Teachers are inspirational

21st September 2007 at 01:00
PROFESSOR LORD ROBERT WINSTON renowned fertility expert and television celebrity believes teachers are the most important source of inspiration to children.

The next decade will see advances in epigenetics, with scientists gaining a better understanding of how a child's response to his or her environment shapes their development, he predicts. For that reason, among others, we need to accord greater respect to teachers and greater value to education, he says.

That message will be music to the ears of his audience of teachers next Tuesday, when he addresses the latest in a series of conferences organised by the Tapestry Learning Partnership in Glasgow.

Coming from a Jewish background, Professor Winston says Judaism treats education as "all important", and this has a significant effect on Jewish cultural life, Jewish people's sense of responsibility and the way they see themselves in society. Other cultures should follow suit and give greater respect to teachers, he suggests.

"That must mean that Government has to do more for them not just rewarding them with money. It should be cautious about league tables, which are disrespectful to teachers," he says.

He describes the over-use of test results to give a picture of children's learning as "fatuous", because a wider perspective needs to be taken.

A familiar face on national TV, particularly for his series A Child in our Time which is following 25 children born at the start of the millennium until they reach 20, Professor Winston stresses that the first four years of development of the human brain are "massively important" for later on. "It is very clear, from various stages, that children who are not properly rewarded for trying harder or trying to do things do suffer lack of self-esteem which affects them in later life and can cause depression.

"Having said that, it's never too late to learn. While it is better to do it earlier, the human brain has a lot of spare capacity."

With creativity being ever more highly prized in the 21st century knowledge economy, Professor Winston believes the best way to develop creative children is to have inspiring teachers. If you look at creative, successful people, it has been shown again and again that "their whole career has been inspired by a teacher", he says.

Teachers should be given "as much time out for career development as possible", he argues echoing a recommendation made in two reports over the past five years by the House of Lords.

Professor Winston is a rare example of a scientist who has also worked in the arts having spent time as a theatre director and in broadcasting. Perhaps because of this, he argues that science education should include an ethics dimension and that English pupils would benefit from a Baccalaureate-style qualification, mixing science and the arts, rather than the "narrow" focus of the A-level qualification.

He dismisses suggestions from some "creationist" quarters that "intelligent design" theories of science and evolution should be part of the science curriculum. "Of course they should not be taught, they are nonsense.

"We should be teaching things which we know to be evidence-based and that must be the basis for teaching Shakespeare or science," he says.

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