It is time to take responsibility

Governments are unrealistically - and unfairly - placing too much emphasis on making education the cornerstone of economic success

AN EXPERT in early years learning has railed against governments that try to make education the cornerstone of economic success.

John Bennett, co-author of a report that looked at early childhood education and care in 20 OECD countries, was scathing about an increasing reliance on children to "save the economy".

"It's a very stupid discourse," he told an early years conference in New Lanark this week.

He said it was common sense to expect a "certain rigour" in management of education systems, but that there was scant research showing a link between economic success and the reform of primary and secondary education.

Economic competitiveness was helped by a well-educated workforce, he agreed, but argued that governments used education to deflect attention away from other areas for which they held responsibility, such as monetary, trade and industrial policy, not to mention developments in other countries over which they had no control.

Ideas about education were heavily influenced by globalisation and economics, he said, pointing to US president George Bush. In his 2006 State of the Union address, President Bush said that students should take more maths and science courses and that these had to be "rigorous enough to compete with other nations".

Mr Bennett said European countries - and those in the UK - spoke of educating children to be the workforce of tomorrow. He finds that governments are increasingly adopting a "utilitarian approach" to education, characterised by micro-management from the centre, predefined content and learning standards, external evaluation, teacher supervision and financial control of local administrations.

He cited the late historian Lawrence Cremin, who argued that attempts to make education responsible for difficulties in competing with economies were "a crass effort to direct attention away from those truly responsible for doing something about competitiveness and to lay the burden instead on the schools".

Mr Bennett's report, Starting Strong II: Early Childhood Education and Care, finds that countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development are increasingly investing in the early years. This appears to be largely based on a desire to boost economic prosperity by encouraging more women into work rather than a belief in the inherent value of early childhood education and care.

MrJBennettJsaidJthat the Scot-tish government needed to be child-centred in its approach toJearly years, and recommended joining a new OECD international networkJdesigned to help members develop services. England and Northern Ireland have agreed to join, with 17 other countries.

Another speaker at the Children in Scotland conference, "Starting Strong II in Scotland, Too", expressed deep concern about the increasing influence of private sector ideas on the voluntary sector.

Rosemary Milne, chief executive of Edinburgh-based childcare provider smilechildcare, said: "While we are talking about partnership working, in the next breath we are talking about competition."

She feels any blurring of boundaries must be weighed more to-wards the co-operation typified by the voluntary sector, rather than the competition of the private sector.

* www.oecd.orgedustartingstrong2

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