Monday, 8 March 2021

Back to school... but is 'school' holding kids back?

It's back to school again this week, and parents everywhere are breathing a huge sigh of relief. No more fronted adverbials; no more expanded noun phrases and other ridiculous strictures from the Gove/Cummings curriculum revolution (you know, the one that also replaced GCSE grades A-E with 9-1) designed to make simple things more complicated.

But although parents up and down the country will be cheering, almost 70% remain worried about the impact of lost learning. It's true that during lockdown countless lessons have been lost. But learning hasn't stopped. And although some of the life lessons of the last few months have been painful, generation lockdown may just turn out to be the most flexible, adaptable and resilient generation we've ever seen. 

No one can deny the past few months have been hard. Juggling jobs with home-schooling has been tricky for most and impossible for some. In terms of days lost almost half the school year has been spent at home across the two lockdowns. But it's a mistake (unless your kids have been on the Xbox for the entire time) to think that learning has been lost. Learning is never lost. (Even those avid Xbox addicts are gaining skills....) 

Most children, especially those at primary school, are resilient and resourceful. After all, it's precisely those genetically-inherited qualities that have made us, as a species, so successful. And, as a species, we're going to have to be more resilient and resourceful than ever as we adapt to global warming and the inexorable pace of change in almost every sphere of life. 

Except schooling. Because schools are still based on a "factory" model that takes little account of the huge discoveries made in the psychology of learning. Add to that the Gradgrindian national curriculum and hopelessly outdated and inefficient exam system and you only need the swish of the cane to complete the Victorian picture. 

But if the pandemic has proved anything it's that we need to be flexible and resourceful. Scientists adapt to create new vaccines; teachers learn new ways of teaching; workers master unfamiliar technology to work from home. But for schools, from today, the clock goes back a century to a system long past its use-by date well before the pandemic struck. 

It's perhaps useful to consider what schools are for, and what kind of education they should provide. As Lucy Kellaway writes in the FT, much of what goes on in school is "boring, stupid and bears no relationship to the economy." Perhaps  nothing done in school should be "relevant" to the economy, or any other area, directly. Because above all, the one thing schools everywhere should have to do for everyone is instil a love of learning. Because that's the one big thing Generation Covid will be doing throughout their ever-changing, challenge-ridden adult lives. Learning, changing, adapting. It's already happening. And during Covid-lockdowns our children have got invaluable first hand experience of one of the best lessons anyone can ever learn. It is this. Just because things have always been done in a particular way, doesn't mean it's the best way. Things happen that mean we've got to change, adapt, think outside the box. Circumstances will dictate that we are forced to do things differently. And we can. And that's the best lesson anyone can learn.  

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