richard pierce

richard pierce

10 May 2012

Raging against the machine of useless education

I know people think I'm an intellectual snob.

I know they think I use words that are too big for my mouth or even for the pages I write on.

And I know I am a school governor, though I write this note in my private capacity as a man who believes that education in this country has lost its way, totally and utterly, and thanks, in the main, to being politicised and not managed for the benefit of pupils, students or the future of this country (or the world, come to think of it).

Pupils are being asked to divest themselves of their critical faculties, to resign their right to learn, so that they can be coached to pass exams rather than to acquire knowledge. This is especially true in the humanities subjects, and, to a lesser degree in science. Not only that; the increasing modularisation of subjects (and exams) means that they lose the appetite to acquire knowledge, lose the hunger to read and absorb what they read.

It used to be that it was boys who didn't read because of peer pressure. Now girls have caught that bug, too, because they're not incentivised or empowered to read in order to form their own opinions. In exams, if the right buzzwords aren't in the right place for examiners to be able to tick their user-friendly tick boxes, it's a fail. What's the point of reading round a subject if you can't use the fruits of your own efforts, if you can't use knowledge you've built up as a part of your extracurricular reading? Would you read an additional book if you weren't allowed to bring those self-taught experiences and words into play in an exam?

Children are numbed to learning. The repetitiveness of the modules, the constant pressure of constant examinations, turns them into apathetic, bored and listless people. What they are asked to produce is devoid of aspiration. No longer is the achievement of intellectual excellence on the to-do list for schools. It's about ticking boxes, not about setting an example, not about trying to be the best in mind and spirit. Ridiculous.

And before anyone thinks I'm attacking schools - I'm not. I'm criticising the system run by power-hungry, greedy politicians out of touch with reality (and politicians of any colour). Take education away from politicians. Have it run by people with no vested interests, with no elections to contest, who are measured only by the heights of intellectual achievement reached, who are judged by the results of proper exams, exams that can be failed, and that can't be retaken.

In my usual style, I have, in the past, advocated that Maths and Science cease to be compulsory for any children over fourteen, but for a foreign language to be compulsory at least up to GCSE, if not to A Level. I still advocate that. I have been criticised for this approach. Why? If, in the eyes of those who disagree with me, it's wrong to compel children to study a language up to GCSE, what's right about forcing them to study at least two sciences and Maths up to GCSE? There's a disconnect there.

Sciences and Maths are important, but only for those who want to do them, those who want to be doctors and scientists, accountants or economists. On the other hand, communication in more than one language, and the understanding of other cultures, is something that we all should possess. Just because we live on an island, just because we used to have an empire, doesn't mean that we shouldn't speak another language. Speaking more than one language is the path to world peace.

I know that people think I'm naive.

I know that people disagree when I say intellectuals are more important than scientists.

I know people disagree when I say the world needs more philosophers not more scientists.

The point is - I'm right, and they're wrong.