“Mankind is in the middle of a revolution which has every prospect of making a more significant impact on our way of life than did the Industrial Revolution….. The end of the twentieth century is the mind stretching age of technological change; the ingenuity of mankind seems able to open doors that we hardly knew existed”. And we are unsure, even frightened; perhaps we retreat into holding on even tighter to that which we know and leave others to think out, if they dare, where all this is leading.
The purpose of this paper is to help us to dare. To look at the changes which are already becoming obvious and to listen to those who can see a little further than us at what further changes are possible. Then to see how best the curriculum and attitudes of schools can prepare our present students for a lifetime most likely to stretch more than half way into the 21st Century.
There have, of course, been technological revolutions in the past, as there have been scientific discoveries, which have reshaped in relatively short periods of time, the way mankind has thought and lived. These changes have had unpleasant side effects but in a short time have brought undreamed of benefits to the people of their day. The reinvention of printing in Europe made possible the rapid spread of ideas, but it put out of work the longhand copyists of manuscripts. The agricultural revolution put – and still puts – the small farmer out of business but made the land capable of supporting a greatly increased number of mouths; starvation became less of an annual threat over increasing areas of the world. The various parts of the Industrial Revolution drove out many a happy and self-respecting craftsman, filled factories with labourers working under conditions closely resembling broiler houses, but opened up a way, and a standard, of life for the masses undreamed of earlier by any other than the very rich. We often forget the ‘speed’ with which this has all happened; it is possible, indeed probable, that somewhere in an old persons home or hospital today is someone whose grandparents were alive at the time of the Battle of Trafalgar (a 93 year-old person born of a 45 year-old father who himself had been born 45 years earlier) or was alive in the 18th Century.
If the agricultural revolution removed much of the threat of starvation the coming of iron, steel and steam in the last century gave man resources of energy infinitely in excess of his own muscle power. Mass production, rapid forms of transport and massive public water and sewage works changed living styles more within a generation than had previous centuries.
For the majority of the population, well into the 19th Century, life must have involved a simple philosophy of basic survival. Life and work were synonymous; no work meant no food ….. and for most this direct work was the production of food. With limited capabilities for preserving foods, particularly meat, work and food was a daily equation and the ‘hungry mouths’ of midsummer seeming a grim reality. Holydays were, indeed, the only ‘holidays’ and the concept of recreation and leisure pursuit unknown to all but the very rich. Life in urban areas had, of course, a greater variety but for most the maintenance of even a simple lifestyle meant long hours of hard physical labour. Satisfaction, it would seem, had a simple base. For the skilled craftsmen of many centuries the skills which he possessed gave him a rarity value that probably removed him just a little from the sweat and toil of the farm labourers and enabled him to take a conscious pride in his product. To the craftsman his work was essentially interesting and challenging; his products something which he felt that he ‘owned’, because it was his own creation. The draftsman was unhurried … he probably did not see, because he did not want to see, a period of enforced idleness where he could do what he wanted. The industrial workers of the 19th century were drawn from an ever increasing area of the country into the mines and the factories of the industrial cities. Mass produced furniture, cloth, clothing and almost all items of household use poured forth at a speed and a cost with which no craftsman could compete; but the making of these goods gave precious little creative satisfaction to the workers serving these machines. The wealth so created was being spread a little more broadly across society and the new life style which this brought was the more visible. Workers looked at their wages in terms of their ability to support their families and, perhaps one day, to buy some of that privileged life experienced by others. The craft ethic was nearly exterminated by the Industrial Revolution, but the work ethic (the Protestant Work Ethic which flowered in the nonconformity of the new industrial areas and took its text from the parable of the talents) took over. Work was what dignified man; idle hands were to be punished. A man’s status was the job which he held and which he struggled to preserve and pass on to his children and children’s children. To be poor was a measure of failure, to be rich a sure indication of walking with God (the vast ‘palaces’ erected by successful mill owners in Lancs. and Yorks. were often decorated with stained-glass windows depicting saints who, in real life, would have prophesised against the methods used to create the wealth which made these palaces possible).
