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.

During their time at High School, every student in the UK will be given an opportunity to take part in some form of work experience. Such an opportunity is also available via many colleges, and beyond into university life. But why is it so important?

  1. It will help you decide what sort of job you do, and don’t, want in the future.
    Work experience can help you to determine if a particular career is right for you, and conversely, if you are right for it. Even just a week of work experience can help familiarise you with a role enough to know if you need to change career path, or if you have found something you wish to embrace in the future.

      2. Learn from others
By observing those already employed in your work experience venue, you can see how career paths develop, and what the everyday challenges of a job are. Working alongside professionals provides the chance to speak to them, and ask direct questions about their work.

      3. It will help you find a job in the future. Most employers are looking for people who have skills and experience in the world of work, as well as people with good qualifications. A     previous record of work experience shows you are serious about making your way in the world. A survey by UCAS showed that graduates who had no previous work experience were unlikely to be successful during an interview selection process. It also found that one third of employers felt that applicants who did not take unpaid work experience were without the level of knowledge required to cope in the world of work.

      4. It can provide you with contacts for the future
If you are lucky enough to find work experience in a field which you wish to continue into in adult life, then it will give you the opportunity to build relationships with professionals in a potential place of work.

     5. CV building
Even if you don’t find work in a field you wish to continue in later, the more work experience you have on your CV the better. It will show future employers and university selectors that you are the sort of person that is willing to get out there and work.

At whatever stage of your working life, if you are prepared to work for a short time without pay, just to learn new skills, and test out new career paths, then you will not only improve your own confidence, but you will impress future employers, giving you a better footing on your career ladder.

When, after a general election, no one political party has won enough seats to have a majority government controlling the House of Commons, it is known as a hung parliament.

Since 1929, there have been three general elections in the UK that have ended with a hung parliament. In 1974 the general election resulted in a hung parliament which only lasted for a few months, before the government collapsed in October 1974. The second hung parliament came in 2010 when, although the Conservative party was the largest single party, they didn’t have enough seats in the House of Commons to rule alone. In this instance they formed a coalition (shared government) with the Liberal Democrat party; so although the Conservatives were in power, they were unable to get laws to papers through parliament without the backing of the Liberals. Such a situation is hardly ideal. Having to depend upon a different political party, with different political views to your own, naturally makes getting legislation through parliament very much harder than it would be if you had a majority government.

The third hung parliament since 1929 brings us right up to date, with the recent result of the snap election called by the Conservative leader Theresa May (above) leaving her clinging on to power by a thread. It is probably safe to say that the result was not what she expected and, rather than strengthen the party as she had hoped in the light of the Brexit negotiations, she now has to cope with a minority government.

In order to form a Government that can effectively run a country, the winning political party must be able to command a majority in the House of Commons. This majority can include support from other political parties, whether or not there is a formal coalition. On this occasion, rather than form a coalition government like her predecessor David Cameron did in 2010, May has formed an alliance with the small DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) from Northern Ireland.

If the Prime Minister in charge of a hung parliament finds that they cannot get the legislation they want through with the help of their allied party, and so decides to resign, then the leader of the largest opposition party (currently Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party) may be invited to form a government. If they accept the challenge, they can choose to rule either as a minority government (which would make getting their policies through the House of Commons similarly difficult), or again by forming a coalition or alliance with another party.

Hung parliaments often result in the eventual resignation of the Prime Minister. However, a Prime Minister only has to resign if it is clear that they can’t command a majority of the House of Commons, despite any alliances they have formed, or if they lose a vote of confidence motion in the House of Commons. Whether that will be the case this time remains to be seen.

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.

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?!

State education is on the brink of crisis. According to the Teacher’s Review Body, and supported by independent research, the number of secondary pupils is predicted to rise by 17% between now and 2023. Yet at the same time there is a short-fall in the number of trainee teachers needed to fill present vacancies in a number of key subjects. Young graduates continue to be deterred from entering the profession by, amongst other things, a perceived lack of government support, whilst current trends also indicate a long-term decline in the number of women entering teaching. Experienced teachers, meanwhile, are taking early retirement, with many preferring to opt for part-time work as private tutors. This year will also see a significant reduction in school procurement budgets.

