What is the point of the education system? Is it to prepare our young people for a productive and happy life in society? That would be nice. Is it to allow every child to be the best they can be? That would be a great goal. Is it just to keep kids off the streets (as many believe)? Sadly, it is possible that the education system has no goals at all.
But it once did have a goal. It was set down in the Victorian Industrialist era to prepare children to work in factories. That purpose was never replaced with anything more suitable. That’s why we were all educated in a room full of children all sat in rows. We were all told to shut up, don’t talk to your neighbour, don’t look to see what anyone else is doing, just concentrate on your own work and face the foreman at the front. Above the foreman was a clock and when a bell sounded we were all allowed outside and when a bell sounded again we all came in. Just like in the factory. We were given a smattering of almost useless general knowledge and the education system’s job was done.
The problem with having a goal such as this means that we were all trained to behave in a certain way in the world of work, for a world that no-longer exists. Being told that to ‘conform is good’, that to ‘keep quite is good’ and ‘not to copy is good’ all have latent side-effects. Those behaviours give rise to beliefs that strangle creativity and leave us unprepared for a changing world in three ways:
1. If you conform in business you don’t stand out. Ok, you don’t risk making mistakes, but being risk-averse means you become frightened of failure and that means you’re unable to grow. Instead we’re taught that failure is bad.
2. If you’re in business and don’t talk to anyone else you will hate networking and fail at building relationships and teams, the secret to success in society. Instead we’re taught that you should work by yourself in silence.
3. If you’re in business and you don’t look to see what the competition is doing, if you don’t copy the best ideas and improve on them you end up being left behind. But we’re taught that we have to be totally original (which is impossible) so we fail.
As adults, by realising this, we can turn back the clock and reinstate our creative selves that were persecuted and locked away all those years ago. Perhaps times have changed slightly. Perhaps there are individual schools that have greater, more honourable goals. But the ‘system’ has no such goal except to produce ‘results’ by testing and ranking pupils and schools. For our children we can and should examine how they are being educated and ask the simple question – what is the system for.