Sunday, 13 December 2015

Your life...according to Us

Britain's new Education minister has surpassed herself. In her first big campaign speech yesterday, not only has she simply copied an educational revolution that has been happening for a long while across the pond (with rather troublesome ripple effects), she has also written off as meaningless the talents, skills and interests of nigh on half of the population.

In her speech introducing the government’s new hair-brained “Your Life” scheme, according to the Rt.Honorable Nicky Morgan MP (our Big Boss of UK Schools) if you don’t “Do science or maths” you’re pretty much of no use to the country. If ever there was any doubt that Britain’s education was doing anything other than breed worker-bees for the factory systems of corporate business, this settles it.

Launched yesterday through an embarrassing speech pretty much condemning any arts and humanities graduates as utterly worthless to society, Ms Morgan told the world that STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) is the future.  (The future of money making, that is.)

In a relatively brief speech lasting just a few minutes, the minister referenced the link between the importance of STEM education and money making over eleven times, with fluffy statements such as:

  •  “the young people of today have the skills to turbo-charge the economy of tomorrow”
  • “Did you know that people who work in careers related to science and technology earn more? The top ten highest paying jobs for graduates all involved maths and science skills. Fact.
  •  “Pupils who study Maths to A level will earn 10% more over their lifetime...”  (More than what, I have to ask? More than whom? I studied Maths to A-level and right now I am earning 10% more than no-one.)
  •  “… that’s 50% more highly qualified and skilled young people equipped to take their place in modern Britain… to win the top jobs and reap the rewards. An increase that benefits not just them, but our whole country.”

Once again, we have a national education system promoting money making over everything else in life. What about creativity, passion, growth, curiosity, skill-acquirement, socialisation, self-discipline, awareness of others, empathy, friendship, the pleasures of learning? Nope. School is not for those things, duh. School is there simply to teach you (or should I say, to train you) to make oooodles of money and be a big fat cat.

Take, as a further example, the “role models” given to children on the Your Life campaign website. Firstly, the fact that the section is entitled “People and Role Models / Celebrity Stories” is a worrying starter. What is the difference between a person and a role model by the way? Why are they separate? Are animals better Role Models? (at the end of the day, probably very much so!) Plus if Celebrity is what we are giving our children as a Role Model to aspire to be, well then god help us all.

The role model selection for a nation’s children is:

  • Ron Dennis (Executive Chairman of McLaren) who I am assuming is sponsoring this new educational reform, as there are puns relating to motor racing all over the website and a competition, called Formula 100, to bribe children to take part in the initiative with “dazzling prizes”.
  • The Secretary of State (What a great role model she’s proving to be, writing off half of the population that didn’t do Maths or Physics at A-level. Bravo Nicky).
  • Real People ( Hmm, this is a bit of a puzzler. Quite who Ron, Nicky and the Celebrity world are, or what they all have running through their veins that keeps them out of the “real people” category, I’m not quite sure. Green dollar bills I suppose).

The companies supporting the Your Life initiative are:

·         BAE Systems
·         Shell
·         Visa
·         Carillion
·         Ford
·         Johnson & Johnson
·         Nestle
·         Rio Tinto

“When I grow up, teacher, I want to work for a giant global corporation that values ethics and morality as much as it values pennies and people.”
“That’s great news, little child – welcome to the new, exciting British Education System”.

In the brief 250 word rhetoric on what the Your Life programme is, the command:  “DO SCIENCE AND MATHS AT A-LEVEL” is given three times – subliminal brainwashing taken to a whole new level.  One again we’re discriminating against anyone who is not taking A-levels; ignoring all vocational training, skill acquirement and non-academic children of the country. Once again, we are channelling young people into a world built purely around Subjects; not learning for pleasure or interest, for the development of critical thinking, for the nurturing of ideas, creativity, expression or freedom. Once again, we are placing a hierarchical value on learning – you’re somehow going to be a better person or more successful if you study Maths or Science than you are if you study English, Art or Music.

There are two statements in Ms Morgan’s speech that really grate. She starts off by saying: “Let’s be honest - it takes a pretty confident 16-year-old to have their whole life mapped out ahead of them” and then goes on to say, “These figures show us that too many young people are making choices aged 15, which will hold them back for the rest of their life.”

I totally agree. Making decisions about what you want to do with your life aged fifteen (actually it starts aged thirteen in the UK, when you have to start choosing and dropping subjects – an age of rampant hormones, high-level emotions and very little concept of your own self, never mind your future) is ridiculous. I’m in my thirties and I still don’t really know what I want to do with my life. And why should I have to know?  But I digress. The solution to the problematic scenario of life-choice aged fifteen, dear Britain, is not to choose to study Maths and Physics rather than the humanities. The answer (forgive me for my simplistic logic here) is to CHANGE THE SYSTEM!

Why do we force young people to make decisions at the peak of adolescent eruption? We know it doesn’t work, we know that it brings great failings to our children and their futures, we know adolescents are more interested in their nether regions than what they plan to do for the rest of their lives. So why do we continue to carry on with the same system year on year?
 Because, it seems, government policy is quite simply: “If it didn't work last year, do it AGAIN this year (and if possible do it MORE).

Give it a fancy new name – something catchy like “Your Life” (oh the irony of ownership and choice is so delicious in that one, Ms Morgan); build a fancy website, get a rich celebrity to endorse it and bobs your uncle – that’ll keep them quiet for the next few years whilst I’m in power. She’s even using the same, tired old rhetoric in her vitriolic launch speech, saying “it marks the start of a campaign that will make a real difference, not just to young people’s lives, but to the future of our country.” Hmm, now where have we heard that one before?

To borrow a phrase from philosopher Mr John Gray: 

If there is anything unique about the human animal, it is its ability to accumulate knowledge at an ever increasing rate while being chronically incapable of learning from experience. 

Too true.

I’ll end with my favourite quote from the Rt Hon. Ms Morgan’s dazzling speech yesterday; a quote that in my opinion really shows the worth and merit, the potential and the possibility for this new campaign that is going to “make a real difference” (a real one this time, Real – like those people). She started the speech by saying how delighted she was that morning because she had seen “not one, but three "Your Life" posters adorning bus stops over the past weekend”. Well Nicky: that really goes to show what a life-changer this campaign is bound to be.

Bravo, Britain. Bravo.

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