The sociological changes of our own century are well documented. The steady pressure of organised labour has improved the lot of the traditional working man and legislation, for a variety of reasons, has made the acquisition of great personal wealth very difficult – and the passing on of this wealth even more difficult. England, more than any other country, has become a land of employees (92%) with a very small percentage of self- employed. While the status associated with some jobs gives great satisfaction to the holders and may even persuade them to accept a lower ‘salary’ (not wage!) to the majority it is the size of the wage packet and what it can buy in one’s leisure hours that is the overriding consideration. Employees, with little real interest or pride in their work, well organised, and now with a tradition of pushing the employers for the best deal possible in the annual wage round, can easily see their “real” life starting when “work” stops. To be without work is to be without the money for a “real” life. British society exhibits another facet; our solid and well built housing stock of the 19th century – not to mention our almost Imperial civic buildings and Railway architecture – is living proof to our powers then to pull in the products of our colonial empire and to grow fat on trade. In very simple terms I fancy that we did this frequently with tongue in cheek; although many of the missionaries who followed the traders may have been adventurers, the vast majority were not. They sowed seeds in the minds of developing peoples the world over which led to the comparatively speedy collapse of the empire and to the hard bargaining which led to this country progressively selling more and more machines and technology to countries wishing to manufacture goods for themselves. Markets for British manufacturers were disappearing at the same time as organised labour was securing from management a greater share of the value added element in all goods sold. Inevitably this pushed up the price of British goods when the newly developing countries, with a less organised work force, were able to produce goods at far cheaper prices. Britain which, after America, of the major participants in World War II, was the least scarred by war, faced the 50’s and 60’s with an industrial base already old and greatly overstretched by the war effort. While European Countries went through a period of great hardship in these years they were forced to rebuild their economies, and their industry, along modern lines while Britain, without the same incentive, only tinkered with the same aged system. “Tinkered” because the emotional commitment necessary to rebuild the system was just not strong enough amongst the most influential sectors of society who could have willed this to happen, nor was there, the trust between workers and employers necessary for major’ change.
TO those of us whose early lessons in geography/economics taught us that Britain was the workshop of the world the present reality is a shock.
Add now, to this, the technological revolution. Perhaps many do not like the use of the word ‘revolution’ for fear that the exponents of these ideas are talking about something which is not really as important as they would like to think. But revolution it is likely to be in every bit as much the same way as were the agricultural and industrial revolutions. But, I think, man was not as threatened by these as he is now – after all the factories, the ships, the railways and the endless machines all needed thinking people with minds capable of making decisions that controlled all these devices. Modern electronic technology can replace much of the routine “thinking” exercises which man had thought was his guarantee to remain the master of the machine.
To see an assembly line in a car factory fully automated and staffed by robots can call forth thoughts of even longer dole queues or suggest a society freeing itself of the drudgery of strictly routine and mundane exercises which do nothing for the dignity of mankind. Typing pools with their serried ranks of copy typists replaced by word processors, ledger clerks replaced by computer print-out statements … the changes are already all around us.
Unemployment creeps remorselessly upwards and while political parties might have different policies with which to deal with this, the long term predictions would suggest that the trend is here to stay for many years. And not just in Britain where every eighth person is now unemployed, but throughout the industrialised world.
We fool ourselves if we only look at our own problems. By world standards we are the rich, we are the well fed. The lessons of Brandt found an unresponsive ear a couple of years back as we became even more concerned with our own situation. But the Third World will not allow itself to be ignored and world stability will only be a reality when all its people see a more equitable distribution of its wealth. A redistribution without a vast increase in total wealth could only result in the siphoning off from ourselves – and the rest of the ‘Rich’ countries – of wealth which we have come to expect as part of our rights. Pressure to do this comes not just from the Third World but from ever increasing pressure groups within our own and other advanced countries who see our economy feeding off non-renewable resources at a reckless rate and a fundamental unwillingness to accept “the community of all mankind” as equals.
Within a Democracy the decisions which our leaders take to influence and create our future society have to be endorsed by popular support at the ballot box at regular intervals. To do this wisely necessitates an informed and wise electorate/population. The decisions which have to be taken now will need the whole hearted support of millions of people if they are to succeed both through the ballot box, on the shop floor or anywhere where people have enough information to give them the confidence to think they know what we are doing; a dangerous situation at a time when easy communication can give basic facts to anyone who asks for them through an information retrieval system like PRESTEL, but where the wisdom to interpret fact remains an elusive skill.
