The questions raised in yesterday's article were how to find solutions to today's problems, how to provide a meaningful education and deliver material for the work market with appropriate skills and how to create a viable economic model which takes into account the needs of all our citizens, not just a chosen few.
In today's article, we look at education and ask how adequate the systems are.
Human Development Index Part II: Our education
Incredible as it may seem, the gains made in the last centuries in terms of human development are now under threat. A universal quality education is no longer a reality, universal and free healthcare has become a business, dental care a luxury. Getting a job these days is a dream and not a birthright, keeping it a drama and as for buying a house, forget it.
The solution must start at the beginning, with education, in the classical sense of the word "e-ducare" meaning "leading out" from childhood to the workplace and this means there must be some interactivity between the two areas (schools/universities and the work market) so that the left hand can know what the right hand is doing.
Regarding professional life, globalization, robotization and computerization have killed the "job for life" precept, resulting in education programmes these days catering for the same needs as, say, the 1970s when the reality in the work market has moved forty years ahead. Hence the "Master in Anthropology" student, complete with piercings, ear-rings and green hair, complaining "But I can't get a job". Today, he is not only unemployed, but unemployable.
To create a basic education programme (primary and secondary education) you need a plan and twelve years. You do not have to cut out everything that exists from the old programme because most of it is valid but you do need to tailor it and make it relevant to today's
The programme should be flexible, taking into account the reality and needs of pupils in multi-racial and multi-ethnic societies and it should be practical, teaching skills as well as providing information, developing the capacity to reason and to use the imagination. Here,
most education systems have failed miserably.
Go into a baker's shop these days (if you can find one) and say you want to buy ten dozen bread rolls at ten cents each, and see if the assistant can work the bill out in his/her head, without a calculating machine, and even with one, see if the result is not "one dollar", "one dollar twenty" or "one hundred and twenty dollars" (delivered by three puzzled and frowning assistants). (Yes, this is a true story from November 2011).
The modern view of education is based around an approach whereby the pupil plays and entertains him/herself, following Pink Floyd's message "Hey teacher! Leave the kids alone!" The result is classrooms full of young people texting each other, chattering about inanities, such as the latest soccer scores, or else informing the teacher on day one of classes "Hey, if you annoy me I will tell my father and he will come here and sort you out" (coupled with a sinister stare).
Attacks on primary school teachers are rising across the so-called "developed" world, whereas misbehaviour in the classroom in most African countries is considered shocking and is practically unheard of. I repeat: It does not usually happen. This horrendous reality across Europe and North America is the result of soft tactics which have taken authority away from the teaching staff and the school authorities while simultaneously with the mother working there is no authority at home, and so with an absence of symbolic weight to act as a counterbalance, power has been passed to the child - who was never, in any society, supposed to wield it.
That is why the teacher is in many cases regarded as a superfluous appendage who happens to stand in the classroom, "annoying" the pupils and getting in the way of the important things they have to do, such as playing around, texting, using electronic messenger programmes or playing video games.
A new approach should start right at the beginning with parenting contracts. If a parent decides to bring a child into society then the parent has obligations to and within that society and the main one at the beginning (apart from bringing up a happy and balanced and stimulated individual) is socialising the child for the classroom. The rest of the contract is easy to visualise.
The antidote is perfectly simple. Year One of primary school is not difficult to draw up, catering for varying societal vectors originating from multi-ethnic and societies while teaching the Four Rs - Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and what is Right and Wrong. If English is the international language, it makes sense to start teaching it right at the beginning of the programme and why not adopt a multi-disciplinary linguistic approach (English language classes across the board, in arithmetic, sciences and so on, together with the L1 - mother tongue)?
Year One is not for the pupil to threaten the teacher, it is for the School to draw up clear rules which the pupil follows or else is thrown out unceremoniously. If a Club is larger than a team and if a team is larger than a player, then a class is bigger than a screaming brat and a school's reputation more important still. If rules are clear and are implemented firmly and fairly, there is no need for corporal punishment of children. There is also no place for the disruption of a class. Neither can a parent hold a teacher to ransom. For these trouble-makers: "Clear off to somewhere else". And that may very well be a military-style school that caters for the whims and caprices of screaming anti-social and psychopathic brats...and their parents. In the good old days, for those nodding in approval, it was called a GULAG (correctional institution).
Part of the onus is on the parent, part of the onus is on the pupil and part of the onus is on the educational programme. If students come out of school at 18 years of age not even knowing the tables, then perhaps it would be a good idea to reintroduce them from the beginning. Learning by rote appears to have been sidelined as "violent" towards children but my generation was able to cite within one second what was 9x8, 8x12 or 13x11 and apply the skills learnt in mental arithmetic to practical situations such as buying ten dozen bread rolls at 10 cents apiece.
My generation was also brought up to respect exams as a test, not as an instrument of torture and we accepted that the end-of-year exam was a logical part of the sequence from year one through to the end of secondary school. Those who studied, passed. They did not need "counselling" (rolleyes).
As Year One progresses, the planners can prepare Year Two and so on and in twelve years, you have a new programme.
The modern approach got rid of the professional schools, whereby children came out of secondary education with a trade and fitted into the workplace easily. It is difficult to imagine what was wrong with this but the working teenager has been replaced with the modern teenager who cannot read, cannot spell, cannot write, cannot add up and apparently cannot take orders or pay attention. Why? Because he/she has been playing around for twelve years.
At some stage, the school should be integrated with the work market, not to provide child labour or slave labour but to give children/students a taste of real life outside school, allow them to see the relevance of their educational programmes, giving them a more holistic and balanced approach to their studies and the application of the knowledge they are acquiring and also, permitting students and planners alike to complete the first step of what the entire process is supposed to do, namely providing material for the workplace.
Why send thirty thousand students a year to law school then there is a surplus of lawyers and when a law graduate will probably be found painting walls badly, when again there is an absence of Painters who know how to paint and prepare a surface for painting, properly?
Integrated Universities and Higher Education Institutions
For those who wish to continue their studies beyond secondary education (duly trained in professional courses, many would not need to), then the Higher Education stage should be even better integrated into the work market. With the community involved in the University, it would be easier to use the facility in consultancy or practical projects which would be paid, therefore easing the financial burden on the Institution. With an enlightened and more flexible fiscal policy, companies could be encouraged to provide financing in return for trained and skilled workers, whose education would be perfectly tailored to the dictates of the job requirement.
Work and study programmes
The "job for life" is these days a dinosaur and with the extinction of this precept goes also the idea that a worker can come out of University, start work and stay in the job with the same academic/professional skills without training. In a world in which technology is developing apace, surely it makes sense to have an ongoing training process, involving the companies and the Institutions, further interlinking them, providing financing and providing human material perfectly adapted to the work market at any given time?
Where there is a will, there is a way.