Schools are increasingly expected to reduce inequality in society in the face of increasing economic divisions. We are told that we must engage a generation of students who have become disengaged from a Victorian education system. This language is being peddled by the Innovation Unit amongst others. There is a worrying trend to see technologies as a solution to “self education”
We need to recognise that schools alone cannot close this socio-economic divide, it is a matter for the whole of society but needs direct action from government. However recognising this does not mean accepting the status quo and being happy…far from it, it demands more radical change.
Reducing education to a purely “skills-based” curriculum in an attempt to prepare students for a global job market is completely misguided. It is a blunt tool to enact social change and to engage students in the wrong ways. Whilst state schools reduce their subject specialisms to give their students “transferable skills for the economy”, private, public and independent schools continue to offer their students a rich curriculum diet and access to the best jobs and universities. The economic divide remains.
The only way in which the socio-economic divide can be overcome is through a society-wide reformation of the neo-liberal precepts on which our society is based. Using schools to do this is attempting to plaster over the ever widening cracks. Our priority should be in supporting those most in need and creating a society which is more equitable. Of course, this will be unpopular amongst the most powerful, and potentially very expensive.
We must preserve the idea that education should be available for all children and adults to develop their human potential – it is not about trying to battle market forces. This is not the same as an elitist agenda. A key part of any schooling is democratic education. If we want to add value to students lives, let us first think carefully about what values we want to add.
We must recognise that in many cases, taking away subject expertise from education under the guise of equality is a cynical cost cutting exercise. Taking away this expertise is cheating our poorest students out of the chance of engaging in immersive subject experiences. It limits any true passion in learning. To pretend that this is in their best interests is unforgivable.
It is not subject irrelevance which leads to children becoming demotivated in their studies, it is the slow realisation that their life is most likely mapped out for them thanks to their upbringing. In many cases the barriers to education just become more extreme as children get older. Subjects only regain their relevance when these barriers are removed. When this is the case, students will be able to study subjects for their own sake and in doing so will engage in the humanising processes of education. This is the real challenge of the C21st.