Opinion: Does our Education system lack Imagination?

Is the current education system eliminating imagination and artistic potential from our future society?

In recent years the British government has been accused of trying to marginalise the Arts subjects, in favour of Core subjects such as Science, Languages and Maths. The value placed on Art, Music and Drama appears to have decreased, with even the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) having dropped all Arts subjects, bar English, from its list of requirements.

Commenting on his post The Seven Deadly Sins that Prevent Creative Thinking, Psychology Today blogger Michael Michalko said, “Unfortunately, I’ve come to believe that education is a great inhibitor of our natural creativity… To me it seems that in the real world those who know more, create less; and those who know less create more.”

Michalko echoes the opinion that Sir Ken Robinson made in his 2006 TED talk, when he spoke passionately on why we need to create an educational system that nurtures, rather than undermines, creativity ( https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity ).

It could be said that in a modern world, full of technology and instant request filling opportunities, children don’t need to be as imaginative or creative as they have been in the past. In truth, many would argue that the opposite is the case. While the demands of the technology that runs our world means an understanding of science and maths is more vital than ever, the stresses that accompany such ambitions mean that the ability to escape into our imaginations has become just as important.

Creativity, be it through drama, song, playing of a musical instrument, drawing a picture or telling a story, provides a much needed dimension to our personalities, culture, and well-being; In its most extreme case scenario, the sidelining of the Arts would ultimately mean less books to read, less films to see, less songs to sing, and less artwork to enjoy.

In a recent article in the Times Educational Supplement, ‘Too many schools have forgotten that fun is crucially important’, Colin Harris asks if primary schools have become so concerned with meeting the standards of Ofsted and ensuring all government guidelines are met, that there is little time left for children to have fun or learn through creativity.

Mr Harris warns that, “Many of the problems that manifest themselves later at late junior and early secondary phases are due to the insufficient opportunities we have given our children to develop their emotional intelligence through play and creative opportunities when younger… Play and creativity need to permeate all levels of our system. Surely if learning is memorable and inventive then our children will certainly think and behave differently.”

Most teachers would rightly deny that they work hard merely to instil a feeling of dull mediocrity among their pupils. Yet with English teachers having little choice but to teach us what we are supposed to think about the books we read rather than allowing us the freedom to make up our own minds, and decreasing educational budgets meaning that even if a school wanted to stage a play or buy instruments to form an orchestra they can’t afford to, it is easy to see why the lack of creativity argument continues to rage. After all, any school that was seen to put the desire to buy dancing shoes ahead of purchasing new science equipment would lose its reputation fast.

It is fair to say that, on an individual level, the majority of teachers do their best to introduce as much creativity as they can to their daily lessons; but they are up against a system that is, at this current time, discouraging rather than encouraging that angle of education.

August in the UK doesn’t just mean a month of school holidays for many school and college pupils; for those who have sat their GCSE, A level, Standards, Highers, BTEC and equivalent exams, it brings to an end a long wait to see if those exams have been passed, and if so, how well.

After the A level results were released in England and Wales this year it was widely reported that, for the first time in many years, boys had fractionally higher grade marks than girls. A number of reasons have been put forward for what seems to be perceived as a sea-change, including the structure of this year’s exams. However, this may not necessarily be true. For instance, The Guardian also quotes a research group called Education Datalab which comments: “Their [boys] performance has improved relative to girls’ this year, but this might have been as much to do with the academic ability of the boys and girls who chose these subjects this year as it is to the changes to A level structure.”

In other words, the differences between boys and girls grades can depend on so many different factors that stating that boys are cleverer than girls this year, or vice versa, is a bold statement. There are so many variables to take into consideration; geographical differences, the subjects chosen (if more boys than girls do chemistry, then they are bound to have the higher percentage of good grades).

It is understandable that newspapers and the media in general feel duty-bound to report on the annual exam results. After all, those pupils are the very people who will steer our country through the next eighty or ninety years. There is a tendency however, when there is no real news to report about the annual results, to focus in on tiny differences in gender achievements or a tiny rise or fall in the overall grades received overall. More or less A grades than average can make a good newspaper headline- and good headlines sell papers.

In reality, despite what reporters say on the television, radio, in the newspapers or on social media platforms, the students that achieve the best exam results are the ones who have worked the hardest. It is those pupils who will go on to get the university places, apprenticeships, and the careers they hoped for- whether they are boys or girls.

This week the government hailed as a victory the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Term Time Holiday Ban.

The judges ruled that “regular” attendance had to be in keeping with the rules of the school. At present, that means that state-funded schools can only offer time away under exceptional circumstances. Anything else risks slipping an Ofsted ranking.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We are pleased the Supreme Court unanimously agreed with our position – that no child should be taken out of school without good reason. As before, headteachers have the ability to decide when exceptional circumstances allow for a child to be absent, but today’s ruling removes the uncertainty for schools and the local authorities that were created by the previous judgement,”

“The evidence shows every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chances of achieving good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances.”

