WILL EDUCATION SET CHILDREN FREE?

A Learner-Lead Model of education may be a more productive option. To agree with history, or modern governance. Weighing up the debate…


With Covid-19 forcing UK schools to close until at least March, some MP’s and scientists are urging the Government to reopen them as soon as possible. What if they are wrong?

Compulsory schooling was brought into existence in the 1870’s. Sayings like “Children should be seen and not heard” took precedence, while behaviourism and fear of consequences took hold. Society, primarily religious beliefs, had come to rely on the obedient child being the perfect child, with education being the way to reinforce this. Schools became the nationally accepted way for children to be socially integrated and instructed. As with all things the Department of Education attempted to evolve with the needs of the country, but it was not until 2014 that a major overhaul occurred.

Albert Einstein’s belief that “Imagination is more important than knowledge

In a bid to become a country admired for its ability to raise a strong and appropriate future workforce, a new national school curriculum was implemented by Michael Gove; the then Education Secretary. He described it as a curriculum that provided “essential knowledge in key subjects”, consisting of rigour, high standards and elevated expectations on children to “match the curricula used in the world’s most successful school systems”.

These new educational standards have certainly made an impact however the primary blow has not been on creating a skilled workforce, but on the mental health of the pupils.

Where the evolution of education was proposed to build a resilient generation of workers, the NSPCC found that a massive 2,795 counselling sessions were provided in 2018/2019 for exam stress while preparing for G.C.S.E’s; a dramatic increase compared to previous years.

Further to this The Guardian prompted over 200 responses when they asked for readers views on what became termed ‘The Gove syllabus’. Most of the replies were negative, with some giving accounts of suicide attempts, mental breakdowns, and panic attacks.

The new curriculum expects 5 year olds to work out fractions and to know their times tables, two years earlier than previously required. With the emphasis being on knowledge rather than transferable skills, non-prescriptive, engaging and practical content has been radically removed.

Edgar William Jenkins wrote in The International Journal of Science Education that this narrowing has led to fewer activities and more lecturing. He states that the new programme of study is so inflexible that schools are unable to meet the needs of all pupils. Therefore, disregarding the importance of putting concepts into practice to enable retention and understanding.

While teachers and professors are disturbed by the focus on knowledge only learning, The Good Childhood Report 2020 shows that children’s happiness within school took a dramatic drop in the year 2014-2015, reinforcing that the program is not compatible with the young people of today.

Such concerns question whether education procedures have forgotten the joys and purity of childhood that once dominated the romantic era?


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By Janine White: Culture Editor


Jean-Jacques Rousseau told us not to reason with children, to let them learn by themselves, from nature, not in schools. He was a philosopher of childhood being a state that should be enjoyed for as long as possible. Where the infant has no future other than to be corrupted by society.

Lord Ashley and Dr Barnardo attempted to restore childhood to the state of happiness as described by Rousseau, Wordsworth and Blake; each a romantic; each a storyteller of the child who has been sent with innocence and compassion, each describing how an adult world can strip the purity away.

John Locke prescribed learning that is fun so that children can be “tenderly used… and have playthings.” With each child holding their “own ‘natural Genius and Constitution”.

The Gove curriculum destroys the ideal state of innocence and learning through play. Stripping away Albert Einstein’s belief that “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

While the UK is caught up in another lockdown some social scientists are calling on home educators to return to the idea that childhood is a time to be protected. They are encouraging parents not to focus on the work set by schools and to use nature as a learning opportunity. Here is where the nature versus nurture debate could be questioned. In some ways, the pandemic is allowing nature to dominate. Whereas if we look back in history, approximately 800 years ago, education was dominated by religion giving insight to the statement “children should be seen and not heard.”

Here this shows a contradiction as to whether decisions are being made in the child’s best interests or the adult needs of society at the time.

Many have adopted this return to the romanticised approach, with some parents recounting that they are letting the child guide what they learn each day. For example, finding birds in their natural surroundings and learning about them rather than the narrowly prescribed education provided by the school.

Additionally, 80% of parents who responded to a study by save on energy indicated that they were using lockdown to teach their children life skills that have been omitted from the school curriculum such as cooking and growing vegetables.

Is it possible that school closures for lockdown will remove the focus on our future workforce and return to Wordsworth’s poems of children being angels from heaven that are corrupted by society? If so, it has only taken 100 years to turn this theory into practice.


MACKAYAN: will education set children free?

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