Parents have been quick to react to these changes. Since 2011, there has been a 65% increase in the number of children officially registered as home educated. Currently there are just over 36,000 children receiving out of school education, out of a total school population of 9 million – a small percentage, perhaps, but one that is on the increase, and these figures do not include fifth and sixth formers using distance learning materials out of school to study for their GCSE and A levels.

Traditionally, the reasons given by parents withdrawing their children from full-time education include family lifestyle, special needs, religious convictions, bullying and dissatisfaction with the quality of education provided by the local authority. Increasingly, a lack of specialist qualified teachers is placing a strain on fifth and sixth form provision, affecting languages, science, maths, business studies and IT. The failure to recruit these specialists means there is little scope for broadening the curriculum in ways required by industry and commerce. It may be said that some subjects, such as economics, are actually now being maintained via the use of distance learning.

These changes suggest a shift from the rigid “one fits all” model of education to a far more flexible system – a sort of halfway house, where some provision is provided wholly in school under the supervision of a teacher, whilst other subjects are “bought in” and worked on, out of school hours.

As schools struggle to cope in the present financial climate, distance learning and home tuition is likely to grow. It is, of course, not a universally popular phenomenon; many will argue that this is really the privatisation of education by the back door and therefore to be deplored. Detailed information about the quality and success of home education is, according to one authority, incomplete and in need of improvement. Obviously, if the system is not adequately policed, such concerns can be considered valid. However, if the emergent hybrid is well monitored, as it usually is, it could act as a novel way of maintaining subject provision, and further, of introducing new subjects, such as economics, computer programming or financial accounting into an increasingly arid sixth form provision.

Finally, it is also true to say that hard times such as these will always maintain and emphasise the need to stimulate initiative and change. For those who do not find a home in the mainstream system, home education should be an alternative well worth considering.

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.

End_of_the_world_prisonAccording to the Institute for the Study of Civil Society in 2010, most people in custody do not have any educational qualifications: 52% of men, and 71% of women.

It could be argued that a lack of education is a precursor to committing a criminal offence, which would suggest that education in prison should be enshrined as a right, as a vital part of rehabilitation. Gov.uk states that prisoners have a right to ‘healthcare – including support for a mental health condition’. If prisons are to support the mental health of offenders, it could similarly be suggested that education should be a key part of that support. It is not possible for people to study for more advanced qualifications like A-Levels or degrees within prisons. However, if certain conditions are met, offenders can study for these qualifications via distance learning. The main issue for people engaging in distance learning from prison is the lack of internet access, which many would consider a privilege.

Education provides people with choices and enables them to get jobs that they enjoy, and for which they can be well compensated. When young people are failed by education providers, their options can narrow, and this can result in destructive behaviour, which can include engaging in criminal activity. If that does happen, education in prison should be considered vital: inmates should be given the chance to create new opportunities for themselves. Ex-offenders who have been successful at creating opportunities for work or further study will be more successful at becoming fulfilled members of society with a positive future.

Prisons have a duty of care for all offenders, and this care includes mental health. According to the Mental Health Network on behalf of the NHS, nearly half of new prisoners are considered susceptible to anxiety or depression. Both of these conditions can be alleviated by studying for qualifications. Although other courses of action may be necessary, education in prison can distract people from their anxiety, and give them something to focus on other than negative thoughts and feelings. This distraction can give inmates hope and an ability to look forward to the future.

For people in prison who are studying via distance learning, the lack of internet access can be a disadvantage. Part of the distance learning experience for most people is the online communication and support, as well as the ability to research course specific content via the internet. It could be argued that prisoners should not expect to have the right to internet access, though, even if it would enhance their learning experiences. However, prisons in the UK are rolling out a portal solely for use by inmates who are studying for qualifications. This portal has features similar to the internet, and is designed to support distance learning without extending potentially contentious privileges.

The tabloid media often reports on how ‘easy’ life is for people in prison, and bemoans any privileges awarded to offenders. However, education should not be considered a privilege. If people who have been convicted of crimes want to engage in learning, it should be encouraged and facilitated. Education can be a vital part of rehabilitation, allowing prisoners to reform their lives and create new opportunities.

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