Schooling : One Way Ahead
The state of our education has long occupied many minds, and was recently addressed by a leading think tank, the Institute for Profound Thought. On reaching the end of its tether, the IPT passed the matter to Sir Bertram Utterside, former professor of social studies at one of Britain’s leading universities. Arguably the country’s most prestigious academician, the great gownsman is well known for taking little account of sensitivities and has frequently infringed the tenets of political correctness. Those of delicate disposition are reminded that some of Sir Bertram’s ideas are not for the squeamish – what better way of ensuring that you read on? His observations are given verbatim below:
This is one of the less difficult questions with which I have been presented, so I am able to be brief, which is a good thing for me, as I charge a flat fee for my reports, so the rate per word for shorties is gratifying. A little while ago, I heard one of my old sparring partners, Sir Percival Stropes – he now runs some ramshackle automotive outfit – indicate that he was complacent about our position. I do not agree. We shall continue to decline, so long as our main competitors produce scientists, engineers and tradespeople, while we turn out historians, media students and estate agents. We cannot sustain ourselves on the basis of studying the past and present, and selling each other houses at increasingly absurd prices.
Whenever I think of learning, I am reminded of two observations. The first, made by W.B. Yeats, was that education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. The second, by Mark Twain, was that he never let his schooling interfere with his education. I would like to add my small contribution, which is that society should not waste teaching resources on those who don’t want to learn. Anyone who wishes to join a sub-culture of ignoramuses should be allowed to do so. I have no more to say about that.
My solution to the overall problem will probably prove controversial. First, I propose that we abandon the idea of universal compulsory free education. I believe that the only legal requirement should be for parents or guardians to be interviewed by the head of their local school, who would point out the advantages on offer, while stressing that good behaviour must be a prerequisite, any significant offences being punishable by expulsion, a step which should be left to the discretion of the principal of the school concerned. Pastoral care should not be any part of the teachers’ duties, nor should they seek to arrogate to themselves any such role. Any child failing to toe the line would have to be submitted to the care of a body outside the mainstream system. This takes care of the primary and secondary stages.
Now to my proposal for the tertiary level. I suggest that we dismantle our university system. Cry ‘horror’ if you will, but note that the institutions concerned are not doing a good job. The premises they occupy could be converted into thousands of dwellings, in an operation that would do much to alleviate our housing problem – lateral thinking, you see. There is a double benefit here, in that a vast number of houses and flats currently occupied by students would be made available to the general population because those in third-level education would get tuition close to their homes, so would not need other accommodation.
How is this to be achieved? Quite easily. It is merely a question of extending the hot-desking now practised in commerce and industry, whereby people work at different times in the same places. It is well known that many university students lie abed until early afternoon and are not ripe for learning until they have taken some bodily nourishment. There is no sound reason why they should not occupy the spaces vacated by the primary and secondary pupils, who could start earlier than at present and move on to other activities after, say, 2.00 p.m. This is simple shift work. As for the tutors, they live largely in a dream world, so it should not matter to them whether they are on duty in the mornings, afternoons or evenings, so long as their ‘ker-ching’ factor is not impaired – and with the arrangements I envisage, they would not lose in this respect. Also, this second shift would finish in time for night school to start at about 7.00 p.m.
It has been suggested that 50% of secondary scholars should proceed to university. Does anyone know how many of them are capable of absorbing a genuine tertiary curriculum? If the bar is to be ever-lower, the figure could be 100%. When I was a university student, it was less than 5%. Of course we can get to 50% – or any other level – if we adjust the standards commensurately. What good will that do?
I recommend that third-stage tuition be provided free in the subjects requiring a reasonable degree of rigour. By this I mean the sciences, broadly considered but excluding economics – a virtually useless pseudo-discipline – plus perhaps languages. I have no objection to arty types pursuing other courses, so long as they do so without making demands on the public purse.
There can be little doubt that the implementation of my proposals would lead to a great improvement in our education. Being a broad-brush man, I have not covered every detail. Should a supplementary report be required, I would be happy to produce one – for a further charge.
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