Monday, January 30, 2006

Why Britain Sucks: The "Education" Rant

A productive, informed, happy nation (IMHO) is built upon a foundation of education - education that informs, but also education that encourages both participation and self-reliance. Unfortunately, there's a rather large study that says we're getting less intelligent.

Anyone that's actually been in the education system (rather than merely deciding what the fad subject is this year and trying to get more girls to do it) will be aware of the effect that testing has - and I highlight "effect" because this is why we're "deliberately" dumbed down. The more tests we're given, and the more league tables that depend on the tests there are, the more people are "configured" to optimise test performance by whatever means necessary. The very act of measurement has a very real effect on that being measured.

It's the same with University "Research Assessment Exercises" (RAEs), with driving tests, and possibly even with dental check-ups. You do what you can to pass, then go your own way afterwards. The amount to which education affects your progress after that could be said to be inversely proportional to the effort it's putting in to getting you through those tests. The more tests you have, the less you actually think.

But here's the scary thing. We live in a world where numbers, comparisons and measurements are the driving force of the future. When we talk about knowledge-based societies, we're talking about "tangible", codified knowledge that other people can pick up on, that can be used to make judgements, that can be fed into a computer and used to create charts or diagrams or what-have-you. So long as databases are the premium way of assessing the "health" of a nation, we will be subjected to quantitative tests which will have to be logically-tied to performance.

This means that there must be a simple mapping, from knowledge, to judgement. Things are either right or wrong. There is no longer an art or a craft to working out how well an individual is doing for themselves, nor where their future potential lies, there is only how they react under the test conditions, and how well they "rate" against others of the same classification scheme (gender, age, race, height, social background, medical discrepancies).

This is a system which categorises, sorts, and filters - a "classification" system, not an educational one. The lucky go on to become millionaires. The unlucky are squabbled over by a few persistents who have a million to share out amongst them. But the terms of existence are decided in advance, by the people who just have to have a way of working out who's better than who.

The problem is, selection criteria are subjective. Who defines success? Why, the already-successful, of course.


Richard Veryard said...

There is a simple fallacy in here - that the purpose of education is to make people more intelligent. Does society really want our children to be intelligent, well-informed, creative and happy? Read Ivan Illich. The purpose of a system is what it does (POSIWID).

Scribe said...

Yup. I only realised after even Bachelor teaching that much of what my entire educational existence was geared towards was simply making me "employable", and little else. In a way, I can accept this as a purpose - usefulness to society is an important aspect of the machine, and one could probably argue that the original intent of education was along those lines.

But then, businesses todat want something different to the people doing the mesauring. Sure, companies want employees who can read and write, but they're also after "talent", which means thinking creatively and being able to grapple with problems. This differs to the government, who just need a way to make it look like they're doing something, better than before.

Further, taken to an extreme, people passing through the system that think creatively - differently - are people that question, and criticise. Depending on what they're questioning, different people are happy. The "optimal" level of education, then, is one where people "learn" how to question some things (products, business models) but not others (policies, management).