Digital Salad: Taking A Break From Gaming For A Rant About Education

I usually blog about games, in fact I’ve never blogged about anything else, but recently the fantastic Mr Murf inspired me to write about some non-gaming topics. Gaming is something I enjoy doing and love sharing my opinions on, but there’s far more to me than just my gaming; just like any gamer. So, this blog is a bit of a change, with me talking about a topic that I care about in real life – education.

Borrowed stock picture
Borrowed stock picture

Education is something I care quite a lot about. We’re all the product of our education to varying degrees. Until relatively recently I was in the education system (for context I’m talking about the UK education system here), going as far as to study a Masters degree. With all that I learnt throughout my education, I didn’t want to let it go to waste – I wanted to teach the children of the future and hopefully make the world a better place for my efforts. Sounds saintly, I know, but I love helping people.

So, I applied for teacher training schemes in the UK. To become a teacher these days you have to jump through all sorts of hoops, and understandably so. There’s a maths aptitude test, an English aptitude test, a DBS check to make sure you’re not a criminal, you must have at least a week experience observing in schools (which in itself will usually require a List 99 check and a lot of email leg work to organise) and then of course there’s UCAS. The very word will make most young Brits recoil in fear – its our centralised application service for all things higher education such as University places and, now, teacher training places as well. Like any centralised system though, its crap.

I managed to jump through all of those hoops though, and then reached the end of my UCAS application; time to choose what to apply for. There’s two routes, School based or University based. Turns out they are actually exactly the same as far as the course content goes. I picked School based though, it sounded more like my kind of thing. That scheme is the brain child of the current Education Secretary and general figure of hate, Michael Gove MP.

Education Secretary Michael Gove
Education Secretary Michael Gove

There’s a not-so-pretty picture of him for you. Teachers loath him, so much so that 99.3% of the largest teacher’s union agreed with a vote of no confidence in his leadership. In a business, if every single member of staff complained about their boss he would surely be out of a job, but not Mr Gove. In fact, I wonder why he has the job seeing as he’s a trained journalist and has not a shred of education experience to boast of.

That aside, Mr Gove’s changes have been vast, some of the biggest to the British education system since the abolishment of the Grammar School dominated selective ‘Tripartite System’ in the 1970s. The ‘Comprehensive System’ of un-selective state education system that the Labour government back then created to replace the ‘Tripartite System’ has now been replaced by Michael Gove’s ‘Academy System’.

Gove has brought business right into the classroom, opening up all schools from the best to the worst to private ‘sponsors’ who support the school. Its a good way of keep the Department for Education’s budget down in tough times, sure, but it represents a very worrying direction. My experiences observing in schools have been enlightening on the damage caused by Gove’s Academy revolution to education.

Useful education tool or Orwellian thought control device?
Useful education tool or Orwellian thought control device?

In one particular school, a technology company became the sponsor, providing the children with free iPads as part of the deal. IPads are tools of some reasonable educational value, although clearly not a replacement to the book and pen. The real cause for concern to me was that the children could only use the iPads once they had watched a set number of adverts. Compulsory product adverts in the classroom crosses a distinct boundary that leaves me feeling very uncomfortable, like I have fallen asleep and awoken in Orwell’s 1984. Maybe Orwell was seeing the future, just 30 years off.

Alongside the Academies marrying up businesses with schools, it has also been driving more ‘freedom’ for schools. Gove wants schools to choose their own syllabus, to choose their own holidays, set their own budgets with their business partners. All of that makes me wonder, first of all, why you would need a Department for Education if schools were supposed to do that all by themselves. Most of all though, it worries me.

I believe very strongly in the principle of education instilled in me by the ethos of what Gove would most likely call the ‘Labourite’ generation. For me, the British education system stands for equality (that no matter what your background you have an equal chance of succeeding), for intellectual rigor and also free thinking (that we not only know our subjects well, but we dare to think creatively and ingenuously around them). The ‘independence’ offered by the Academy System damages this ethos.

