Saturday, June 18, 2011

Dear Andy Burnham

This is a submission for the review of Labour's Education Policy for which Andy Burnham has the lead responsibility. In particular it is a response to a question he asks - "What knowledge and skills do the next generation need to be successful in the modern world?"

We should see "success" as something that will be achieved in a collective way. For if we encourage schoolchildren and young students to pursue selfish interests by using educational facilities mainly to compete for status, wealth, influence and power; then we undermine what education at its best can achieve. Education should have three main objectives. First of all to enable and encourage people to develop intelligent and expanding interests into the scientific, artistic, social and other problems which surround them. Secondly, it should enable people to make well intentioned and well thought out contributions to the way they feel society should function and operate. Thirdly, obtaining the changing skills and understandings which are often required in modern-day employment should be seen as something that is a valuable spin-off from the advancement of the first two objectives.

A sustainable future needs to be built upon the principles of equity, a concern for each others rights and freedoms. democratic participation and mutual respect. These are not values which educational provisions should try to force upon people; but they are values which are best advanced in circumstances of serious investigations and free and open debate.

Whilst children should require a firm grounding in the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic and need to be able to pursue their expanding interests in these, the second educational objective mentioned above for equipping people to play a full part in the operations of a democratic society is one which is now seldom recognised. This objective requires moves into the study at school of subjects such as history, geography, current affairs, literature and the arts. These provide a opening through which students can later move on to pursue subjects such as philosophy, sociology, psychology, economics, political studies, other social sciences and the arts.

The stress on the above areas is not intended to place a block upon those who choose to specialise in technical, scientific, industrial, business and related areas . It is just that we all benefit from there being a serious and questioning input into society from areas such as the humanities.

The education of children and young people is not, however, shaped only by their experience within schools, colleges and universities. Their understandings, interests and abilities are also significantly influenced by their experiences at home and in their communities; including the impact they draw from the media. Caring parents who themselves take an intelligent interest in the educational development of their children can be at the cutting edge of such influences.

Education, therefore, needs to be a life long experience; both for today's young people and for older people who can influence and encourage them. We, therefore, need to see significant developments taking place to enable people to move into informal and formal educational avenues. Whilst there is scope for encouraging and assisting the work of bodies such as the Workers' Educational Association, Trade Union Education Schemes, Adult Education Colleges and University of the 3rd Age (and also filling in the gap with a University of the 2nd Age - or a combined University for all these ages ); there is also a need for people to be able to move in and out of formal educational avenues throughout their lives. The avenue of Continuing and Life Long Learning has two major needs. First, it requires appropriate financial arrangements to be made; so that participants have entitlements to leave from their employment for study purposes and are not, thereby, financially handicapped. This requires the development of a system of Paid Educational Leave. Secondly, it requires forms of open access, where people are not deterred from pursuing their developing interests by an initial requirement to jump over a series of examination and qualification hurdles, especially in new areas of study.

There needs to be a recognition that the proper education of the young needs to be linked with serious forms of education for their seniors - especially as today's youngsters will themselves become seniors.

We all need to recognise that education offers us a major avenue for improving society. And whilst a proper commitment to the needed forms of educational provision may appear to be costly in the short run, they will prove to be the most cost effective way to build both a better society and a better world.

The communal and media influences which were mentioned earlier as being avenues which could come to impact in a positive way on the intellectual development of young people and others would (a) be shaped by the recommendations for improving educational facilities which are mentioned above, whilst in the meantime these avenues could themselves contribute to improved educational standards by (b) the establishment of close links between the Department of Education and bodies with communal and media responsibilities, for the development of programmes of action which fit in with the overall education approach suggested in this submission. This can be done without imposing governmental patterns in these areas, but by encouraging practices which begin to satisfy and encourage people's shared and growing educational aspirations.

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