So, is the government right? Is the banning of time away from school in term-time the best thing for our children in schools?

There are so many opinions and arguments surrounding this subject, and apparently no clear right or wrong, even after this ruling. I am no different. As a parent, there are certainly any number of questions that I ask myself when considering the issue. But when I do so and I look at my own situation, just to take one example, things only ever become very unclear.

The government have been promoting the benefits of family life for years. They have encouraged parents to eat and play together with their children, for example, actions which will both help increase confidence and interaction with others. But these promotions and edicts, whilst worthwhile, also bring with them similarly valid and concerning questions. What happens if a parent’s employer dictates their annual leave? Is family time no longer important?

For a large number of parents across the country, holiday time is the only time when memories are made. Most parents work in full-time employment, passing each other from childcare to work, work to childcare. Holidays for these families are not a luxury, they are an essential part of family life. I have decided to send my children to school and not be home-schooled, but that does not and should not mean that I am any less able to educate my children. Surely taking a child to Lanzarote to investigate volcanoes would benefit them more than sitting in a classroom looking over a book? Is it no longer my right as a parent to make the right decisions for my child? Do I not know them better than anyone else?

Quite often, children can also become lost in schools, which are often large institutions, and this raises for me again the question of how a parent can agree with this judgement.

The Guardian’s “10 Reasons to Home School your Child” promotes some of the greater flexibility provided through this method of education. Child-led learning, the benefits of one-to-one, the ability to write your own timetable, to form a great social network, all these things are only beneficial. Not to mention avoiding the school run (my favourite feature). And if you decide you want to return your child into the mainstream system at any point later down the line, you can.

So now I am left wondering to myself: Why, actually, have I sent my child to school?

Beginning in 2011, the National Citizenship Scheme is a weeklong challenge for 15 to 17 years-old, which provide a chance to take part to embark on exhilarating adventures, while building on social, work, and life skills. UCAS strongly backs the scheme, and recommends students include NCS in their personal statement.

Split into three main phrases, the 7 day course begins with a four day, three-night residential based activity period. The pursuits available are weather dependent, but involve such activities as canoeing, rock climbing and abseiling. Living in teams of 12 -15 people at an outdoor activity centre, those taking part get to know new people and enjoy their independence away from home.
Phase two of the week sees a further three days in a university-style environment where students get the chance to develop life skills like confidence, leadership and communication.
The final phase of the NCS is to deliver a community project over a period of 30 additional weeks. Working in teams, the participants put the skills they have learnt over the week into practice by delivering a community project of their choice.
Later, they’ll have the chance to attend a graduation party to celebrate completing the course, with family and friends.

So, why should you consider enrolling for a National Citizenship Scheme place?
– NCS gives you exclusive access to work placements, volunteering and events.
– UCAS recommends students include NCS in their personal statement
– You learn the skills employers value
– Learn to budget and live for yourself
– Meet incredible people
– Improves leadership, teamwork and communication skills.

So far, more than 275,000 young people have signed up for the National Citizenship Scheme. If you’d like more information, you can find it here-http://www.ncsyes.co.uk/

The controversy over taking children out of school for holidays poses wider questions about education. Should parents who take their children out of school to go on holiday be fined? That was the question at the heart of a recent court case where Isle of Wight council took father Jon Platt to court when he failed to pay a fine for taking his daughter out of school. The High Court decided in his favour, saying that as he had ensured his daughter had attended school regularly, there was no case to answer.

During the case, a number of authorities, including the government, stepped in to voice support for the council’s case, saying that taking children out of school for even one day would damage their education and that of others around them. But what kind of education are they talking about? Interestingly, the National Union of Teachers argues that there are valuable social and cultural benefits to going on holiday – benefits which are all too often overlooked. And when holidays during the summer are so prohibitively expensive, these benefits are in danger of becoming the preserve of the well-off.

What can be gained by going on holiday, then? Well, travelling abroad is an important learning experience for any child. Experiencing a new culture can fuel their natural curiosity to learn about the world, and can fire them with enthusiasm for those French lessons at school… Even just a holiday to the seaside offers the chance for children to do and see things out of the ordinary – to learn about sea life by looking in rock pools or to try different foods, even if it’s simply a traditional Devon cream tea. Why should these experiences only be available to those of the middle classes? Many holidays become cherished family memories which last a lifetime – far more memorable than that Tuesday afternoon literacy lesson they missed.

Simply having time to reconnect with parents and siblings away from the non-stop routine of everyday life is valuable in itself. Children who have parents who are more involved do better at school, and holidays which help to foster and strengthen family relationships are likely to lead to children who are happier, and more well-balanced and, perhaps, likely to do better in school. Relationships with family or friends who live abroad are also something valuable, giving children the chance to hear other perspectives of life and widen their horizons beyond their own hometown.