I have spent time in a religious school as part of my applications to teach. Religions and school do not match, and frankly, there should be no place for any religious schools in 21st Century Britain. I can reason with private schools, where parents pay to send their children to schools that generally offer slightly better results than their state counterparts. Religion is an entirely different ball-park though.

There are Catholic, as well as some other conservative faith, Religious schools in the UK right now teaching children Creationism and also Abstinence based sex education (if any at all). Whilst most state schools will talk through the history of how we moved on scientifically from Creationism to Darwinian Evolution and let the pupils then consider which theory sounds the best; these schools pre-decide for the pupils and thrust one concept on to them. Such teaching does not fit with the ethos of British education; yet Gove’s ‘independence’ has led to a resurgence of faith schools.

I don’t seem to be alone in my concern, teachers are worried in Britain; worried what Gove’s changes mean for the future. Education is crucial to the development of young people. Its not just about getting high scores in tests, but about the development of youngsters into productive and social citizens. Mr Gove doesn’t seem to understand this role, choosing to focus on relentless drives for financial efficiency and good grades. School is more than that, its about education; and a good education will last you not only forever but also make the world a much better place.

A mock up of the worryingly popular Daily Mail
A mock up of the worryingly popular Daily Mail

To me, Gove’s command of the Department for Education is like letting the Daily Mail newspaper run the Department (coincidence or not that his wife is a Daily Mail journalist I’ll leave up to you). That is worrying. I’ve seen the damage that he and his army of iPad wielding business partners have done to the classroom and the next generation of British youngsters. It saddens me greatly.

The end to my story is a sorry one as well, I was rejected from the teacher training places that I applied to and I won’t be becoming a teacher. I don’t particularly blame Gove for that, but I get an overwhelming sense that the decision makers were looking for the Gove-ite that I so clearly am not. I’m lucky though, I have a job that I really enjoy in another field, where I talk to the public and help them alongside a great team of people. Others in my situation probably aren’t as lucky.

I won’t rant on any more about education though, and I’ll leave you with a slightly doctored version of the immortal lyrics of Pink Floyd – as probably every teaching blog as done at some time:

We don’t need no thought control
Hey! Gove! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.

Digital Salad ā€“


13 thoughts on “Digital Salad: Taking A Break From Gaming For A Rant About Education

  1. C. T. Murphy January 27, 2014 / 11:06 pm

    Not to self-inflate my ego, but if this is the sort of thing I have inspired you to blog about, then yay me. I loved this post.

    Like you, I have a natural inclination toward teaching. Though I opted for another way instead of getting as far as you did, teaching was my original major in college. As I started getting deeper and deeper into it, however, I quickly learned that I wanted more life experience before I’d feel right being in charge of kid’s futures. I love learning, teaching, and I very much enjoy helping others. But all the books in the world hadn’t matured me enough yet for that responsibility.

    So, I went with Liberals Arts instead (Philosophy and English). Teaching is something I still see as a potential option down the line, but I sincerely want to get involved in some nonprofits and see the world for what it is before bureaucracy forces me to change my perspective to seeing how it is not.

    I agree with your assessment that adding corporations into the classroom is alarming at the least. I also agree that so much oversight and government regulation can be problematic for teachers and schools to really flourish. It is a difficult problem to balance, which is why no one country seems to have it right.

    For my background, I went to a private protestant school my entire life. While there were excellent teachers there, it wasn’t the sort of education I’d hope my own children. The school was too small, for one, so my opportunities to do basic things like join a band or a sports team that wasn’t baseball, basketball, or football, were extremely limited. After spending time near Chicago and interacting with kids in public schools there, I was blown away by the amount of options they have (film clubs, for instance) and how lacking my own education had been.

    College helped to turn a lot of the small-mindedness of my religious education background around. That’s probably why I ended up in Philosophy classes in the first place. Even though I was pretty adamantly not a Christian by the end of my high school run, I was still unexposed to so much. Philosophy exposed me to a lot, as well as giving me the toolkit to expose myself to a lot more. These days, I am very well-read, more curious in everything than ever, and a genuinely better person.

