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Education sector

The issues:

  • A well-educated workforce is essential if any nation is to prosper in the global markets of today:
    • India’s university population is expected to rise from 12,000,000 to over 30,000,000 by 2020
    • Only some 2,500,000 study at university in the UK

 

  • Education productivity levels in the UK are not good – major reform is needed, from top to bottom – a huge waste of time, expensive facilities and opportunity exists at present, much because teachers’ interests appear to come before the kids’

 

  • According to Simon Milton of Westminster City Council, the sector has too many regulations, too many inspections and league tables and too many centrally-set targets – it should seek more from its assets, use facilities out of hours, get the right headmasters, let them lead, pay them better, and remove failing teachers quickly

 

  • Questions many ask are:
    • Why are kids sent home from school at 3pm each day or over 2 months each summer (once, to gather the harvest), many standing at street corners bored, when they could be learning to play instruments, sing, paint or play sports? – straightaway, there could be less need for expensive crèches and nursery schools or mothers staying at home to look after their kids
    • Why do degree courses last at least three years when two maximum would suffice for most – and nowadays cost kids a lot less?
  • Why do groups of universities not pool their resources, collaborate and specialise to become world class centres in a few specific subjects rather than average at best in all – then they could attract better staff, offer better lectures and attract better paying students?
  • Why are bad teachers, who fail our kids, not fired or given pay falls?
  • Why are most lessons/ lectures given using blackboards and textbooks when all books and learning materials should be digital and interactive – and make widespread use of top class teachers (as Harvard and MIT already do)?
  • Why do colleges and universities still offer qualifications in subjects of no use to business yet most graduates will seek work in business, not academia?
  • Why do top schools and universities not do more to sell their courses abroad:
    • “British education is revered across India” claims Anthony Seldon, Master of Wellington College – some like the Open University already do this
    • MOOCS = Massive Open Online Courses = free courses from top academics
  • And why not more university spin-out companies set up based on research, much like the enormous success of Stanford University in California – such businesses can be sold at a great profit, encouraging even more spend on universities’ R&D

 

Changes needed:

  • The fact is that most kids want to learn but the system and subjects they are forced to learn, because oldies say they’re good for them, stifle their enthusiasm

 

  • Schools should aim to be thought of as ‘cool’, but they battle the oxygen of the media – ‘Godfather’ and ‘Wall Street’ films make heroes out of losers in life who can’t hack it any other way – competition is not entertained but rubbed out or cheated with ‘insider dealing’ – deference and sycophancy towards such ‘bosses’ oozes in every scene, so kids aspire to get the same – merit comes out of the end of a gun or an ill-gotten trade – it’s the same as Olympic gold medal winners who cheat worthies out of their big moment by drug-taking – kids copy such scumbags

 

  • Despite kids clearly preferring to be with their own age group most of the time, they dislike school – they find most lessons boring or difficult to understand and homework tiresome – there’s too much forced study and too little fun and play

 

  • They seek knowledge to solve real life problems which answer their questions/ help them – then they’d enjoy it/ even find it uplifting and be curious to know more – in the process, they’d find out they could all do something well, and somethings better than others – the spark for their interest and life path starts there, at school

 

  • So what else to teach them – the same subjects as now but ‘brought alive’ by explaining their relevance to and, for many, their use in modern life – too often they’re dry and irrelevant

 

  • And, as important, how to teach them – what changes are needed?
    • Fun – excitement and challenge are lacking in the current curriculum
    • Thinking, not memorising – teaching is about opening eyes and minds – it’s about learning new useful stuff, questioning everything, finding answers and having a view – it’s not about learning by rote, ticking boxes and all thinking the same way
    • Setting – nobody can be good at everything but everybody can be good at something – setting lets kids feel more comfortable, increases the speed of the whole class and helps teachers identify and develop their ‘strengths’, and be rewarded when the kids blossom and return to thank them
    • Sport – more outlets and hours on the sports fields are needed to release their pent-up energy – otherwise it may be channelled into destructive activities
    • More competition and challenges in everything they do – look at the popularity of national talent competitions on TV – pop music (X factor), knowledge (Mastermind), dancing (Strictly), business (Apprentice, Dragons’ Den) – on top of the regular coverage of football, rugby or darts say
    • School holidays – stop them being so long – ‘poor’ kids perform just as well as ‘rich’ kids until the summer holidays when they fall behind because their parents don’t push them as much – and why not have two year undergraduate courses?

 

  • The above seems obvious, but it represents radical change – and that’s the problem

 

Let us reform our schools and we shall find little reform needed in our prisons  

                                                  John Ruskin, English social commentator, 1819-1900