The purpose of education is to create competent and efficacious individuals that can work accordingly to ensure personal survival and to continue growth of the economy. So could be the mantra of the capitalist pedagogical framework. Schools and universities have become feeder institutes for companies that need to assess swathes of the population swiftly to determine whether they will be competent for the role and for the company. Grades and institutions are often determinants for salary levels and professions. Divisions in society occur simply on the profession one chooses: a toilet cleaner is regarded as less valuable to society than a banker. They are also considered less smart.
International competition, and the focus on GDP growth, has meant that governments are often preoccupied with the state of education system. A damning report by the OECD on the state of basic numeracy and literacy skills found a skills shortage in Europe and the USA. In reading, more than one in five adults in Italy (27.7 per cent), Spain (27.5 per cent) and France (21.6 per cent) performed at or below the most basic level, compared with one in 20 Japanese and one in 20 Finns. Almost one in three adults in Italy (31.7 per cent), Spain (30.6 per cent) and the US (28.7 per cent) performed at or below the most basic level of numeracy, compared with around one in 10 in Japan, Finland and the Czech Republic.
England is victim of a troubling statistic. England ranked in the top three countries for literacy skills between 55-65 year olds but in the bottom three for 16-25 year olds. This is uncomfortable reading for the government especially as former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, policy platform was “education, education, education”. Investment and extensive changes of educational structures has made certain improvements but there has been much criticism about excessive testing and bureaucracy which has affected children’s creativity and teacher morale.
The overt focus on results and herding of students in class rooms to be lectured can be counterproductive. For one thing, education at the start of one’s life is not about lectures. Parents do not lecture; they guide as the child experiences the world around. The child observes and mimics and this assists in growth. A child benefits from absorption and subconscious ambition as well as awe of the world I was in.
This you see in most infants as they snoop, play, observe, and experience. Their minds are constantly on to the world around them. But by entering school, they are often strait jacketed. They are infused with a worldly purpose from an early age, and competitive divisions slowly appear. This has three potential consequences: firstly, less able students are dismissed or considered incapable; secondly, a degree of apathy may seep in amongst students towards the knowledge they are taught (how many students have regarded art and religious studies as valueless subjects) and finally, there are students that thrive.
Paradoxically, for policy makers, they need all three types of student otherwise it can be a burden on the system. Low skilled workers are needed for menial jobs; if workers all have a higher level of skills he/she will demand better quality jobs, which may not be available. But this misses the point. Education in the younger years should not be purposed towards career, but rather towards gaining an understanding of themselves and the world around them. To focus on GDP, competitive skill sets and league tables defeats the primordial purpose of education. Policy makers are trying too hard to create machines.
Education has to be valued on far more esoteric and personal terms then it is currently. Educating is culturally sensitive in that it is influenced by the culture that predominates around a child. So if education is seen as a means of grading rather than as a means of knowing for the sake of knowing, many students will rebel from a kind of classroom oppression. George Monbiot and the Wilderness foundation found that taking children out into nature can have huge repercussions on a child’s attentiveness and desire to learn. Similarly, if education is seen as only beneficial for the sake of earning money, then children and families will downgrade the value of certain subjects thereby disregarding its potential of understanding the world.
Education is also holistic in that governments, community organisations and families have to work together to ensure that different factors that could impact a child’s development is accounted for. For instance, father absence due to long hours at work could have adverse effects, or even parental compulsion may reduce the child’s creativity. There has to be a mutual and interactive relationship between parents and schools. Children when they are young have a remarkable ability to learn, but they should want to learn, and this requires different techniques and incentives. However, the starting point should not be to meet the grade, but rather to know. Then improvements in literacy and numeracy will occur naturally, and maybe there would not be any shame in being a toilet cleaner with a masters in economics.