    Some would say that my Philosophy degree was still a waste. Getting a job with a Liberal Arts major here in the states is pretty tough. There are no obvious options. And though I feel like it did a lot to make up for what I was lacking going into college, I certainly would have appreciated a degree that had prepared me for a specific line of work. Appreciated being the key word. As in, I don’t believe that particular requirement should be necessary for any education.

    Which leads me to why I firmly believe in the value of a moderately well-defined public education curriculum. One of the alarming aspects of including businesses in classrooms, aside from the obvious slippery slope to mass education privatization (and curriculums designed for indoctrination rather than education), is the fact that it says education’s purpose is to make money. That is fundamentally wrong.

    In my view, public education’s purpose is to create a citizenry capable of governing itself in a fair and just manner. People cannot rule through democracy when fewer and fewer voters are qualified to vote. In a sense of fairness, I do believe that the right to vote is a basic human right when living in a democracy. At the same time, I believe my responsibility as an individual and the government’s responsibility as a collective force of individuals is to justify the fairness of an equal right to vote for all by educating the populace. Public education is the means in which we secure democracy for this and all future generations by creating a capable body of votes, informed and educated enough to sustain their government.

    At the exact same time, public education is necessary to guarantee a basic equality for all. We cannot expect all children to have equal access to quality education unless a public standard exists that can be guaranteed to all children in our nations. Even if they never vote a day in their life, these children need to know the basics in order to be productive members of society, to fit into our communities, and to contribute to the growth of our civilizations. That doesn’t mean the worth of education should be tied to economic progress, but instead to a far more difficult thing to measure: happiness.

    Of course, when the system has become too complicated for voices like ours and the many that share similar opinions to our own to be heard, there is a problem. Perhaps typing a few words on the internet will begin to fix it. Perhaps it won’t.

    At the very least, we can share in one another’s misery and hopelessness!

    • Doone January 28, 2014 / 2:53 am

      Great write up by both of you šŸ™‚ I have no degrees, but high respect for education. My story is different from both of you, but I’m not going to tell it here. Perhaps another time, a better time.

      I agree with you Murfs that education is seen as, well, a job. It’s ties to the economy are backward and harmful. Instead of viewing education as an *investment* we view it as an *expense*. And that changes everything, from how we pay teachers to how we reward students for excellence. Education is a long-term investment, something we do to pay off for humanity in the long haul. In America, education is something that’s pricey and unaffordable. It’s no wonder the state of our union is in decay.

      • C. T. Murphy January 28, 2014 / 6:10 pm

        Definitely. It is difficult imagining a democracy working if people cannot be expected to be able to read the ballots!

      • Digital Salad January 29, 2014 / 9:40 pm

        I’m glad you liked the post and our discussion šŸ™‚

        An education is so important in so many ways and it really does irritate me how many see it purely in economic terms – as if a child’s education is an extended training program for their first job!

        Without a good education system and an educated society you have a decaying society, the very threat that faces you in the States at the moment and your friends over here in the UK as well.

    • Digital Salad January 29, 2014 / 9:38 pm

      I’m glad you liked the post Murf šŸ™‚

      I had no idea that you also looked in to teaching in the past, what a fluke! That’s a great attitude to have for the future though, definitely. If you do end up in teaching the kids will benefit all the more for all your life experiences then, and being the best possible teacher to help them to be the best they can possibly be is what it’s all about.

      Me, I’m a Geographer by ‘trade’, that was my Undergraduate degree, but I went off to do a Masters in International Relations as well. I think my education was me pursing subjects looking at the world around me most of all, I’m fascinated by the world and its systems; and ideally want to work to make it even just a tiny bit better during my life. Unfortunately, its transpired that I won’t do that through teaching; but I feel very lucky that I’ve managed to find a different job that allows me to help people be a bit better off. Even if you don’t make it in to teaching I hope you too manage to find your calling in life!

