Odd By-products of the Industrial Model of Education

I’ve written articles earlier on the oddity of the fact that we educate all children according to their biological age, using strict cut off dates to reinforce. One of the main reasons that educators are forced to apply the cut-offs strictly is because, sadly, parents can sometimes get motivated to seek bad and worrying outcomes for their children for the wrong reasons.

I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked as an educational institution head to accept an admission in a class higher than the logical one for the child’s age or to give ‘double promotion’ to a child. The arguments parents use vary, but most come down to a perception that their child has special attributes that mean it would be worthless to put them in a class with their age peers. I recall one father demanding his son should be promoted from Class 1 to class 3 because “he’s read all the Class 2 textbooks and found them easy” (!) Of course, the biggest worry there is what the parent perceives is the purpose of education/ going to school – you go to a building for 200 days a year, progress through a series of books, absorbing and memorizing the content, then emerge ‘educated’.

To me, there’s a more disturbing issue underlying such requests that entails an inability to see time, and more particularly the time of a child’s life or even their formative years stretched out as a full continuum. Instead, the parent is seeing no further than the immediate. I’m sure as well that he longed to be able to boast to family and friends about what a ‘prodigy’ his child was.

So, I wish more parents had read and deeply thought about issues pertaining to the real purposes of education and research that is done that holds clues about how a child can gain most from the educational process. Earlier, I shared some work from Malcolm Gladwell from US that highlighted statistically and starkly the risks for children (in academics and sport) of being amongst the youngest in their class.

Now, here’s an interesting BBC article highlighting recent UK research on the same subject:

BBC Article

Going back to the father I mentioned earlier, I finished up almost pleading with him to think of his son’s whole childhood as something other than/ more significant than a competitive race to ‘get ahead’. Children in almost every country take their key competitive exams between the age of 15 and 18 that will determine their access to further education. For boys this is even more dangerous because of the evidence of how they mature slower than girls during these years. Even IF the boy was a child prodigy at age 6, who can know what his maturity level will be, growing up studying amongst children all at least a year older than him. Will he have the maturity to do what he has to to succeed at those critical exams? What price will he pay if he doesn’t? And, of course, if it’s concluded after 5 years that the double promotion was a mistake, reversing it will never be considered an option!

Until we reach a point where who learns what isn’t related to age (or even a finite process), then we have to protect children from these kinds of risks. Gamblers know if something has little scope on the upside, but lots of risk on the downside – those are bad odds and it’s better to keep away.


4 Responses

  1. I agree with that you did with that father. Long term view is more important than near term, considering its your child.

    I am one such case.

  2. I agree with your blog. It is generally observed that in lower classes students do perform well ( below 6th standard). There is no guarantee the child shall perform better in higher classes. Lets not impact on sudden gain.

  3. I wanted to write down my comments before reading the BBC article. I sometimes fear that I am not “driving” my son to ambition by repeatedly telling him that school simply educates you to live life meaningfully and marks dont matter in the ultimate analysis. He needs to understand physics to know how his car is being driven; his maths to know if his business is making a profit/loss; his geography to know if its going to be cold or hot in December at a particular place; history to know how it defines his present and so on.

    I seem to be oversimplifying the impact of school education, I know, but he and I are constantly being badgered unwittingly or otherwise by the achievements of extraordinary kids in his class in terms of marks in the cycle tests.There are times I buckle under their onslaught and goad my son to do better, especially when he tells me about how some of his peers make fun of his modest test scores, but better sense prevails soon after and I reiterate to him that I neither want him to preen at the top nor wallow at the bottom of the class. All I want him to do is stay below the teacher’s radar which those at the top and bottom can’t escape and make sure he understands what is being taught in class. Perhaps even expecting this is a type of demand on the child and I have my upbringing to blame for it.

    A kid with extra-ordinary social skills, high EQ and better than average IQ which neccessarily does not translate into a mention in the Class Honours list, I look forward to him becoming an integral person and an oustanding student of life rather than an outstanding marks machine. Now I shall read the article and see what it has to say.

    • I agree, when others (students and parents) are hellbent on turning education in to a competitive event, as though it’s a battle for finite resources in which you have to grab ‘the biggest share’ it’s really tough and takes courage to hold the line around what you believe to be right.
      There are many ways in which we work to make our children ‘independent thinkers’, but especially in teenage years the need to conform and fit in is so pervasive that not ‘playing the game’ can be quite fear provoking for some children.
      I’ve personally been concerned in our school when i came to know that students given awards for ‘progress’ and ‘effort’ see these as booby prizes – a way of saying that they weren’t worth a real award. I would like to see the day when this situation is reversed.
      If I’m typically a 50-60% student, but score 70%, to me that’s a far bigger deal than if I’m typically an 85-90% student who scores 86%. Further, even that doesn’t begin to reflect all the other things I’ve achieved.
      I came across a great system for PTMs based around ‘process folios’ (note not portfolios). The idea is that the student would create their process folio selecting work that they believe best reflects their process of learning and progress of the reporting period. Then, the student would present this in a meeting with the teacher and parents – here’s what i was doing at the beginning of the year. Then I learned, x, y and z, practiced a, b and c and these have resulted in these three pieces of work I’ve done recently.
      To me this is a far better reflection of the kind of effort we want students to focus upon, clear understanding that progress is down to me, my effort and is continuous in nature.
      Incidentally, when i get the time i’ll be posting a piece on effort vs outcomes.

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