Well, is anyone surprised? That Britain, hobbled by a ludicrous, outdated and immoral educational “system” is falling behind the rest of the world. Our children can’t read and they can’t add up. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) compared standards achieved by more than half a million 15-year-olds in 65 countries. We did pretty badly: 26th in maths, 23rd in reading and 21st in science. A dire report for a country which gave the world its current lingua franca. According to one commentator on the Today programme, we are fast on the way to becoming a “banana republic”.
Frankly, I don’t think these statistics are very astonishing, given that we sanction a set-up wherein 9 per cent of our children are creamed off, thanks to the depth of the parental wallet, for Rolls-Royce treatment, while the remaining 91 per cent must fight it out in the wilderness.
Not all state schools are rubbish. Not all private schools are first-class. But given such a groaning chasm, it is obvious that after a few decades, quite a lot of pupils in one system will be woefully behind quite a lot of pupils in the other. Anyone who has watched even 10 minutes of the remarkable TV series Educating Yorkshire will see what teachers in the state sector are often faced with. Children who don’t have any faith in their own intelligence, because the British system, founded as it is on inequality, has no faith in them either.
Michael Gove and the rest of them can bring in all the plans they like, but all they are doing is reordering a pile of rubble. How can British state-educated children believe in their potential when they see that the majority of respected adult jobs – politicians, lawyers, doctors, scientists, historians, academics and yes, even journalists – go to those in the private sector? Talk about a disincentive.
Meanwhile China and the rest are streaking ahead of us. Maybe a bit of communism wasn’t such a bad thing after all. At least in China there seems to be the notion that every child has potential; not just the ones with wealthy parents. It’s not just confined to Asia. Once Africa gets its population educated, it will fly.
Here’s just one development that shows why. It involves a British company called EuroTalk which has been pioneering the teaching of maths and literacy, via tablets and specially devised apps, in primary schools across Malawi. Its CEO, Andrew Ashe, has recently had an assessment from Nottingham University which found that children who had used iPads with EuroTalk’s “Maths Intervention” programme tripled their level of maths knowledge and concepts in just eight weeks. The software will now be donated to all of Malawi’s 5,300 primary schools and every one of Malawi’s 5 million children.
Watch out, says Ashe. Once they have the education, children in countries like Malawi won’t be held back. “Technology will be transformational for them. We will see them logging on to courses at Harvard and Oxford. Centres of excellence will be able to address them. People can’t see it, but I know it will happen.”
How long does our educational system need to founder, dragging its feet, with successive rebranding and reinvention attempts before it takes a brave Secretary of State to actually deliver the coup de grace and save our children from falling even further behind.
Remove the laughable misnomer of “charitable” status from private schools, which allows them to avoid tax. Start giving children at state schools a helping hand, with legal quotas for Russell Group universities. Re-think the curriculum which seems to be founded on Victorian classroom staples such as memorised times tables, and see what is going on in classrooms in Shanghai, Bangkok – and Malawi. There we will see how children are using, and benefiting from technology. Stop thinking that British education is the best in the world. It isn’t. This week’s statistics show what many parents have been thinking for a long time. It is fast becoming the worst.
Dickens inspiration in the back of a cab
Now that the festive spirit and the Cadbury’s Advent Calendar is here, it’s time to raise a glass to the man who effectively invented Christmas – Charles Dickens. In Southwark the other day, travelling in a black cab, I remarked to my driver on the delightful array of roads named after Dickensian characters. I mentioned that I had just finished reading, via copious bouts of weeping, A Tale of Two Cities, to one of my children. “Well I am just about to start on A Christmas Carol,” announced the cabbie. “I read it every Christmas.” That does it. I’ve got my school copy. I’m lining up the offspring and we are starting tonight.