Look Left and Right - but it's pupils themselves who should set course of education

We need a more flexible system that allows young people to pursue their talents

Share
Related Topics

As a rule of thumb the least enlightened views on education tend to be expressed by people who thoroughly enjoyed their experience at school. Those who excelled in a traditional classroom environment are often unable to relate to those who didn’t (the majority). They typically ascribe the failure of their peers to bad teaching, individual laziness or the absence of an abstract concept like “rigour” or “creativity”.

It is a curious and unfortunate fact that whilst those who thrive academically are in a small minority of the population, it is their voice which invariably comes to dominate the entire discourse on how we should educate our children. Those on the right, like Michael Gove, argue we have lost our way and need to return to Victorian era values of discipline, rote learning and individual pupil responsibility. Liberal commentators and Labour party sympathisers shout back that we should be progressing away from repetition and rules, towards a more creative learning environment which also caters for less intellectual children.

The result is an educational pendulum continually swinging between two farcical models, both of which fail to accept and incorporate a fundamental truism; that children are not homogenous and there is a huge variation in the way different individuals learn best. This is seldom mentioned because it is inconvenient for almost everyone in charge. Politicians favour a curriculum which takes little work, both in research and implementation. Those in industry support any curriculum which will produce obedient workers who require minimal investment and training. The resulting system conforms to the interests of both parties and in so doing neglects those of the children.

Few commentators question the extent to which education should mirror the needs of industry. There is no doubt that a modern society requires engineers, scientists and arguably even bankers. It follows that our education system should cater for these needs. What I question, however, is why all children must be subjected to a curriculum which in the great majority of cases utterly fails to encourage the pursuit of individual talent.

To give an example, I am not convinced that every child should be forced to learn algebra. It is not that I am closed to the idea, rather I have yet to be provided with concrete examples that demonstrate why such knowledge is of extreme importance outside of the professions which use it. That is not to doubt its usefulness, but it is worth asking whether children who do not display an aptitude or interest in algebra, as I didn’t, would not profit more from focusing their energies elsewhere, as I believe I would have.

Children should be encouraged early on to discover what they enjoy and are good at

A common mistake is to put all of the elements which make up the core subjects (maths, English and science) into the same category of essentiality. Whilst I agree it is vital that all children learn to read, write and acquire basic numeracy skills, I do not accept that it is equally essential for them to be well versed in the works of Chaucer. What I propose is that children be encouraged early on to discover what they enjoy and are good at, and be given the tools to explore their interests further. It is, of course, possible to go too far in this direction, and it must be remembered that all children need some structure and guidance in order to learn. But the success of schools which facilitate learning without rigid curriculums and obsessive examination can provide us with a good source of inspiration.

The Montessori approach, devised in the early 1900s by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori, is famous for allowing young children unusually high levels of freedom to choose and explore subjects they are interested in, whilst encouraging collaboration over competition. In 2006, a US study published in the journal Science found that children attending Montessori schools outperformed their peers at traditional schools across a range of abilities including social skills, numeracy and literacy. Under Labour, the number of private Montessori schools in the UK was expanded, and a struggling primary in Manchester achieved impressive results after becoming the first state school to adopt the philosophy. But rather than transform every underachieving state school into a Montessori school, a more realistic approach would be to incorporate some of the radical methods that work into the national curriculum.

The challenge is to create a system that equips pupils with essential skills, but offers genuine variety and choice in its methods and materials. One that will still produce engineers, in which children who display an aptitude for algebra are encouraged to pursue their talent. But equally one in which children are not made to feel stupid for failing to solve simultaneous equations, and are instead rewarded for identifying and developing their aptitudes. Such a system might help reverse the pressures on education from industry, and conversely force the corporate world to adapt to the individual abilities of children.

The degree to which this is possible may be reasonably questioned, and it may even be deemed incompatible with a capitalist economy. But if we regard education as valuable in itself, and are properly concerned at the overwhelming number of children and adults whom education has failed, we must be willing think radically in the pursuit of alternatives. The more we avoid doing so, the more our schools will resemble what Noam Chomsky once aptly described as “a system of indoctrination of the young.”

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Supply Teacher - Loughborough

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Teacher looking fo...

Primary General Cover Teachers

Negotiable: Randstad Education Leicester: Are you a Newly Qualified Teacher lo...

Part Time Primary Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Part Time Primary TeacherOur...

Science Technician

£7 - £8 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: The Job:School Science Technici...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Ballots arrive to be counted at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre during the Scottish referendum in Aberdeen  

Scottish referendum: The pain that was inflicted on family and friends by David Cameron’s narrow politics

Andrea Calderwood
 

Scottish referendum: The people of my country have brought a catastrophe upon themselves by voting No

Simon Brooke
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week