Dear Orkney News,
The Ruth Wishart article in the National (Monday 10th August) was a breath of fresh air on the subject of education.
Politicians across the UK have shown themselves to have more concern for the integrity of “The System” than for the well being of young people. Square pegs and round holes does not begin to describe the cruel stupidity on display around the issue of exam results.
I don’t have children myself, but I would like to give a personal view on education using a literary link. In 1968 Barry Hines gave the world what I consider to be the greatest working class character in the English language, namely Billy Casper, in A Kestrel For A Knave. In the following year he was made flesh by Dai Bradley, when he gave a stellar performance as Billy in the film Kes.
Having been born and raised in a Pit Village in the East Midlands, Kes is a documentary not a film and I always wonder after watching the film, “Where did Billy go from here?”. For a brief moment a teacher noticed that Billy was much more the bag of rags hunched at a desk, but was that his one and only day in the sun? Some contemporaries of mine who entered the daunting world of education on the same day as me, were already sentenced by their family circumstances and the blindness of the state system to eleven wasted years, staring blankly at a blackboard, as ever larger quantities of facts, figures and dancing numbers were shovelled at them. Only a tiny fraction of us had the good fortune to come into the orbit of a teacher who saw the spark of genius we all carry. For the vast majority of us, it was a case of make the best of it if you can, take it or leave it. I was lucky in catching the reading bug early, which has left me reasonably literate, but if I was put up against an eleven year old and tested on Maths, I’m sure I’d be handed my arse on a plate. I’m aware that state education is much better than when I experienced it in the 70s, but it could still room for it to be much, much more.
So here’s a challenge for all elected politicians across the UK. Do you think state education should produce worker Bees or rounded Human beings capable of making sense of the world around them, armed with the skills to navigate the real world?
If it’s Bees (or Sheep as the House Martins sang about) you want, then carry on with “The System”. If not, then use the opportunity of this horrible year to reshape education provision from the cradle to the grave.
Have a slow, play based introduction to education. Delay any formal education until children are 7 years old. Introduce languages early in a play and song based setting, as starting on foreign languages at eleven and delivering them as subjects, leaves them as dead as Latin or attic Greek to most youngsters. Make music a core part of school life from the beginning. Make the timing of any exams flexible in accordance with the uneven nature of development in young people. And finally fund a lifetime education budget, which would allow those who for whatever reason, could not make the most of their formal education years, to have an educational “Booster Jab” when it best suits their needs.
Can we stop for but a moment, a minute or an hour, and view the world with wonder as we once did as a child?
Or is our fate to blindly dig like a Mole Rat underground?
Yours, Jon Southerington, Orkney