'Let pupils choose their own lessons'

6th June 1997 at 01:00
The compulsory school day should be split in half and pupils allowed to choose their own afternoon activities, a leading academic has said.

John White, professor of philosophy of education at London University's Institute of Education, says schools must adapt to a world in which the work ethic is disappearing. In Education and the End of Work, published this week, he says that current schooling is based on the assumption that children will grow up to join a "work society". But he says we need to rethink the aims of education to prepare people for an "activity society" in which "the personal flourishing of the self-directing yet ethically aware individual comes first".

His idea for changing the traditional school day came after a visit to the former Soviet Union, in which he saw children being taught in classrooms in the mornings and taking part in chosen activities, from building radios to learning the violin, in the afternoons.

Prof White told The TES: "At the moment schools mirror a working society. But we need a new mirror of society so that, as the work culture is eroded, this happens in schools too and children are given an opportunity to choose their own activities as they get older."

Prof White denies that he is calling for a return to progressive "child-centred" education, that is now as out of favour with the Labour government as it was with its Conservative predecessor.

He says that allowing children to choose their own activities will better prepare them for later life, when, he believes, self-motivation and organisation of activities by individuals will become increasingly important.

He has also called for post-school education to be simplified to create a "seamless range" of courses of varying lengths, levels and activities.

The idea of lifelong learning should be adopted, but not for the reasons put forward by "traditionalist supporters of the work culture", who argue that people will need frequent retraining to fit them for a dwindling number of jobs.

In a society that is no longer in thrall to work, Prof White argues, recreational learning will become increasingly important.

He says: "We need to question the work culture, the idea that work gives meaning to life. We need to put an emphasis on individuals shaping their own way of life, which may include work activities or not."

Education and the End of Work, John White, Cassell, Pounds 15.99.

Platform, page 32

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