The need for an educated – a well educated – populace must therefore be greater now than it was in times gone by when the individual did not see himself as being as significant as most do now and where, in any case, most of his working life was dominated by decisions taken by others. In an advanced technological society whole sections of the community can be disrupted by the actions of very small groups of disaffected people, or even individuals. This tendency will increase, rather than decrease.
How has education developed during these profound changes in our history? The Education Act of 1870 instituted a basic education for all which had already been in existence for many for half a century. It was an education in basic skills of literacy and numeracy, a healthy regard for an authoritarian discipline and a drilling in the catechism of the Christian faith. Its alumni found places within industry, commerce, the services, agriculture etc., where they expected to be told what to do…. and did it. In the Public Schools, which flourished from the early reign of Queen Victoria, a wider range of subjects was taught in an environment which took for granted that its graduates would be the officers of whatever profession they chose to enter, be it in England or any part of the Empire. The underlying ethos was one of self discipline to prepare for leadership, leadership in a society convinced of its God-given role to dominate the world. Between the extremes of elementary and Public schools were the Grammar Schools, often with foundations dating back to the sixteenth century and beyond. For long years they were the means by which the working class boy escaped from his limited background and moved into the middle ranks of trade, the services and sometimes the professions – but most infrequently into the preserves of the aristocracy.
The schools had if not conscious, certainly subconscious, aims which were accepted by staff and pupils alike. In an expanding economy there could not be too many workers, Supervisors and officers … and as there was plenty of work for everyone to do the Protestant Work Ethic thrived. General Education apart from Divinity in some places, was seen as an unnecessary waste of time. Only in the more enlightened Public Schools – frequently those with recent foundations – was there a conscious effort to broaden the curriculum into areas of study capable of fitting young people for an interesting and fulfilling life.
The 1944 Education Act perpetuated many of these traditions. For those youngsters not able to go to independent schools (never more than 7% of the population) the age of 11 saw a classification being made of them from which it would be difficult for them to escape. 20-25% (but less in some parts of the country) won places – often scholarships – to go to Grammar School, 10-15% went to Technical Schools and 60% or more went to the revamped elementary school, or the Secondary Modern.
Pupils entering a Secondary Modern quickly learnt that they had to do as they were told; they learnt that the staff were ‘different’ to themselves and had to be respected. The curriculum was simple – basic skills of literacy and numeracy, practical subjects, some games…. and a firm discipline. Most left school at 15.
The Grammar Schools were expanded and developed as a result of the Act and reached their zenith in the years between 1955 and 65, producing, so it was claimed, a new breed of Meritocrat. The Technical (Grammar) Schools were not so universally successful and hardly introduced Technocrat into the language in Connection with themselves.
The post war years saw a tremendous liberalising in the curricula. of the Public Schools, especially in the 1960‘s. This liberalising continues in the best of the schools. The ideas of Kurt Kahn at Gordenston spread widely and, alongside the D of E Award scheme and programmes of community service, gave to the curriculum a greater concern with a ‘whole life ethic’ (my term) than had previously been the case. Science became acceptable, and even Technological subjects found a place in some schools, though relegated to third place after the Classics and modern subjects. Grammar Schools were quick to pick up much of the Public School tradition but with one significant difference; their pupils would have one day to earn their living directly as a result of their qualifications. A ‘whole life ethic’ was not as appropriate and the rise of the Meritocracy probably had more of the Protestant Work Ethic and the desire for money to improve one’s lot than its advocates accepted. Grammar Schools did broaden their curriculum but there was no doubting the significance of the annual examination results table, nor the rigorous rejection of the mediocre candidate before entering the Sixth Form. In the smaller Grammar Schools games became the Centre – and sometimes the only – broadening extracurricular activity, while in the larger Grammar Schools the range of extracurricular activities often rivalled and exceeded the best of the Public Schools.
