What Kind of Education Do Our Children Need?

Smart Eductaion[1].jpg

Aug 11, 2014 by Smart Blog

It used to be simple: school was where children went to learn how to be useful and productive members of society. There was generally an acknowledged hierarchy of subjects. To do well at school was to excel at subjects such as maths, a foreign language and English. Those who excelled at other things, such as drama or sport, were dubbed 'not academic' and were either banished to the local secondary modern to spend five years learning carpentry and domestic science or were sent to set six for maths (under the comprehensive system), where the corresponding five years were spent driving maths and English teachers into a state of nervous frustration.

Generally, it all worked out in the end. Ever since the industrial revolution, the UK's education system has been driven by the needs of the UK's economy, and when there were jobs in mining, manufacturing and farming, nobody was too worried about the state of the candidates' maths. Very few pupils went to university, most left school at 16.


How times have changed. Now it seems that applicants need a degree to get a job as an office cleaner. According to statistics released by the government, in 1950 a “first” university degree was awarded to 17,300 students. By 2010/11, that figure had skyrocketed, and 331,000 full time students were awarded a “first.” In the academic year 2011/12, 49% of UK school leavers went on to higher education.

Is this what is needed?

On the surface, this may seem like very good news. Many more people becoming educated - that has to chip away at inequality, does it not?

The answer is... possibly. Perhaps more so if it were not for the fact that huge numbers of young people are now leaving university in massive personal debt (in the tens of thousands of pounds) because of student loans that many of them will never be able to repay. However, even more pressing is the question of whether modern education is fit for the working world that our children are being launched into.

The future is different

The UK's model of education served the nation well for decades because relatively little changed. The economy was, continuously, based on predictable sources of income. Things are different now. Since the 1980s there has been a gradual but clear movement away from traditional manufacturing and 'practical' jobs towards service and white collar industries (hence the mad rush for the doors of higher education), but the really unprecedented change has come much more recently, and it has come as the result of one thing - technology.

Technology is changing everything, and now even the gadgets of a year ago are obsolete. Predicting the future is impossible, but given the current speed of change, both the drivers and the needs of the future economy and of employment seem unlikely to remain as they are.

So is it worth expending so much time and debt on traditional, academic subjects that are of dubious value in the approaching times? Or will gadgets soon be doing so much work that we will have more need of entertainers than of accountants? Only time will tell.