      The corporations coming into the classroom so suddenly has definitely been the most shocking element of my experience. The compulsory adverts on the provided iPads was appalling; yet it seems that all involved found that to be perfectly normal. Goverments definitely have a tendency to want to tinker with education a little too much. I strongly believe that governments have a really important role in setting to ethos, direction and general overall strategy of a state’s education in the form of a National Curriculum; the trouble that’s definitely happened in the UK is that NCs have always been to obsessed with details. That doesn’t mean that Gove’s destruction of the NC is a good thing, it just needed changing :/. A difficult balance, but it seems we’ve just lurched to the other extreme on the scales now.

      It’s fascinating to hear about your school background. I went to a private, relatively religious, school for my entire life as well. I’ve been incredibly lucky to spend so much time getting to know state schools; as well as living with a great advocate of them in the form of CakeBoxFox! My background means I can definitely empathise with your education. We had hardly any choice at all as far as academic options went, with a very limited traditional curriculum, and almost non-existent extra-curricular activities. Many schools have such a wealth of choice and that’s a great thing. Education is about so much more than the grades, and I really fear that the current changes in the UK are moving dangerously away from that principle. I’m glad to hear that you’ve really enjoyed college and Philosophy, they sound like awesome experiences. I can definitely empathise again there with my experiences from leaving school and going through University.

      There’s a trend recently for many to argue that education should be all about preparing the next generation for work. I think we can both agree that education is about far more than that. Without a proper education we would have simply mindless drones doing jobs without thought, just like robots. Perhaps that is Gove’s ultimate objective! It is certainly a grim potential future, where nobody thinks about anything and acts like an automaton, there is no engagement in public life and society in that sense no longer exists; all the while bombarded by continuous adverts wherever you go. Dystopian future 101 that is! A proper education is the absolute foundation block of the path to avoiding that disastrous future.

      I entirely agree with your words on citizenry. Without a decent education system then it is ultimately a failed democracy; democracy thrives on an engaged population and you cannot have an engaged population if it is not educated in the first place. Voting on its own is just not enough, it means nothing if nobody knows who or what they are voting for. The most worrying trend that backs this up for me, at least in the UK, is the tendency of politicians to rubbish poor youth voter turn-out as them being ‘just kids – they don’t understand’. That highlights so many failures of the democratic system in one sentiment, just one of which is the failure to educate young people in citizenry and social thinking. As you say though, it’s not just voting that is the seal of a good citizen. I firmly believe that without a good education there can be no such thing as a society, and that is perhaps the greatest threat to the future.

      Happiness is certainly the best measure though, as you say. I could write an entire blog post on the importance of happiness and why I think prioritising that is just as important, and in several ways more important, than economic progress. I’ll save you from that now though because this response is getting longer than my actual post!

      A big thank you for the inspiration for this post and for your comment. I really appreciate it. Stay tuned for my future posts šŸ™‚

      • Doone January 30, 2014 / 2:03 am

        I would go much further thank you have in the alloted role for government. The sum lesson of the current state of affairs is that there *is no private economy*. It’s obvious, hidden in plain sight. All education should be managed by the government, because the government is us. I’m sure someone will read this and immediately reach for the word “communist” or “socialist”, but those are not very different from capitalism. What I refer to is the world as it exists. There is no private interest when it comes to education. We’re either all trying to make this thing work, or some of us are trying and others are looking out for #1.

        We can’t have great public education and great private education. We will have one or the other.

      • Digital Salad February 3, 2014 / 6:54 pm

        I agree that ‘government’ has an absolutely critical role to play in education. Private companies have a vested interested in the new generation being clever is the usual argument. I don’t see it that way, and they don’t either. Private companies only have an interest in the next generation being ‘good workers’ – far too often confused as automatons lacking any sort of true personality.

        Government is the only institution that has the power to look beyond vested interest, or at least has the vested interest in the next generation being good citizens – the product of a truly great education. Great points, that I pretty much agree with entirely šŸ™‚

  2. bhagpuss January 28, 2014 / 3:46 pm

    Gove is certainly a hate figure for certain parts of British society at present. The liberal elite particularly despise him. The commercial aspects of the Conservatives’ Academy programme are unpleasant and the potential abuses of the system by single-interest groups, of which religions are only an example, more so.

