Yesterday I heard a recording of the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire describing his university as an ‘access university’. Basically, his university is designed to give a university experience to people who would not normally be able to have one. Nowadays, people seem to think going to university is akin to a right. We’ve forgotten that you need to work really hard to go there.
Going to university seems to be less about learning, more and more about the ‘experience’. It’s hailed as a great place to grow up and ‘discover yourself’, make ‘friends for life’ and attend non-stop foam parties. Oh, and apparently it’s also the only way to get a job. As increasing numbers of school-leavers see university as the no-brainer next step in their lives, the concept of universities as educational institutions has lost respect. The same thing is happening to the teaching profession.
We seem to be a little confused about what the point of education is. I don’t want to return to a world of ascetic male scholars spending hours memorising and regurgitating revered texts: that seems to just be education for education’s sake. But then I don’t think that the current situation is all that much better: many of us at university treat our degrees as a means to an end, the next stop the conveyor belt of education drops us off at. The educational bit is a bit of a distraction from all the other and much more exciting things that are going on, to be honest Also, it’s really, really not socially acceptable to claim that you have a burning passion for knowledge and really love your subject. We just know that if we don’t do the degree, it’ll be really hard to get that marketing consultancy job we’ve always been dreaming of. Seriously, what child dreams of being a marketing consultant? If a four year old said to me ‘when I grow up I want to be an astronaut/ a fireman/ a princess/ a spy’ I’d think that was completely okay; but if they said ‘when I grow up I want to be a marketing consultant’ – I’d be worrying about the child.
What I find most worrying is that this attitude that you learn to achieve a goal starts at primary school. If my school is anything to go by, pupils weren’t really encouraged to explore outside the curriculum. But teaching shouldn’t be about targets and a curriculum, it should be about inspiring an interest in learning in children. It’s cheesy I know, but how on earth can a primary school teacher who cannot achieve a B-grade in GSCE maths hope to inspire a pupil who dreams of being an astronaut to do well in their maths homework?
It used to be that teaching was a revered profession. I think teachers should be relieved that the government want to make sure that their profession doesn’t turn into glorified babysitting. If teacher-training courses accept people who (like me, I’m ashamed to say) have fallen prey to the now well-established social mantra that ‘it’s okay to be rubbish at maths, you don’t need to try, just give up if you find it hard, you obviously just don’t have the right sort of brain’, then the generation of pupils they teach will have the same attitude. In fifty years’ time, nobody will remember how to do any maths that’s more complicated than 2 + 2.
Yes, it’s harsh, but you just shouldn’t be teaching others what you struggle with yourself. If you love kids, that’s fine, there are plenty of other jobs you can do. But people entering the teaching profession should love kids and love learning. A German friend of mine who wants to be a teacher has just finished her masters degree because she knows it’s the only way that she’ll even be considered for teacher training. If the Conservatives are serious about us leaving the EU, they had better make sure we don’t become a laughing stock as an island of dunces, and making it harder to become a teacher is a good place to start.
Interact UK – http://interact-uk.org.uk