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Help Children (and their parents) to Value Education

A couple of years ago I wrote a post about Malala's surprise when she began school in the UK. She was shot by deluded madmen because she insisted on going to school in Pakistan where it's recognised by children and parents alike not only as a privilege, but also as an enjoyable experience that kids universally want to do. They don't here and that amazed her.

I suspect the way kids in Pakistan and the UK are taught differ relatively little bar the technology we might use in British classrooms these days (and the flavour of religious dogma of course). A cynic might suggest that Pakistani kids prefer school because it's less onerous than doing chores at home or slaving in factories. They also spend the day with all their friends and they get fed (I presume). So it might be an exaggeration to suggest that Pakistani kids understand the value of school whereas British kids on the whole don't, but there's an important issue here surrounding the way we sell, or don't sell, education to children all over the world and, more importantly perhaps, to their parents.

Pakistani parents universally believe a good education is the best way for their kids to avoid poverty. Parents believe this because they probably didn't experience a quality education themselves, and they are, consequently in their view, poor. So even though most won't recognise what their kids are experiencing at school, they believe it has got to be a good thing. Which of course it is - at least while they stick to learning what is fact and what is fiction. Sadly ignorance of one leads to confusion with the other. Whether better qualifications always leads to better lives rather depends on whether there are enough jobs to soak up those qualifications. But it's a global playing field these days, so whilst there may not be enough employment for qualified people in developing countries, one would hope that countries with skill deficits might provide the opportunities they deserve... assuming they let them in of course.

In the UK, and all developed countries, every parent has been through the school system. And most remain as poor as their own parents. They still have crappy jobs, if at all, and they can't remember a single thing they were taught, except for reading, having sat for over a decade in dull classrooms with bored friends and no doubt equally bored and frustrated teachers. These days they'll be more interested in what's bonging their smartphones than trying to absorb trigonometry. But the point is that most parents didn't use their own schooling to get to where they ended up - so how can they recommend it to their kids? It's simply something they had to endure to fill the time between toddler and adult and to keep them safe during the day while their parents were doing other stuff.

And so it follows generation after generation. And to those kids who claim their education is about giving them a better future, I say to them "How do you know? You're guessing or spouting what your parents tell you." And most parents don't really know either. It's simply a mantra where few understand what education is, or for. No wonder kids don't give a damn - and most of their parents don't really care either (ask any teacher at a state school).

So the value of education is not being communicated to children or to their parents. I wonder how many generations of disillusioned Pakistanis it's going to take before they too realise that not everyone is going to become a doctor or engineer and that mostly it's continued poverty that's outside the school gates. Going to school doesn't guarantee a better life. But opening your mind to an amazing world of new realisations and discoveries does guarantee a better life - at least as far as your brain is concerned.

But it's not all the fault of the parents to undervalue education. The way we as a society sell education to children and parents alike has never been questioned. If schooling was a company trying to sell a new product, it would go bankrupt overnight. Only 5% of British parents buy their children's education. Admittedly most parents can't afford it. But the question is, would there be a price for private education that parents would fork out for? In other words, if it was much cheaper, and there's a free alternative, would parents still opt for the free choice? I think most would for the reason above. It didn't do much for them so why would paying make a difference for their own kids?

Having said this, there is the 'postcode' penalty where houses located within catchment areas of 'better' state schools, cost more - so some parents do pay for 'free' state education. But I still wonder whether even they honestly believe that it's really going to benefit their kids long term other than being less likely to be bullied and sold drugs in the playground.

Indeed those few parents who do manage to fork out massive amounts for their children to go to private schools in the UK (around $50,000 per year per child) are probably doing it more out of duty and financial ambitions for their offspring than in the hope that they'll actually learn anything or have their brains trained to think in different ways.

I'm sure there are plenty of brilliantly imaginative teachers who intrigue and excite their pupils not only to want to learn, but to challenge them to explore deeper corners of their brains. Thrilling themselves with discoveries. Enjoying the immensely satisfying pleasure of pennies dropping when you finally 'get it'. To become expert and then, oh joy of joys, to ask more questions that not only tax you, but your teachers, and maybe even their teachers. Fine tuning your brain so the world starts making more sense and you can converse with anyone, anywhere, about almost anything.

So how do we re-brand Education? We can start, for example, by renaming subjects we've been calling the same meaningless thing for centuries.

Instead of calling it Mathematics or Math as our US chums insist, why not call it Problem Solving, or Working it Out, or Discovering Patterns, or How Computers Work - or a whole range of different things depending whether it's Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Trig or whatever. Not one of these traditional names means a damn thing!

Ask any kid why they're taught English and they'll probably answer 'Dunno' or more facetiously 'We all speak it so why bother teaching us it'? So why not call it Persuasion, Argument, Imagination or any of a number of meaningful words that gets across the VALUE of what the lessons are about.

Geography. What? It's How our Planet Works, Were we Live and Why We're Here. When Will we Run out of Food? Where Have All The Animals Gone? Where Does the Water Go? What's the Climate, Why is it Changing, and Why Might This Kill Us? Show me the kid who doesn't want to go to this class?

You get the idea. Let's use professional marketing techniques to sell education to the people who ought to be revelling in it, not loathing it. The world needs to open the minds of all children. So instead of calling it Education, why not call it Get Really Excited About Tomorrow - GREAT!

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