(en) The education murder machine

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Tue, 4 Mar 1997 11:13:45 GMT


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This article is from the Irish Anarchist Paper Workers Solidarity, No 50 Spring 1997

EDUCATION - THE MURDER MACHINE CONTINUED?

There has been much talk in Ireland - and elsewhere - of "education reform". In Ireland the Green Paper "Education for a changing world" produced by the previous Fianna Fail/Labour government has been followed up by a National Education Convention which took submissions from political parties, teachers' unions, parents' organisations, business interests and others. This resulted in a White Paper "Charting our Education Future" which was published by the current Minister Niamh Breathnach and has been the subject of much debate by all involved in Education. An Education Act to encompass the proposals in the White Paper is expected shortly.

There is no doubt that there has been a great deal of "education reform" in Ireland over previous decades and that the system described by Patrick Pearse as a "murder machine" and symbolised for years by the brutality of the Christian Brothers and other religious organisations has certainly become more humane. The introduction of the "child-centred" curriculum at Primary level in 1972 and more recent changes at Second level such as the growing emphasis on oral and aural skills, transition year and the Applied Leaving Cert programme have all contributed to a system which is more attractive to students and more inclusive.

Indeed the most progressive-thinking people involved in education - teachers, parents, administrators and students alike - would argue that the "education reform" project should be an ongoing one and that such issues as curricular content, teaching methods, etc. must constantly undergo a process of constructive criticism and change if the best is to be achieved for students availing of the education system.

Fundamental Question

Amidst all this talk of reform, however, very few challenge the very basis of what we know as an education system or ask questions as fundamental as "what should education be about?" If your answer is that education should be about the development of the full potential of every student and that the role of a teacher/educator should be to facilitate that development, then you will soon realise that much of what passes for education in the current system is nothing of the sort.

In fact much of the schooling which we now term education is simply a system of processing. In other words, the student is often treated much like a computer, a receptacle for information and the "educator" is the programmer - the person who inputs certain facts/information in the anticipation of a particular response. This was described most effectively by Lynn Olson:

"Processing puts pre-determined skills, attitudes and beliefs into the students. Education brings potential out of students. While processing is a putting in, education is a bringing out. While processing repeats the past, education explores the unknown future." [1]

Individual Potential

Every student is an individual and should be treated as such. The potential and talents of every student are unique to that student. These are sentiments with which almost every teacher would agree. But to what extent can these ideals become a reality? Crowded classrooms and an overloaded curriculum at primary level, the points rat race at second level and a third level system which is inaccessible to many certainly militate against their implementation.

Research carried out by the Centre for Teaching Effectiveness in the University of Texas has shown that the most effective teaching methods are ones in which the student actively participates in the learning process (i.e. such things as participation in discussions, doing dramatic presentations, simulating real experiences or actually doing the real thing). In fact we tend to remember 90% of things which we both say and do as opposed to just 10% of what we read. But the "chalk and talk" methods of teaching are still the most commonly used - especially at second and third levels.

This is not because the majority of teachers do not want to be innovative and do the best for their students. It is simply a product of an under-resourced system where schools - especially in deprived areas - are both under-staffed and under-funded. The ludicrousness of the situation was highlighted in October by the offer from Microsoft to provide all schools with free access to the Internet. There was only one problem - 35% of primary schools do not even have access to a computer, and in those primary schools with computers, the ratio of pupils to computers is 70 to 1. (Interestingly, of primary schools with computers, 60% acquired them through local fundraising and 27% through commercial promotions/competitions - obviously schools in "disadvantaged" areas are at a further disadvantage here!) [2]

A System for the Future

In this short article, it is impossible to deal with the complexities of all the issues involved in real "education reform". However, suffice to say that as long as the economic system is run for profit social services such as education will never receive adequate funding. In an economic system which recognised the true importance of the individual, an education system would soon be developed which would truly fulfil the ideal of treating every participant - student or teacher - as an individual with his/her own needs and talents. If we wish to develop an education system for the future it must be done in the context of building a free and democratic society - an anarchist society. True education will teach the student how to think and will remove the shackles from the current system whose principal role is to teach the student to conform.

Gregor Kerr

1. Olson, Lynn, 'Education or processing', The Raven no.10, March 1990.

2. Figures taken from results of a survey carried out by the Irish National Teachers' Organisation in September 1994, reported in the 'Irish Times' on Tuesday 29th October 1996.

------------------------------------------------ This article is from the Irish Anarchist Paper Workers Solidarity, No 50 Spring 1997

The whole issue and previous issues can be found at http://www.geocities.com/Athens/2724/anpubdx.html

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