    On the other hand, it would be hard to claim with a straight face that the education system pre-Gove was a shining beacon of success. If anything it had Orwellian qualities worse than the ones you describe above, with the rigid National Curriculum and the endless obsession with tests. Nor were any of the preceding attempts at a unified system of universal education glorious successes, either. The Comprehensive system, which was brought into being while I was at Primary School, was a laudable ideal but a practical disaster in that it was anything but comprehensive, leading directly to the withdrawal of the children of the affluent middle classes from State Education altogether.

    The one aspect of the Academy system that does give grounds for optimism is precisely that part which is intended to give more control to schools and less to the state. If followed through, the result will be a wide variety of differing schools and therefore a wide variety of differently-educated children and young adults. I would see this as vastly preferable to a homogenized State orthodoxy (not that in practical terms the Comprehensive system was able to produce that, but it was the intention).

    As Murf’s anecdotal example suggests, once young adults move out of their school environment and meet contemporaries whose educational experiences have been different a great deal of comparing of notes will ensue, which is where the real learning will begin. I wouldn’t be too downhearted about the current state of affairs. It almost certainly won’t be any worse than any of the previous versions. Cold comfort, perhaps.

    • Digital Salad January 28, 2014 / 8:39 pm

      Thanks for the comment šŸ™‚

      Certainly, the system pre-Gove was hardly a shining beacon of success. That said, there’s a compelling argument that steps since then have been in the wrong direction – so perhaps pre-Gove was the lesser of two evils. When you take the old Grammar School era into account I would say the Comprehensive System was probably the closest we got to ideal, but there was still plenty of room for improvement! (there’s always room for improvement in education of course)

      I honestly think that a National Curriculum is a positive aspect of the previous system. I think certain aspects of education need to be directed by the State, which has the resources and expertise to decide on the key skills that the future generations will really need. That said, previous National Curriculums were far too bogged down in the miniscule details, NCs should be about a guiding strategy in education – something which Gove seems to be keen to abolish all together in favour of school independence.

      Tests is a particularly interesting case. I don’t think that there is too much of a problem with testing children lots during their education. I think the real problem is when lots of emphasis is attached to the scores of those tests. The 11 plus was bad because it pre-decided a child’s life from the age of 11 based on one score, and SATS essentially did the same. Unfortunately, Gove seems to be crafting A-Levels and GCSEs into such tests, where too much emphasis is attached to single papers. I’m not sure making GCSEs and A-Levels rely on one result that cannot be re-sat modularly is a particularly good life experience either, that’s not how the real world works generally. Tests is a very interesting topic all of its own though!

      Very interesting to read your take on the state of the education system though, thank you very much for sharing. I think we certainly would disagree on whether the Comprehensive System was good; but interestingly we would find much common ground on the faults of the Gove Academy System.

  3. j3w3l February 3, 2014 / 8:39 am

    I keep worrying that this is what the Aus education system will become within a few years. You can see the early signs: cutting back funding, relying on community donations… the vast chasm between private and public when both get government funding (actually private gets more).
    A lot of the public service, teachers included are slowly being changed to casual employees too, and ones not even employed per se by the government. The only saviour here is that the teachers union are actually competent and passionate, fighting the liberal government at every turn

    • Digital Salad February 3, 2014 / 6:59 pm

      I’d be interested to know more about the state of the AUS education system, its one that I hardly hear about over her in the UK but I always thought would be pretty similar to ours. It seems like you’re getting into the same situation as us. I definitely hope that the Academy Revolution never hits you guys as hard as its hit us.

      How well regarded are teachers in AUS? The general public’s opinion in the UK isn’t all that great at the moment unfortunately. I think the problem here is that our teacher’s Unions have danced to the government’s tune, arguing about pay and conditions when what they really care about are the huge changes in ethos brought about by Gove; but by arguing the point over pay and conditions the Government gets to win the public opinion. Its a real shame, but shrewd politics by our Government I suppose.

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