What should be the role of government in education? Do politicians and civil servants have any special skills or abilities that makes them uniquely well placed to determine what’s right for the education of a nation’s children? When governments do run education, do they do a good job of it? What would be the results if they let educators get on with education without hindrance?
These are all questions that would probably see the majority of people concluding that government should get out of the way. However, instead the world over they continue to behave as though the citizenry are dangerously misguided fools whose children need the protection of their wisdom and involvement. Along with that, they plainly think that educators are a bunch of dangerous reactionaries who need to be kept under very firm control.
A classic example of the problems has appeared in the last few days in England. The Cambridge Primary Review has been carrying out vigorous research over the last 6 years. I’ve met a couple of the educators involved – certainly no reactionary fools, these. Amongst the conclusions of their report are that ‘formal teaching’ of younger children should not commence until they are 6 years of age. This would bring England in to line with much of Europe, where young children only commence formal schooling at age 6 or 7.
However, the immediate response of the British government has been a telling one;
“England’s schools minister Vernon Coaker said the government was already reforming primary education to make the curriculum less prescriptive and free it up for teachers.
He added: “A school starting age of six would be completely counter-productive – we want to make sure children are playing and learning from an early age and to give parents the choice for their child to start in the September following their fourth birthday.”
The review also questioned the educational values of SATs – regular tests taken by children at the ages of 7, 11 and 14 in England, but their reason for doubting was fascinating;
“Our expert group on assessment said it would be a backward step to scrap English and maths tests at 11 and we are piloting a School Report Card, which will give parents a far broader picture of how schools are doing.”
In other words, in the eyes of the Minister testing of children and producing report cards has nothing to do with partners working together to enable each child to fulfil their potential. Oh no, these are to check up on the schools and make sure they’re doing their job properly. Which job are they to be doing and what does ‘properly’ look like? Well, it’s the job the government says they are supposed to be doing and the measures that work will only be the ones that they can test for easily and do comparisons.
So, sorry children, but you have to keep taking these tests because government doesn’t trust educators. They must be checked and regulated as a bunch of reactionary trouble makers and if the children doing tests is the only way, then so be it!
So, is there any evidence that these approaches are producing great education and young people emerging in to the world after education well prepared to contribute to the world, to be and to do all they are capable of? Irrelevant question, apparently.
There are many things which result from such approaches; teachers teach to the assessment process, especially when that’s the basis on which they and their school will be judged. Teachers push through every means possible to make these assessments easy so that they increase their chances of success. Never mind that this fails to stretch the most gifted of students.
Here in India right now these are very valid questions to be talking about. We have an HRD Minister in Mr Kapil Sibal who is prepared to open up the debates nationally about what kind of an education system we need in the twenty first century. I am often saddened that here in India there are painfully few people engaged in the kind of rigorous research represented by the Cambridge Primary Review in an Indian context.
However, if we can build such a high quality research base in India it will be vitally important that we give the findings of such research their due respect. Not, like the government in England, reject it all because it doesn’t fit with their ways of working.
There is an old saying that “If they can’t learn the way we teach, then we must teach the way they learn.” Maybe we can make a new version of this, “If they can’t educate the way we govern, then we must govern to suit the way they educate.”
Filed under: Assessment, Educators of tomorrow, Life, Our Environment, School, Teaching Practice | Tagged: age 6, Assessment, Cambridge Primary Review, early learning, education research, England, formal teaching, government, India, Kapil Sibal, SATs | Leave a comment »