Make your voice heard

17th August 2001 at 01:00
THE educational changes begun in the 1970s have cheated those they purported to benefit. Segregated housing and the continuation of that subsidised sector which likes to call itself "independent" ensured that, for the bulk of the population, the debate about "comprehensivisation" was a phony debate - and as far as I'm concerned, if it isn't comprehensive, it can't be education.

But, equally, if it isn't education, what was the point? The less public debate over the nature of education was won by the forces of philistinism. So began the marginalising of education understood as the development of knowledge, thought and imagination. In its place was planted the germ of a system geared towards social and vocational training which reached a spectacularly ugly flowering with Higher Still.

Of course, entrance into further and higher education during this time has increased dramatically and to the benefit of groups previously discriminated against. However, the problem lies with what we mean by "education" in all this, with the questionable modular method used in FE (and now in schools) to produce these qualifications, and with the evolving two-tier university system (also now beginning in schools with the Advanced Higher) which looks suspiciously as though it thinks it can offer the benefits of intellectualexistential education to the privileged while restricting the rest to mere training.

Underneath the statistics about exam passes and college entrance, the educational picture is deeply worrying. Our youngsters' general knowledge is poor. Their awareness of their own histories, geographies and literatures is close to nil. Their knowledge of European languages and cultures is an embarrassment. They have difficulty in constructing and developing critical ideas. The ability to write accurately and purposefully without aid is rare.

This despite the heroic efforts of teachers who must work against the grain of curricular orthodoxy to achieve any genuinely educational results and whose schools are now being disparaged by the real culprits, the politicians and bureaucrats, as "bog comprehensives".

But signs of resistance are appearing. HMI's loss of credibility and the unions' failure to protect schools from political manipulation leave a space which teachers seem increasingly willing to fill. Internal assessment, which encapsulates much of what is wrong, is now an issue requiring full public debate. The Scottish Parliament offers time for the sort of scrutiny Westminster never allowed.

All this requires ordinary teachers to speak up, to inform their MSPs and hold them to account for the restoration of integrity and authenticity to our education system.

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