During the fifties and early sixties the Secondary Modern Schools had extremes of experiences. The less favoured stagnated while those in ‘good’ areas capable of attracting staff who had only just failed to find a place in the Grammar Schools in which they themselves had been educated tried with some success, to show themselves as being attractive alternatives to the Grammar School for the more sensitive child in need of stimulus. Not being as fettered to examinations as the Grammar School they found it easier to produce courses which appealed more directly to the pupil’s interest. With more social problems to deal with, and nowhere to ‘expel’ a pupil, the staff learnt how to build up a caring, if non-competitive, atmosphere which began to seem even more attractive. Late developers who could have transferred to a Grammar School to take ‘O’ levels opted to stay in the Secondary Modern…. and then these schools too became conscious of the exam league.
British education throughout so much of the period which this paper seeks to cover has been blatantly academic. From the Public Schools with their closed awards at Oxbridge to the smallest Grammar School with but meagre resources, academic prowess, and the school’s success, have been measured against University scholarships and places. In its turn an invitation to remain at University with the long term hope of a Chair has been seen as the ultimate accolade for the select few. The Lancastrian mill owner had ‘arrived’ when his son gained a professorship at Oxbridge …… even if he did not understand one word of what his son was saying! Despite the quite extraordinary technological inventions and developments made in this country in the past two centuries the curriculum of Independent and Grammar Schools continued to ignore science and technology until the most recent times. To be a man of letters unconcerned about the world of commerce and industry was a mark of distinction; an ultimate British snobbery for which we are now paying dearly and which was discovered by the Germans and Japanese before we diagnosed it for ourselves. The British have won more Nobel prizes than any other country, save America, while the Japanese have won but two. The pure sciences have triumphed at the cost of the applied – we invented the computer but left it to others to market it and amass their fortunes.
Starting in the late 50’s and reaching a peak ten years later was the Wholesale reorganisation of secondary education along comprehensive lines. With typical British regard for the autonomy of different groups no single pattern of comprehensive school emerged. But the motives which produced reorganisation are distinguishable. First, and foremost, it was recognised that schooling involved much more than strictly academic subjects; it saw a very real need to create caring institutions which could contain pupils with a range of learning and personal problems; it recognised the difficulties of the late developers and saw the wastefulness of selection at the age of 11; it saw the place of science and technology for all abilities and in particular for the able and it accepted – to a greater or lesser degree – the divisiveness of the tripartite system that had resulted from the 1944 Act.
The varying solutions to reorganisation adopted across the Country makes it difficult to generalise about the nature of comprehensive schools. Mixed ability teaching exists alongside rigorous setting in neighbouring schools within the same authority. Traditional formal discipline nudges shoulders with a more liberal approach while the curriculum is, at least in the public’s mind, widely different outside a narrowly accepted ‘core’. Reorganisation took place at a time when the country was rapidly moving into a period of economic difficulty meant that much reorganisation was but imperfectly provided for and ‘non-purpose-built’ structures became synonymous with much of comprehensive education. Of even greater significance perhaps was the public’s unwillingness to accept the new system, and sectional pressures have undoubtedly created very real problems for many schools trying to establish a comprehensive philosophy which has something of a consensus of agreement amongst those involved. Bad news always having an appeal to the media, the faults have received much publicity and “local comp” has become for many a derisive term.
Social change and stress within society at large has contributed towards an increase in the tensions within school. Partnership between home and school in a child’s development has, in too many cases, been replaced by distrust and little respect. This, unfortunately, seems to characterise the whole of our society – uncertainty, lack of respect, lack of understanding, encourage people to take up defensive and non-cooperative positions that heighten our internal Social tensions.
Too little thought was given – or if given it was ignored – to what would be the costs of comprehensive education for all. with various levels of financial restraint being placed on local authorities expenditure from the middle comparatively few comprehensive schools have had the opportunity of really establishing themselves and building up a loyal and supportive community around them. The brave and idealistic experiment came too late in the country’s… [some text missing]
There is much which has happened in the last 15 years or so, often but little noticed, which can give us many a clue as to how education (at least formal education) can help children prepare for the society being shaped by this new technology. Let me summarise some of the points which are already emerging about possible lifestyles in the future.
- It will be a society becoming increasingly interdependent on its members where isolated groups could have immense influence.
- The ability to change and react positively to new situations will be increasingly important.
- High levels of unemployment and shorter working hours will make individuals more dependent on their own resources.
- An increasingly aging population will place great strain on the “caring professions” which it is possible that taxation will not be able to provide for.
