Michael Gove. What a man. His latest vision for educational reform involves state schools becoming just like private schools – he wants nine or ten hour school days, entrance exams and to break down the ‘Berlin Wall’ between state and independent sectors. Far out.
I’m a (mostly) fully fledged adult and I don’t even work days that long. It seems like once again Mr Gove is modelling his educational utopia on the rigid, competitive and hierarchical structures of countries like Japan and South Korea. What he conveniently forgets is that these little pockets of academic toil also see some of the highest suicide rates on the planet. Coincidence? I think not.
The growing deluge of pressure on students and teachers alike in England really worries me. Mental health is already nosediving in this country – the number of young people aged 15-16 with depression nearly doubled between the 1980s and the 2000s. What chance do the next generation have if they continue to grow up learning that rigorous academic achievement and ‘success’ is the be all and end all in life?
Year after year learning for learning’s sake and any kind of focus on moulding the youth of today into confident, thoughtful, intelligent, happy and generally well rounded adults seems to fall back in favour of grinding through constant assessment, curriculum objectives and box ticking exercises. If teachers have to jump through any more hoops to reach our government’s ever soaring standards they’ll each deserve an Olympic medal in dressage.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with aiming high, but I fail to see how digitalising students’ worth through league tables and working them like Spartan slaves can be useful. It’s not going to teach the self worth, creativity and empathy we need in our future leaders. That should be obvious enough from the incumbent bunch of private-school-educated politicians currently trying to run the country.
I remember my favourite teacher well. My A Level English Literature class drifted by in a blissful haze of earnest and insightful discussion on everything from Orwelian dystopia to whether Philip Larkin was a cat or dog person. Mr Robson wasn’t overly concerned with meeting strictly defined objectives, nor was he any kind of disciplinarian. But he instilled a love for reading in each of us and we got the work done. I don’t know that I would have gone on to study literature at degree level or forge a career in journalism had this man not reintroduced me to the joy of books for the sake of pleasure, not just academia.
I can only hope that teenagers today are still lucky enough to have teachers that can rise above educational bureaucracy and inject this level of enjoyment into their lessons. Happier, less stressed, more stable people are more productive people. They also tend to have more empathy, less self-focus and many other qualities that better position them to positively influence those around them and make the world a better place. I can’t see how working children ten hours a day and putting them through even more tests and exams will make them anything less than miserable.
If I were education minister, teaching about mental health would be as important as sex education in schools. Depression 101 would eclipse home economics. Then again Boris Johnson is about as likely to announce a new career in dubstep as I am to go into politics. For now, my only hope is that the education fairy pays Mr Gove a visit in his sleep and somehow manages to convince him to release his vice-like grip on the wellbeing of England’s youth.