How the British school system is failing children
The Education Act of 1944 determined that to advance our post-war industrial economy, the country would need only 20% clerical and professional staff and 80% manual workers.
But the world has drastically changed since that time and now, the labour market is heavily impacted by new technologies. When you take that into account, it’s clear that the failure of our educational system to adapt greatly contributes to a poorer middle class.
We might think that it’s all about IQ and effort but the “effort” it takes is vastly magnified when living in a cold, damp, crowded home. This leads to further strain on our welfare system and, as we will show, adds to the heightened competition and rise in mental health concern amidst younger generations.
By not making the necessary adjustments in our schools, we are setting ourselves up for economic failure further down the line. There’s a pressing need to develop more programs that can prepare students for more tech-intensive careers, programs that encourage entrepreneurial spirit, not to mention tackle the mental health challenges that we seem to be addressing only in the press.
Students are seen in terms of numbers and not as persons
We have made a habit of determining the value and success of a student mostly based on how well they do on standardised tests. We squeeze thirty of them in a classroom and if they collectively seem to fall behind, either the schools start trying to game the system or we just make the subject matter and tests easier. Of course, that doesn’t go well when comparing results with other countries.
The Pisa tests are conducted by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and measure the ability of 15-year-old to apply the knowledge they have gained in reading, mathematics and science to real-life challenges. As of 2018, the UK has risen to 14th place (in 2015 we were on the 22nd) but we’re still behind European countries like Estonia and Finland. The tests have also suggested that British students have some of the lowest levels of “life satisfaction”.
At the same time, data gathered by 32 NHS Trusts in England has shown that approximately 60% of students under 18 who have been referred by their primary care doctor to a mental health specialist have not received any treatment.
Almost 50% of young people in the UK go on to attend University, but since their mental health concerns are not even addressed, they only become exacerbated in an environment of increased academic pressure. One study has found that since 1995, mental health issues among the English youth have gone up six-fold. This translates to higher drop put rate (26,000 students in 2015), self-harm and an alarming number of suicides.
The job market has changed considerably since their parents were in the same position and our teaching system does not seem to have adjusted accordingly. The future leaders of our country do not seem to have been properly equipped with the skills necessary to tackle real-life challenges.
We’re not preparing students for the digital future
Research from Microsoft UK revealed that 74% of teachers agree that technology helps students, but only 15% feel confident enough to actually use it. Of course, students already use a lot of tech tools to make their lives easier and achieve higher academic performance. They now have access to laptops, e-readers, smartphones, organisational apps, online educational platforms and can get extra help on difficult subjects though online tutors.
The world and the job market are becoming increasingly digitised and automated, so why aren’t we doing what’s necessary to get them ready for real-life success?
Considering the complexity and rapid shifts of jobs today, career success requires life-long learning. Some positions become obsolete while new ones are being created. An estimated 65% of children who are starting primary school this year will end up in jobs not yet existing.
Our children need not only the mental toughness to adapt but also the technical know-how, and apparently, they’re getting neither.
The field of Behavioural Economics demonstrates that we, as a species, have a bias towards maintaining the status quo, we tend to overestimate the potential disadvantages of deviating from the baseline and we underestimate the benefits.
Adapting our educational system to the current needs of students is viewed as exceedingly costly in terms of funding, effort and time and the returns are not easy to quantify amid such uncertainty and technological disruption.
Creativity is not valued and nurtured
This problem is not specific only to our educational system. Schools are infamous for stifling creativity in pupils, but this quality is of vital importance for entrepreneurs. If more children started developing the skills necessary to generate extra income through side-businesses or by marketing hobbies or interests, we wouldn’t have so many people working two or three jobs for which they’re overqualified or spending such long periods of time on unemployment benefits because their professional competencies are no longer in high demand.
In order to allocate more resources to subjects like Maths, Science and English, in which students receive standardised tests that determine the ranking of a school, we discourage them from giving too much importance to more creative classes such as Drama, Art and Music. The thinking is that we’re preparing them for real jobs. But the funny thing is that companies are demanding ingenuity, flexibility, critical thinking and good social skills from their employees. We need more creative minds to come up with new ideas, new concepts, new ways of doing things, to set up their own businesses and employ others, thus elevating society as a whole.
They learn about Shakespeare and the social and economic impact of the Black Death (not saying that they shouldn’t) but they have no idea how to manage their money, how to make investments, how to plan for retirement or how to negotiate a deal. We also indoctrinate them with the notion that failure is something awful, something to be feared and avoided. That leads to them not starting something just so they don’t have to face the prospect of failing, so we’re basically teaching them how to self-sabotage.
The editorial unit