The UK, throughout the world, is renowned for having one of the best education systems in the world. Thousands across the world flock to the UK for education. Out of the top ten universities in the world, four of them are British. Nations across the world look for British graduates for high positions in many institutions and businesses.
But under all this achievement and championing of the education system, lies a less glamorous reality. If uncovered, it is the reality that would make the average person call for urgent and immediate reform. And this is what I will be covering in this article, how our education, as good as it seems on the surface, needs complete reform.
The Unnecessary Need for Competition and its Effects
As anyone involved in the education system knows, both students, teachers and politicians alike, the next generation will be smarter and more capable than the last, and the generation after will be even smarter than the last two. But why is that? And surely, if we have the best universities and graduates in the world, we wouldn't need to put effort to create smarter students, would we?
This is where a small bit of geopolitics comes into play. The rise of Chinese and Indian students, who are remarkable in their capabilities, have entered into the global market in the past few decades. With this new competition from the East, the UK is trying to up their students to the new standards to maintain a superior economy in the world. Therefore, this is causing more and more academic pressure on UK students and this can be noticed in the ever-increasing workload and demanding exams.
This involvement of geopolitics in the education system has been detrimental to the student population of the UK. Students, as young as eight years old, are going through rigorous standardised testing. The suicide rate in ten to twenty-four-year-olds has increased twenty-five per cent from 2017 to 2018 and this rate might be even higher at the time of writing this article. There has also been a worsening of mental health in high school students and it is the primary reason for the government's urgent push for better mental health in schools.
A-Levels and University have been made an automatic default for the vast majority of students. This undermines the core essence of universities as being a place reserved for those with an academic mindset. This forceful nudge to attend universities also causes degrees and other university qualifications to lose value. The dilemma is if more than fifty per cent of the population has a degree, what makes someone with a degree incentivising to hire? In fact, there are more technical graduates then there are job openings for their respective qualifications in the USA. Since America is the leading economy in the world, this pattern may replicate itself on a smaller scale here in the UK.
In an ideal world, I would lessen the focus on our GDP, a simple line on a graph, for which we are sacrificing the well being of students. I would try and implement a Scandinavian approach to education. In my opinion, it is a relaxed style of education that does not put a strain on students but at the same time, it does not create inadequate students.
The Scandinavian nations are one of the best developed in the world and have the most stable economies. Sure, they may not be world players in the global economy. But, I would rather want my children to have stable well-being than being put into a grind to increase GDP, a number that the government prefers to flaunt around.
This way, we can reduce the ever-increasing workload and pressure of the students. Overworked students are never the best students, so I believe reducing the workload will produce a better result in the long run. This will also allow students' mental health to be in a prime condition, compared to its present state.
To attest my observations, I would like to present a brief comparison of Swedish schools and British schools.
In British schools, children sit externally marked tests. Whereas in Swedish schools, their performance is marked by their teachers and I believe that this approach is more personalised and is not target driven. This allows all children to perform well in their way, rather than identify a few bright students through a standardised lens.
In Britain, compulsory education commences when a child reaches four years of age. However, in Sweden, children are expected to start education at the age of seven. Sweden's approach delays the onset of academic pressure being exerted onto children from a young age. If we were to implement this in Britain, this might cause problems for working. Hence, I would propose non-compulsory preschools and nurseries available for all children from the age of four years.
The Swedish education system is decentralised, meaning the local school authorities can tailor their curriculum to provide relevant lessons and education. However, the federal government does set a standardised set of goals and objectives for the local authorities to follow.
As mentioned previously, I am of the opinion that choosing to attend universities for further education should not be impelled as a default option. I believe that universities should be reserved only for pupils who what to pursue a career in Medicine, Law etc. I would recommend rolling out awareness campaigns to inform students of alternative ways to further education and career paths post sixth form or college.
A commendable reform would be the reopening the polytechnics, which are an alternative to universities. Polytechnics were institutions distinct from universities that offered 'STEM' subjects but also subjects such as computer science, architecture, management, business, accounting, journalism and town planning. Polytechnics in the 90s were converted into universities or merged with other nearby universities. If polytechnics made a return, they would offer students a less strenuous but still equally as valuable tertiary education in a trade or professional jobs.
However, issues will arise if students do not earn sufficient qualifications and training to perform a job efficiently. Prime importance should be given to maintaining job role standards to ensure that students working with a good ethos. For example, to be a practising doctor, one should need to be rigorously trained and have a degree in a medical science granted by a university, not a polytechnic.
The Overworking of School Staff
We cannot bring reform to our education system without addressing the issues faced by the teaching personnel. Teaching faculties are overburdened. They work 51 hours a week on average, the fourth-longest hours worked out of thirty-five surveyed countries, and twenty-five per cent of teachers work over sixty hours per week. The drastic figures do not even include hours they work marking exams and all the informal school work they bring home On top of this, UK primary school classrooms are one of the largest in the developed world, which can lead to a larger workload for the teachers, on top of a larger class that will be finicky to manage during lessons.
Overworked teachers hamper a student's education. An overworked teacher cannot produce a good quality lesson. Too many students in one classroom increase the teacher's workload as well as negatively affect students trying to learn. It can also lead to students being demotivated to work if the teacher is not engaging and focusing enough with their class.
When I was a school, I remember having to wait weeks for one test result to come back, as my teachers would be pre-occupied with work from other classes. I consulted a classmate from Canada about this and he took me by surprise when he mentioned that back in his country, he could get a test result back in a matter of hours.
We could promote homeschooling to mainstream parents. Homeschooling would allow classroom sizes to decrease and take the extra burden off of teachers as well. A downside to this solution is that the teaching quality may go down and that children won't be able to develop their social skills as they would not around other children often as they would be in public education.
There is also an urgent need to hire more teachers. Increasing the teaching faculty numbers would result in decreasing the workload for every single teacher. To motivate the general public to choose teaching as a profession, we would incentivise them in several ways.
Firstly, tax exemptions can be offered as they are public servants. Secondly, there should be a raise in pay for teachers as British teachers are already below the OECD average in terms of teacher's pay.
I also believe that the involvement of assistant staff in teaching should be increased. For example, while the teacher is teaching the class, the assistant staff member can assist students that are struggling and falling behind. This approach would utilize the staff's complete potential and increase classroom efficiency.
We can also recruit more teachers by temporarily adopting an old hiring policy. Earlier, a person with no formal teaching qualifications could apply for a job at school. As long as they knew a certain topic at an expert level, they would be eligible to teach that certain subject. By relaxing the hiring rules, we will eliminate the need for an extensive teacher training period, which may off put a lot of people from teaching and this would allow a broader range of people to enter teaching.
In hindsight, there will be an overall decrease in teaching quality, due to the lack of training. However, this solution can be used merely as a "quick fix" until we can recruit more professionally trained teachers if need be.
A one-size-fits-all cannot be applied to statewide, compulsory education. Unfortunately, every education system in the world faces issues that are unique to its country. Even systems, as utopian as the ones seen as in Scandinavia, have room for improvement.
Even after implementing reforms that I propose, I believe that the education system will encounter new unseen issues compared to its current familiar issues. Hence, my final recommendation should never take the state of our education system for granted. We must always stay vigilant to ensure our education system is the best for our children and for future generations to come.