- The consumption of non renewable resources during the C20th will necessitate radical reappraisal of the manufacturing and construction industries. Alternative energy sources will bring additional constraints (nuclear waste), and will require significant changes in our lifestyles.
- A more just distribution of ‘wealth’ at the international level – however this is to be achieved will severely limit and reduce the disposable wealth of the so called advanced countries.
- Technology will directly affect our lifestyles through the distribution of information with implications for our homes and our offices.
- A minority of highly skilled technologists (at a younger age) will command great status and power. The converse the lack of status for the majority will bring much distress and possibly bitterness and unrest.
Let me take each of .these points in turn and see what present educational practice can show us….. and what it could suggest for the future.
N.B. (When talking about Comprehensive Schools in this section it should be taken as axiomatic that I am referring to ‘good’ and ‘real’ Comprehensive Schools) .
- Comprehensive Schools, particularly where they are not in direct competition with selective have had to learn to reconcile within themselves the varying attitudes and aspirations of British society. The academically able from all classes could gain access to a Grammar School (though in reality the working class child was at a disadvantage) and learnt to rub shoulders together….. but they isolated themselves pretty effectively from the 75% of ‘the workers’. The ‘able’ child in a Comprehensive School is now far more likely to understand the rest of his compatriots. The tolerance of the academic child, by the non academic (and v.v.), the acceptance of the introvert by the extrovert, of the games players by the non-games players… all of these are – or should be – part of what a Comprehensive School should be all about. To develop and learn from a sense of community within a Comprehensive is a lesson which, once learnt, will strengthen the greater society outside school immensely. British society has many divisions within it, some of which seem larger than they really are as a result of basic misunderstandings; not least is the difference between those who seek concrete solutions to easily identified problems, and those seeking philosophical solutions to more abstract concerns. Comprehensive schools should create an atmosphere where these misunderstandings are reduced and our interdependence accepted in a constructive fashion. A moral code understood and practiced within this spirit of interdependence must surely be our best guarantee of a just and tolerant future society?
- For centuries sons have followed their fathers into a particular job; more recently a greater interest has been shown in choosing a career to suit the individual. But it has been seen as a single decision, a job once taken will last a lifetime. Schools have tried to delay specialisation as long as possible in order that the youngster can ‘keep his options open’ as long as possible. Changing jobs after 10, 15, 20 or more years has been unusual and frequently taken to imply that the person lacks something, or is not prepared ‘to knuckle under’‘. All this is changing before our eyes – and very traumatic it is too.14, 15 or 16 has been the age when many ‘start work’, 18 or later for the privileged few. New Training Initiatives will probably push this up further, but that is no longer the end of the matter. Retraining either within the original skill or in some totally different employment will probably be the norm not once but possibly twice in a working life.A school which can foster the love of learning for its own sake, that truly encourages the enquiring mind, that helps a pupil to see little difference between working in his own room at home and in the classroom, will be helping to create an attitude towards learning which will make such retraining an exciting, rather than frightening, experience. A school which is itself open to change and honest in its appraisal of what is worthwhile and what can be respected will help youngsters to grow in that mould themselves.Moves, not limited to comprehensive schools, in recent years have been made towards more individual study and enquiry. Resource Centres using a variety of media can feed and stimulate the inquisitive mind in a way that a good textbook finds difficult. Such Centres are expensive but so too were the Science laboratories ‘of the Grammar“ Schools and the workshops of the secondary modern – now a Comprehensive school should have both, but make each open to all pupils.Those schools least bound by frequent changes of lessons, and least beset by bells, are probably best able to develop ‘child centred learning’. Those able to pass from compulsory school time to a wide range of extracurricular activity with little loss of impetus are at a great advantage in preparing children to move into a world where they will have to react more positively than their predecessors to ever changing employment patterns.
