Deeply negative ‘catch-up’ rhetoric is bad for pupils

The emphasis on ‘catching up’ puts undue pressure on teachers and pupils, says Nuzhat Uthmani

Nuzhat Uthmani

Deeply negative 'catch-up' rhetoric is bad for pupils

What is the purpose of education?  There’s usually a variety of answers to this depending on who you ask.

The teacher will say it’s about building citizens of the future, who are innovative, confident and empowered. The parent will say it is to ensure their child has the skills and knowledge that will help them through life. And, apparently, certain groups say it is about preparing everyone to generate sufficient taxes for the country.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) recently reported that this generation of children and young people are forecast to lose £350 billion in future income. I find this mind-boggling. We don’t even know what jobs will exist 10-15 years down the line; what’s important is for our young people to have a variety of skills that will equip them for whatever that future looks like


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Change is not always a bad thing and can often result in innovations that nobody had previously considered possible. We must stop assessing the loss in terms of the past and, instead, focus on the opportunity we have to develop a better future.

There has been a lot said about the impact of restrictions on the lives of children and young people. The Scottish government has said it will invest £15 million in children’s mental health services. But how many young people will be sad because of missing classroom maths and literacy? What they are really missing is the social contact with their peers, the “fun” experiences of everyday school life: music, drama, team sports, cookery, joint projects.

Extending the school day will not aid in the “catching up” process – in fact, it will further harm the mental health and wellbeing of our young people. The focus needs to be on how to build up skills around resilience, confidence, leadership and tolerance.

The deeply negative rhetoric around loss and damage in education is unhelpful. Instead, we should be praising our children and young people for adapting and working hard through a global pandemic. They need to be told how strong they are, that they can tackle any challenge life throws at them – not how much income they may lose as an adult.

There is no need to catch up: the focus must be on a smart recovery. Scotland’s curriculum is a flexible approach that allows educators to mould it in a way that suits our learners – something we do regularly to best meet their needs. For effective recovery, we need smaller class sizes and more teachers to provide more focused support. Our young people need fully funded extracurricular activities to reconnect with each other. Some studies, indeed, have shown that involvement in such activities can have a positive impact on academic attainment.

In short, rather than fixating on “catching up”, let’s take the chance that the pandemic offers to make changes to education for the better.

Nuzhat Uthmani is a teacher, a trustee at the WOSDEC Global Learning Centre in Glasgow, and founder of Global Citizenship Education Scotland. She tweets @NUthmani

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Nuzhat Uthmani

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