Reforming the Way We Educate

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There have been many articles, debates and talks in the past year or so about the Government’s education policy and reform, spearheaded by Michael Gove. There are proponents of the proposed curriculum that are planned for introduction, but there are just as many, if not more, people in key educational positions or vocations that profusely disagree with his stance on education policy[1].

But to a large extent the whole argument over what should and shouldn’t be in the curriculum is defunct. Obviously, what children are taught in school is fundamentally important to a degree. Simply teaching children British history over the richly diverse and interestingly woven narrative of ancient empire narrows a child’s interest and can be counter-productive to later awareness and a general understanding of the world. Similarly, the negative consequences of not teaching children subjects, such as Sexual Education, are fairly apparent in the problems they would cause.

But my argument is not of knowledge content; it is focused more on the disproportionate relationship between knowledge and assessment, or critical thinking. To think ‘critically’ is to engage past simply the foundational facts and figures of a matter, and move onto more analytical objectives; why did this happen, is this correct or not?

Our teaching system currently favours knowledge over critical thinking heavily – look at GCSEs; to a large extent they are simply a splurge of facts and remembering key information. Even at A-level, the analysis in subjects such as Politics and Government is trivial and minute; they can range from simply explanatory questions through to basic discussions and debates that to a large extent constrain the ability to use personal values and views to shape an answer[2].

On a tangent, we’re also experiencing relatively low levels of political involvement in the UK. Gone are the days of mass membership in political parties, and campaign involvement is sparse. Since the Second World War, the last 3 generations have been the three least voted in general elections of the era[3]. I believe this has happened is because the current generation of young adults, and consequent generations, are experiencing a system of education that makes them focus on how to understand rather than assess, which in turn deadens the need for critical thinking, something key to political involvement.

A way in which we can combat both of these problems is by addressing the distinct lack of deliberate ‘critical thinking’ classes in our schooling system. As important as it is for children to read, write, and be knowledgeable, we must be able to, as members of a political community, critically engage with political spheres and activities around us. Democracy is politics of the people, yet if a vast majority don’t feel the need to vote, involve themselves or even figure out their opinions on matters, then it’s simply not a functioning democracy in the literal sense of the word.

Therefore, I present my piece of legislation to you; the Critical Assessment Act 2013: the basics – a compulsory GCSE and part time A-level ALL school children must attend that focuses solely on our understanding of the world through concepts such as ‘justice’, ‘democracy’, ‘freedom’ and deep thought political questions such as ‘what should a government do for its people?’ will be discussed and students will conceive their own parameters on what these concept detail.

Through these, students will hopefully gain a greater view of the world and its working, giving them a clearer link to engage in political issues; after all, how can you impassion someone to vote for a party if they do not have a clear understanding of what they want a party to stand for? How can you make someone passionate about a campaign for ‘justice’ if they do not have a clear understanding of what the term means to them?

As well, children will be taught more thoroughly to ‘assess’ situations and events; rather than simply teaching jingoistic history on the British Empire as Mr. Gove would want, time should be set aside to teach children (from a young age I might add!) how to phenomena, events and situations, and when relevant use such tools to question and examine such cases – studying the Boer Wars is one thing, determining whether British Imperial policy in colonial South Africa was good or bad is another thing, with just as much importance.

Through teaching methods such as this, children can from a young age learn about key concepts which are absolutely pivotal to understanding politics in any form, and resultantly allowing them to compare their views to relevant scenarios, and to see whether they believe the scenario is thus correct or not.

This ability to directly allow anyone within a political community to clearly compare the current situation and their desired one is enormously helpful. It allows for a clear route to impassioning people into becoming involved which, therefore, increases political participation on a number of fronts, something that can only be good for modern democracies, especially in this age of dwindling activism and involvement politically.

To conclude, modern democracies depend on many forms of engaged political participation, on the part of the public in order to hold governments accountable for their actions outside the political chambers of the state. To do this, we need to make people passionate and aware of what they value and believe, and to do this we need to put more direct focus on children learning how to ‘critically think’. Through this, political participation will rise, and this can only be a good thing.

Written by Simon Renwick, edited by Leah Boyne