UK Education – for ages been and gone?

Somewhere between all the chaos of the Ebola virus and the on-going battle with Isis that is splashed across our newspapers, sometimes I feel we forget that the UK and other wealthy nations are also in need of implementing some progressive reforms. This is not a time for a compare and contrast between richer/poorer, developed/underdeveloped – Britain has its own fair share of issues, in welfare, the environment and importantly, education.

Recently, I have been captivated by Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talks on education. If you haven’t had a chance to watch them, do. Robinson combines witticisms with some amazingly revealing, if not terrifying observations of the western education system. In a recent YouTube video, Robinson with RSA Media highlighted the fundamental problems with the current system of education; namely that it is extremely out-dated and alienates millions of children.

Robinson argues that our education system was ‘driven by an economic imperative of the time’, meaning the needs and beliefs from the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ and the industrial revolution. The Age of Enlightenment began in Western Europe during late 17th century and revolutionised human thinking. European society began to supersede tradition and faith with scientific and academic knowledge. Today we can still see the effects of this conversion. British schools still cling to the widely accepted hierarchy of subjects: maths, science and English, with the creative subjects firmly at the bottom, which reflects the rationality of the enlightenment period.

Secondly, Robinson makes the uncomfortable, but noteworthy comparison that schools are modelled on factories. Essentially, Britain originally created our education model to ‘manufacture’ citizens to be suitable factory employees that would maintain the progression of the national economy or academics that would form the ruling elite. This is a broader, Marxist approach to education, but Robinson notes details such as the school bell to start the day, the rows of children like on the factory floor and interestingly, how children are taught in ‘batches’, which assumes that ‘the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are’.

And we can see this in practice. The UK’s school curriculum is narrow and inflexible, based on standardised and testing and based on a hierarchy of subjects that I mentioned earlier. It is no coincidence that as the world places more and more emphasis on science and technology, schools and universities use an unequal amount of funding for the same departments, often leaving the arts and humanities with a lack of resources. But without humanities where would we be? I would not refute the importance of science and technology in the modern world, but as globalisation takes hold, humanities and an understanding of human culture and history that it brings, is essential to our progression.

I also feel reform is needed simply because of the way the current curriculum can make people feel. The UK does offer alternative school structures such as Steiner schools or home schooling. However, from my own experience, such methods face enormous amounts of stigma. Children that have attended Steiner schools who are then placed in mainstream education that may possess different skills to state educated pupils are often made to feel stupid and backward as creative abilities, which are nurtured in holistic Steiner education, are overlooked in the current system. These are children that have grown to be successful and dynamic individuals, but were once considered simply ‘not academic’ and consequently not worth as much attention.

In a world that is becoming universal as cultures and nations are intermingled, homogeneity is not what we should be seeking. On the contrary, dynamism and creativity is exactly what we need to adapt and compete in the system of globalisation. Importantly, it is our education system that should be the first point of call as it is these structures that have the ability to foster the future generations that will be at the forefront of this global revolution.

Rosie Wigmore

Rosie is the Development Editor for The Atlas Times. She is currently studying for her MA in Social Development at the University of Sussex. Her research has been based in Sierra Leone and more recently medical anthropology and the politics of disease and bio-security.


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