- Much of what is said immediately above should help people to live in a society not as dominated by ‘work’ as it has been in the past.It will take a while for the boundaries between work (paid) and leisure activities (which are bought) to break down, though among some sectors (not classes) of society these boundaries have been indistinct for a while as people take on voluntary tasks as demanding, or even more demanding, than their paid labour. While there are immense problems to work through with the unions and others it would seem that voluntary work will only but increase as a result of man’s wish to be creative.Already we see volunteers in hospitals and schools providing a valuable service to the institutions, but gaining perhaps even greater satisfaction for themselves. As civic authorities have to direct more funds toward amenities for the old can we expect local gardening enthusiasts to take over responsibility for our parks and to compete against each other as whole villages do for the title of “Best Kept Village in Utopia?”Could not the embankments of motorways be ‘improved’ in the same way, or stretches of footpaths and country lanes?But this is, at the moment, a most difficult matter. In a society with either full employment, or a living wage for the unemployed, volunteers would probably be welcome but at a time of high unemployment and a stated political preference for cutting taxes volunteers can, unwittingly, become a flash point in labour relations.
A current growth industry is that of D.I.Y. (a measure of our poverty is not being able to afford to employ a craftsman?) But all too frequently the expensive tools are badly used and the materials wasted through lack of basic knowledge. Gadgets are designed to produce instant results and proprietary brands can make the lack of preparation not immediately apparent. The desire for D.I.Y. is totally understandable but it involves skills which, its adherents are not always prepared to accept, have to be worked for. The most sophisticated Yorkshire fittings do not give a man the immediate capability to become a plumber, nor does a power assisted mitring machine create a joiner.
Recent years have left our school buildings badly maintained, indifferently cleaned, flower beds removed, playing fields imperfectly prepared. Why do we not train each pupil from eleven upwards in one or two skills which, after an initial period of training, they can put to use in maintaining and developing the School site? They would have a greater pride in their school, the school would look and feel far more cared for and the pupils would learn a skill and attitude invaluable later in life and one which they could use most effectively in community work.
Too few schools teach actual craft skills, and far too many pupils and their staff regard the maintenance of their schools and playing fields as being the responsibility of ‘the authority’; I certainly encourage the growth of applied technology in schools but this is for a different reason.
Craft skills give tremendous satisfaction to a man; botched jobs leave a bad taste. With more time at our disposal – and it is argued less real money – more maintenance and construction work will be taken on by amateurs. If our schools are doing work in this area it tends to be in Home Maintenance courses for the least able, rather than for everyone. In terms of ‘survival skills’ the least able may well pick up casual manual work whereas the older skilled workers find themselves redundant; these are people who later in life will appreciate such skills/interests. This is advocated not as a response to a financial crisis but rather as a fundamental approach to education for ‘a whole life ethic’.
- Herman Bondi argued recently that the growth industry of the future would be the care of old people… but doubted if we would ever have the resources to fund this. I would suggest that the tentative moves made in some of the most enlightened schools towards not just community service but training for, and educating within, the care of particular sectors of society is something which will have to increase. While I would argue (C. above) that schools should become more self-contained, I would also suggest that they should be even more outward looking and ready to accept a positive role in their community. Concerts and drama, exhibitions and sporting events can be used to attract the more active of older people into schools but the outreach of taking drama and music, gymnastic displays and exhibitions of art to hospitals and old people’s homes requires a redistribution of the school’s resources and a thorough evaluation of its aims in a major way. Schools must not see surrounding communities as something to feed off but rather something which they can share in, both giving and taking, supporting and being supported.
- The conservation of resources and appreciation of ‘waste’ can, and should, start from an understanding of the way in which even a unit as small as a school can develop effective techniques. Wastepaper collections and bottle-banks, heat conservation schemes and the use of alternative energy projects should be designed to focus the minds of young people in an imaginative way on such matters.
- The problems of the uneven distribution of wealth across the world are vast and complex. That we have to face the problem and find a solution is the only alternative to political and economic collapse. The will to find a solution and make it work will only be possible when the people are sufficiently aware of problems and have the determination to will the means because morally, they know they must. History, Geography, Economics and Sociology, Religious Education and Current Affairs must so challenge the students with the reality of the world around them that society will react positively to such critical matters.A programme for each school, far bolder than that normally conceived of in a school charity raising event, must suggest to pupils the way in which even their resources (often far from lean) can form the basis of a future stewardship principle. All too often the initial work done in junior schools with gifts at Harvest and Christmas is not developed as it could be in later years. ‘Titheing’ in school has not yet been advocated but with youngsters earning money in the evenings and at weekends, not to mention pocket money, a school of 1000 pupils might well have a weekly aggregate income of £5000 …. £500 a week to charity would be an amazing concept.