Little has also been said about families who want to gather together to celebrate their festivals together. All children have time off to celebrate Christmas and Easter – but what of families who want the right to celebrate Diwali or Eid? Must these children miss out on the chance of coming together with their family and community to celebrate a festival which is part of their cultural heritage – and what will be achieved if they do?

No one thinks it’s a good idea if children are continually taken out of school. But learning doesn’t just happen in a classroom. We need to look at the broader picture – and realise that learning comes in all shapes and sizes.

50,000 children are educated at home or out of school. That’s the number of children in England who are not signed up to a school, who don’t go to school regularly, who don’t have to follow the national curriculum, and who don’t have to be tested regularly. This is all perfectly legal. Whilst an education for children aged 5-16 must be provided, that doesn’t have to be in a school. This is accepted, though it is not always checked or monitored.

So what happens to these children? Some are literally educated at home by the parents or carers, doing mainly what the adults think is best or what has been agreed between them and the children. This can include visits to local art galleries, museums and libraries, an outdoor education and general exploration of the world around them, as well as more standard study at home. For the more adventurous, however, education outside of school can involve travel, and if so, often for a year or more. There are families who set sail on boats or head off in camper vans, with the next lesson their next horizon. One such family travelled around the United Kingdom, before setting off to Europe. To provide an example of what they gained,  on one occasion they visited a wind-farm and used the knowledge gained to learn about physics, engineering and conservation. Another family travelled around the continent; as they went the children learned Mandarin and Spanish – the second and fourth most widely spoken languages in the world ( and incidentally, they also became proficient with the keyboard, the violin and the guitar ). In a world full of conflict and misunderstanding, they might argue, it’s important that young people grow up able to understand the languages huge numbers of people speak. And indeed, it is often a matter of debate in this country that the number of children who are growing up with the choice or will to do that is actively falling, lending this all the more credence.

Distance learning, whether it be more domestic or expansive, can see that young minds are liberated, that creativity and spontaneity are encouraged, and unorthodox skills and knowledge are valued. The degree to which the national curriculum is followed is allowed more flexibility. And when the time comes, children can ease their way back into the system for exams and maybe university entrance. What could possibly be wrong with that? Well, others argue plenty. Home education is often seen as an indulgence by the parents / carers; there can be a suspicion that there is some kind of self-interest in their disapproval of their children’s schools, and that maybe they’re the ones who want the gap year. Still others argue that the single most important function of a school is to encourage socialisation with peers, and that the very independence from the family mainstream education develops is something these travellers may well not get.

We live in curious times – individual freedoms are said to be important. But many of our structures, schools among them, seem to stifle them. Whilst the debate over home education is unlikely to go away, statistics would suggest that taking its path can lead to achievements just as good as those attained via the mainstream. Do we not have the right to keep our options open, then?

School exclusion may seem like the end of the world, at least as far as education is concerned.It need not be, though.

If you have experienced being excluded from education, you might feel angry at a system that should be helping rather than dismissing you. You might believe that education is pointless, and that getting qualifications is for ‘other’ people. You might listen to proclamations that you’ve ‘missed’ your chance and that your opportunity to learn is over. And if you haven’t been able to attain GCSEs, A Levels or their equivalents, you might be employed in a job that you don’t enjoy. You are also more likely to be earning less, which can make you feel personally unfulfilled. However, whatever your age or circumstance, it is never too late to restart your education and start changing all of this.

It will always be useful to get qualifications. Neither should it be forgotten that, quite apart from its potential career advantages, learning is of course also hugely beneficial for its own sake, and an activity from which you can derive self-fulfilment and increased belief in your own capabilities.

If you have been excluded from education, learning can seem daunting or even impossible. Signing up to a course might seem like too big a first step, but if you start by identifying a subject that interests you, you should discover enough motivation to get going again. Read books and articles about your chosen subject, and take time to form your own opinions about what you’ve read. Once you’ve armed yourself with some knowledge of the area in which you’re interested, you can start to investigate potential courses at college, or through a distance learning provider.

Being excluded from education can be demoralising, and can make learning seem like an unattainable goal. However, it is no longer the case that your only chance to get qualifications is at school. In 2016 there are people of all ages who are taking advantage of a multitude of educational opportunities aimed at people who want the chance to start again. A bit of life experience can go a long way in facilitating educational success, too. So, what are you waiting for?!

2016 sees the release of The Jungle Book, a new film based on the 1967 Disney animation. Rudyard Kipling, author of the original stories which form the plot, has now been dead for 80 years and his reputation is up for renewal.

