These are humans we're teaching, not robots

3rd October 1997 at 01:00
In this sad, materialistic world, Michael Barber and his colleagues at the Government's standards and effectiveness unit seem unable to lift their eyes and look beyond the horizon.

For them a "better future" seems to mean a "good" well-paid job and a strong economy. We teachers are reduced to the level of animal trainers in a circus, our "performance" being judged by how high we can get the animals to jump. We are to "deliver" a body of knowledge into identical empty vessels and there has to be a "measurable outcome", from which people who have nothing better to do will produce "high quality data".

We are talking about individual human beings with varying talents, not robots! Many of those "disadvantaged " people living in poverty of whom Michael Barber speaks in such patronising terms have more love and humanity in their hearts than their more affluent neighbours. One doesn't need to be the Brain of Britain or wealthy to be a decent human being.

We should ask ourselves why it is that someone who works hard as a cleaner, road sweeper or on a factory production line does not receive a decent wage? We will always need such people and they should be accorded the same respect as a university professor. Whether we are blessed with a brilliant brain or hard-working hands we should be similarly rewarded for our labours.

I want the children I teach to be literate and numerate as do all teachers - we would not be in the job otherwise - but I also want to "breathe life into the bare bones of a text" for them; to open their eyes to the rich mathematical pattern all around us; to help them develop positive self-esteem; to think critically and creatively, and to have love and compassion for others in their hearts.

We would do well to listen to the advice to young people given by the writer of Ecclesiastes: "Enjoy your youth. Be happy while you are still young, before those dismal days and years to come when you will say 'I don't enjoy life'. . . . There is no end to the wringing of books and too much study will wear you out."!

We are making children's lives a misery. Exams, on the whole, test short-term memory. Most of us have forgotten much of what we did at school. How many children will take their own lives before we realise what we're doing to them?

Let's put joy and laughter back into childhood, and let us value and appreciate each person's contribution to society, however lowly that contribution may be.


13 Islestone Court Berwick-on-Tweed Northumberland

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