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A rotten education

On the subject of andragogy in the UK

By Edna F Warren

Image courtesy of Green Chameleon (craftedbygc) via Unsplash

If history teaches anything (beyond the fact that openings and conclusions may fall into Flann O’Brien’s catechism of cliché) it seems to be that humans are generally selfish. Whilst restraining your responses to this (‘hogwash!’), consider our world and when, perhaps, ‘the rot set in’.

In the UK, the point at which rot set in is open to argument. My most recent journeys to England granted me access to conversation, discussion, argument and pontification in several wayside taverns (this was pre-Covid, when we’d happily eat a slice of birthday cake that a toothless octogenarian had wheezed upon while extinguishing candles).

Brexit was in the air. The order of the day? Nationalism bordering on fascism. Verbally generous folk from all walks of life uttered forth. They were of one mind – Brexit would solve all the UK’s problems: unemployment, healthcare, crime, drugs, immigration, and education. Their views – unworthy of reiteration – backed with the unshakeable, unwavering faith that Brexit was the answer.

Answer to what? To the rot!

Depending on the speaker, the rot set in at different times. Not one person had more than shaky knowledge of events before WWII bar a conviction that Britannia had ‘ruled the waves’. Litanies of elusive causes were offered for Britain’s decline. All felt genuine grievances (the lassie bemoaning the scarcity of decent coke at sensible prices was certainly an exception) that tripped from troubled tongues: unemployment, spongeing immigrants stealing jobs, EU parasitism, NHS collapsing. They fought for ‘this country’ and look at it now, decimated Police forces, undisciplined schooling…

Particularly unhappy with the decline of so-called England, they, as English people, expected more, as their birthright. Voting for Brexit would be their contribution to a restoration, a new dawn, opportunity and hope for all.

In all this, I was struck by absence of comment on Education.

No successful civilisation has ever left education solely to the system, to the ‘professionals’. We dwell in a society where School equals Education, and vice versa. Education outside state-mandated curricula is almost alien. Ours is the age of passing exams versus learning something, getting certificates versus validly applying learning, prescribed process versus progress, of useless fact versus useful knowledge; I can see a quiz show host: “Wrong! It was Baby Spice, but you’re doing brilliant, there’s 3 questions remaining.”

It behoves every one of us to aid others, and yet correcting someone’s grammar is considered boorish, while questioning someone’s parentage for accidentally knocking into someone’s Passion Fruit Martini is acceptable. A symptom of topsy-turvyness, we are through the looking-glass in a world wherein millions are routinely swayed/manipulated/cajoled into backing insane policies. Until our Education System is overhauled (including treating educators with respect), until schools routinely teach things of relevance and give some application for the learning (and encourage application), until education in the truest sense prevails over the gaining of a certificate with (arguably meaningless) grades on it. Until then, we are all responsible for the education of others, and for a better-educated self, and for helping improve the system.

But are there exceptions to this criticism? I know students from impoverished backgrounds who are keen to learn, whose parents scrape funds for extra tuition, students who are proud of their country but awake to its faults and are yet keenly aware of global events. They value education, not merely the traditional subjects and the arts, but the notion of being informed, and seeing it worthwhile to continue lifelong-learning, developing skills to read around a subject, holding an opinion whilst allowing it to be tempered.

Education cannot be left in the hands of the system and those who maintain it.

An educated electorate is anathema to this Government – they’d be out of their phoney-baloney jobs in a heartbeat. The UK system of education foments the selfishness (remember the opening paragraph) and fear that festers below the surface for those who fall foul of its skewed priorities. Too many feel disenfranchised, excluded but, strangely, not ill-informed. (Classes in de-coding the Media might be in order – from age 7?)

Paraphrasing a US Intelligence Spokesman in the immediate aftermath of 9/11: A secure nation is one with an educated population. (His unsanctioned statement earned him the sack.)

Education needs reconsidering and assisting. It is too important to be left to Controllers and Comptrollers. If allowed to continue in a state of iniquitous insular infirmity, it bodes ill for generations ahead. Or has that ship already sailed?


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