In the latter years of the Raj (the British rule of India), Kipling was the literary figure of choice. He was an important author and poet, beloved of the Empire. In 1919 he was chosen by the War Graves Commission to attend to the inscriptions on the tombstones of the First World War dead, a task which was personal to him as his own son had gone missing in action (My Son Jack, a poem in the anthology studied by Oxford Home Schooling students, is generally considered to have been inspired by this event, although it has a nautical theme.).

However, Kipling fell out of favour after India became an independent nation and colonialism became a dirty word, although his name endured in no small part because of the Disney film. Over the years since, his memory has been tainted by accusations of racism, but Kipling embraced the whole of the Indian experience; he spoke Hindi and thought in Hindi, saying that he ‘translated’ his thoughts into English. He was an acute observer of all aspects of life on the sub-continent and his stories and poems were often told from the point of view of the Indian. Indeed, Jawaharlal Nehru, Independent India’s first Prime Minister, named Kim as his favourite novel.

Kipling understood the nature of struggle. His unhappy childhood was recounted in his autobiography, Something of Myself. He learnt wisdom and imparted it. There is a reason why tennis players at Wimbledon pass beneath the words of one of his most famous poems, If, before they contest the title.

Now we are beginning to re-evaluate Kipling and to appreciate his work and legacy. Although he still inspires disagreement, any who doubt his relevance should consider why there is the new film based on The Jungle Books, why a few years ago they were reimagined in masterly form by Neil Gaiman as The Graveyard Book, and why so many lines from his poems (such as “the female of the species is more deadly than the male”) have become a familiar part of our vocabulary.

In days gone by, academic study was considered a full time occupation. As a result of this, it was often the preserve of the richest and most privileged of our society. The dawn of free university education in the 1970s, however, meant that further learning became much more accessible to a wider pool of potential students. Fast forward to 2015, though, and school and university fees are climbing ever higher. This means that once again, learning is becoming the preserve of those who have financial backing from their families. That doesn’t change the fact that good qualifications still remain sought after by the best employers, of course, so if you want to establish a career that can provide financial stability as well as fulfilment, part-time learning can be a great, more economic option.

If you have any dependants, part-time learning can provide you with the opportunity to study whilst being able to fulfil your responsibilities. Whilst parents or carers often have neither the time nor the money to commit to full-time study, distance learning or an evening class can be a great means of gaining a much needed qualification, and of spreading its cost and commitment over a more manageable period.

If you’re not lucky enough to have a wealthy family to support your academic efforts, you’ll still need to find a way to pay the bills while you study. Learning in a part-time capacity means that you can undertake paid work, and support yourself during your course of study. If you’re able to earn while you learn, you can also gain valuable work experience at the same time as getting your qualifications. Employers will be able to see that you are capable of juggling several projects at once, organizing your time and taking your responsibilities seriously. In today’s glutted job market, these are valuable attributes that can make you stand out amongst other applicants.

The recession of recent years means part-time learning is a much more viable option for those who want to study at the same time as keeping a roof over their heads and feeding their families. Once the preserve of the mature student, part-time study is becoming the only option for young and old who wish to broaden their horizons and gain new qualifications while surviving in a tough economic climate.

512px-Children_computing_by_David_ShankboneThe national curriculum states that children in primary school should learn how to write basic programs, to ‘debug’ (fix mistakes in programs to allow functionality); to use technology to store and organise content; and to understand how technology is used outside of the school setting. It is impossible to ignore the fact that computer literacy is now vital for many aspects of daily living, and children should be equipped with the skills they need as early in their lives as possible.

Information technology is based on logic: the idea is that you follow a set of steps in a particular order so that you can reach a desired outcome. Developing and enhancing the logic skills of children will not only benefit their capabilities with regards to computers and digital devices, it also helps to improve numeracy. Mathematics is also centred around logic, meaning children who have good IT skills will be better able to understand the subject’s problems and concepts.

The study of IT at primary school is also an important part of preparing for secondary school. When children enter secondary school, it is assumed that they will be proficient with and confident in using technology. Although most young people have frequent and regular access to IT at home, and use devices such as PCs, tablets and mobile phones, they might not necessarily understand how they work. Formal education in information technology allows children to start secondary school with the ability to use computers and other devices to organise their work, participate in activities, and engage fully with all aspects of the curriculum.

There is increasing hysteria over children accessing social media sites and apps. The temptation is for parents and teachers to ban all such activities in a bid to protect them. However, banning these sites and apps with no discussion or explanation only makes them more alluring for children. It also means that when they enter secondary school, they are ill prepared for the murky world that can accompany online interaction. Children who study IT at primary school can be better protected from online bullying or abuse by being informed and educated about what is acceptable behaviour, and how and when to get help if it is needed.

Studying IT at primary school can help to develop research skills from a young age. Children who learn how to access the material they need and what kinds of sources and content are most useful and relevant, will be better prepared for secondary and university study. Although books still have an important part to play in the study of many subjects, online research skills are vital to the education of young people in the 21st century.

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