15 May 2011
18/05/11 14:10 Filed in: Goals of mathematics
This opinion piece was originally published in
The novel and movie, Never Let Me Go, paints a chilling picture of children whose destinies are determined from birth. Without spoiling the plot for anyone not familiar with it, the story revolves around a group of children who are educated to accept their roles in a society that treats (some) humans as commodities, bred only for the service of others.
Never Let Me Go is set in a fictional parallel world, but the rhetoric from England, far from being science fiction, suggests schooling there is heading towards the grooming of children for particular destinations.Education Secretary Michael Gove recently announced a new education league table for England, showing which state schools are preparing children to be "university-ready" — numbers of children going on to graduate with an honours degree. (Presumably everyone from a private school graduates with honours.)
Why not go further and shrink-wrap kids, slap on an "oven-ready" — oops, "university-ready" — label and ship them off? Any rejected as "non-university-ready" could be ground down and turned into "worker nuggets".
In the 20-odd years since the introduction of England's national curriculum (not the United Kingdom — no grudges against the Scots, Welsh or Northern Irish, please) the pressures on schools, parents and, particularly, children, have been worse than anyone predicted. As Australia gets set to have its own national curriculum, what might be learnt from England's follies?
A national curriculum on its own may be no bad thing. The rot sets in with the paraphernalia for measuring results and "standards". National testing is not evil but when the results were used to put England's schools into league tables, the mischief started. At middle-class dinner tables from London to Manchester, parents anxiously discuss whether they sent their children to the "right" school, or plot the "best" catchment area to move to. Parents without the savvy, mobility, or SUV to get the kids to school, are left with little choice and often with schools that go into a tailspin as their results drop.
Will data from My School become more public and a similar tiering of the education system develop in Australia?
Now, yet another review of England's national curriculum (new government, new curriculum) came with Mr Gove announcing that England had "sunk in international league tables and the national curriculum is substandard". One review panel expert declared the national curriculum "on the front line of the battle for the UK's future competitiveness". Ah, the Cold War may be a distant memory but England still has a battle to fight.
The saddest aspect in all the talk of "university-ready" children and global competition is the scant sense that education might provide a good experience for children and adolescents in the here and now. Everything is about getting them ready for the next stage — what the universities need, what the global economies want. Just like the youngsters in Never Let Me Go. What happened to thinking about what a six-year-old needs to be a six-year-old?
Of course Australia is more moderate, although the opening of the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians does state: "In the 21st century Australia's capacity to provide a high quality of life for all will depend on the ability to compete in the global economy on knowledge and innovation."
There is another way. As British academic Robin Alexander puts it, global perspectives are often "contra-national" rather than inter-national. Continuing to see the world in terms of trade and a need for local, national, economic supremacy may no longer be viable or sustainable. Rather than educating children to be global competitors, we would be better off helping them see themselves as global citizens, in the broadest sense of the moral obligation that carries.
Everyone can gain from a global education based on co-operation and collectivity rather than competition and supremacy. An education based on acknowledging that globally we are more interdependent than independent. An education working to help the world be united, not divided. That would be an education system to be proud of globally.
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