The mainstream education system in many countries exists primarily to give secure comfortable jobs to large numbers of people while giving the appearance of providing a service. This is just as bad at higher level of education as it is at primary level and this phenomenon is apparent elswhere in the public service, particularly in health and government. In any group of people engaged in any activity there is a percentage of those who can’t do it at all / properly, or can’t be bothered, another percentage of those who are satisfactory or mediocre, and then the top 10% who are committed and excellent. Unfortunately the activities of the 90% serve to frustrate the best efforts of the top 10%.
My acquaintance is a school principal fortunate enough to have started in a new school in a deprived area (hence extra funding) where she had to recruit staff from scratch – a real clean sheet. She asked them all in the interview whether they were willing to promote activities after school – sport, music, etc – and of course they all said yes, so when they’d get the job, they couldn’t later say no. She set the example by being there all hours. It’s a contrast to some schools where the teachers leave in a trail of burning rubber on the dot of finishing time, in many cases even before the parents can collect their children!
So that’s the staffing issue. Then there’s the philosophy. In the old days it was rigid in Ireland. However, there is a lot to be said for some discipline in learning basic concepts, just as a runner who wants to go fast has to do a lot of potentially boring one-foot-in-front-of-the-other learning first. Then the curriculum got a bit fancy and touchy-feely. Finally the society in general got more affluent and was able to afford more university places, so entrance standards dropped and school standards dropped to meet them. Our best students now seem to be able to absorb information and regurgitate it in an exam, but there’s not much testing of problem solving or useful real-world skills.
Finally, there’s an either/or approach, purely academic or purely vocational. A mixture of both would be more beneficial. At a young age there should be more play with group-based activities (as in real life – and as they do it in Finland). We need to find a way where everyone gets a chance to find out what they like and are good at (often the same thing). We need to try something as the present system in some countries still today isn’t serving the needs of a large number of its customers. And did I mention the top 10%? They’re usually the most intelligent, creative, entrepreneurial, worldlywise, and misunderstood people who collectively always make it in life many times further than the remaining 90%!
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