Welcome to the teacherless revolution

27th March 2009 at 00:00

Rare is the revolution that does not involve some casualties. And so it is with the Government's "Learning Revolution" white paper, launched this week.

The Pounds 20 million of new funding to support community groups and volunteers in encouraging grass-roots learning is admirable in itself, especially at a time when money is tight, since - as revolutionaries must - we have seized the banks.

And, just as Lenin noted that there can be no revolution without revolutionary theory, government statements of principle about the social value of learning - beyond merely piling up skills qualifications - are welcome.

But as a bid to quell the insurrectionary forces that arose following the loss of 1.5 million adult learning places in traditional further education - during the Great Leap Forward of Train to Gain - it is better than sending in the tanks, although hardly adequate to restore what is missing.

Also somewhat unconvincing is the Government's sudden conversion to anarcho-syndicalism in education, leaving the people to get on with it in self-organised groups within their communities.

In the words of another great political thinker, Homer Simpson: "I agree with you, in theory. In theory, communism works. In theory."

This somewhat utopian ideal has every chance of producing a few strikingly good initiatives, but doubts over whether it can guarantee universal access to adult education, even in our most deprived areas, are probably well-founded.

Moreover, one cannot help but suspect that there would have been far more five-year plans and centralised target-setting were there any funding of real consequence attached to the initiative.

But the casualty of this revolution is the teacher. In Mao's Cultural Revolution, qualified teachers were eliminated, while many districts were forced to rely on students to teach each other, an experiment that was not an outstanding success.

It is noteworthy that until now, this Government has rarely used the word "learning" without pairing it with what always seemed an unnecessary counterpart: "teaching". Unnecessary, it seemed, because how much learning can you have without teaching and teachers?

Well, we are about to find out. Like Alexander Malchenko, airbrushed out of photographs with Lenin after he fell from favour, professional teachers have been somewhat removed from the frame with this white paper.

Malchenko's story has a slightly happier ending, however. In 1958, he was posthumously rehabilitated after 28 years and restored in the photographs. Let us hope that what is wrong with the adult education picture can also be restored - and in slightly less time.

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