- Already the reality of cable television is showing what capability will exist very shortly for making a vast range of educational programmes available wherever there is a T.V. set. In the short term to equip many, if not all, classrooms with monitors on an educational T.V. channel must be a very real possibility with all the implications this will have for teachers and taught. That is only a short step away from staying in their own houses for longer sections of the day… and what does that do for schools? Will a teacher, of say Physics, entering the profession in 1983, be able to earn a living on the basis of his knowledge in that subject alone for 10 years? Or will the teaching profession have the opportunity of becoming properly trained as guardians/counsellors/mentors of the young with an approach not based primarily on what they do in the teaching of an academic subject?
- Young people with the aptitude, interest and qualifications to direct and develop new technology will be in very great demand, and will inevitably be in short supply. A very real fear is that the training of such an elite will separate them from their peers at an early age, and will prevent their general education from developing to the full. With the best of research work completed, when a person has reached late 20‘s the opportunities to experience anything other than specialist knowledge must be limited.It has been argued that the true creative work within any society will be done by an even smaller minority in the future with routine jobs being undertaken by people who are currently employed in thought demanding posts.In the service and construction industries the upgrading of the intellectual level should bring benefit to the community. The real problem will lie with the large numbers of people who are unsuited – by personal training or capability – to do anything other than routine manual work. Could their future lie in massive public works which require little expenditure of foreign exchange and will enhance the quality of living of the country as a whole? Is this what the building of cathedrals did in the Middle Ages, or Concorde in our own times?Who does what work must present a real challenge to schools – be they Comprehensive, Grammar or Independent.
For long years the parable of the talents has supported every teacher faced with disenchanted children. It has helped in the establishment of self respect for pupils of all abilities in comprehensive schools. The ‘work ethic’ has thrived and is well bedded in society at large and teachers in particular. Increasing hours of leisure in the past decade or so stimulated leisure pursuits…. but pursuits dependent all too frequently on wealth generated out of work.
The Conflict which is now emerging from the need to educate a minority to a very high level of technical expertise at an early age while at the same time giving them, and the rest of the population, an understanding of a ‘Whole Life Ethic’ is still to be resolved. For the few the acquisition of more knowledge and skills will motivate them to great outbursts of application but to the majority formal education will not have the same direct significance to their earning capacity as it has had in the past (a fact which recent graduates have been discovering to their cost when making comparisons with unqualified colleagues). Continuing with a Biblical theme, perhaps the parable of the labourers in the vineyard should now be taxing our imaginations? If it does it will not give any solace as a method of ‘persuading’ reluctant pupils to accept a system of education for which they see little relevance. But it ought to give a living wage, and a dignity, to all.
Schools have become less authoritative and more flexible in recent years. Their critics have seen in this an abrogation of their responsibility to teach discipline; this is not so, rather a discipline based on an acceptance of one’s role within the community has become the norm, but a norm as yet insufficiently understood or accepted. I would suggest that it would be totally wrong for schools to surrender their authority in providing both an approach to discipline and a practice of discipline – nor do I think any school would ever wish to do this. But the motivation to participate and succeed in school based curricula will come not through compulsion or a school-centred authority, but will be part of a consensus that something is – in itself – ‘good’ and ‘interesting’. Basic skills of communication will retain an element of ‘learn, or sink’ but the majority of school based learning will depend more and more on the interest and therefore self motivation of the pupil.
Teachers have known this since time immemorial; but many of our present pupils would testify that we have still to put this into practice. “We must aim to create enquiring and inquisitive minds which will both excite and delight and will cherish excellence – both absolute and relative… We must recognise the uniqueness of each person and their right to be treated as individuals with responsibilities and loyalties in the community, and not to develop as self-centred individualists” (A School philosophy).
But we will be achieving this within schools very different to those which most of us know today. Schools that are far more part of the community, and yet are also stronger and more self sustaining communities than at present. Schools which will relate more closely with the aspirations of others; where for instance, the latent enthusiasm of the games player earning a living as a computer programmer is tapped as the coach of the first XI, where the skills….
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