths functions (it’s awkwardly painful to watch teenagers relying on calculator and till to calculate the price and change of a venti latte and a brownie).

Maths should be streamlined 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. 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 for students if started at a young age. Group work could have the resultant effect of improved cooperation; role play could 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. 

The changes needed at secondary level are mainly a continuation of my proposed ideas for primary schools: encouragement of examination alternatives- speeches and informal oral tests. I’m living proof that sometimes students can’t 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.

Curriculum ‘Enrichment’ programmes are also fantastic at allowing students to dabble in areas they may otherwise not have- allowing for hidden talents to be revealed and perhaps giving new focus to a student’s interests. Making these compulsory for at least half an hour each day allows for not only informal expression and pursuit of new interests, but also builds friendships and permits a controlled cool-down from intense days of education. 

Now to the risky part of my education plan: the postgraduate subsidy for those willing to teach for 2-3 years in their practiced subject.  Perhaps a percentage of student debt could be cancelled; perchance government could put cash-in-hand of those probably self-described as ‘broke’. Either way, graduates giving back to education and communities can be incentivised, enabling quality teaching standards to continue in a positive educational cycle. Young pupils could have real tangible role models, not those 'two beautiful people in a Mercedes' which current social stigmas demand of them. For graduates it is fulfilling, could allow for experience to be gained and could lessen the pain of high graduate unemployment; an all-round solid plan, I think at least.

And so, I feel it safe to conclude by articulating that pretty much any education plan would be superior to the ideas of our cherished Education Secretary. 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, 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 elite could.

We must be progressive. 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. The ideas I surmised are a case-in-point that incremental reform can work and that the alienation of all parties is not a necessity in education reform. I hope Gove takes on board the concept and that we can promote progressive education in Britain. The existential core of our being, mental evolution, should be cherished and nurtured, not hunted and hounded.

By Adam Isaacs

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