Monday, 24 August 2015

Education with a purpose

When the annual A-level results were announced recently, we had the usual scattering of famous and successful people drawing attention to the fact that they didn’t get where they are today by passing exams.  It’s true, of course.  But the idea that such a route to fame and fortune might therefore await all those youngsters who are not successful in education owes more to the natural human tendency to assume that ‘we’ are typical than it does to any rational examination of the facts.  For sure, there will always be some people who enjoy ‘success’ regardless of academic qualifications (or lack of) due to some other talents that they possess – or in some cases down to sheer luck at being in the right place at the right time – but that’s far from being the norm.
There has also recently been some attention paid to the increase in the number of young people going to university – a trend which may well increase with the removal of caps on the number of places offered.  It leads to a situation where the number of graduates coming out of universities exceeds the likely number of ‘graduate’ jobs.  Actually, I think that the number of ‘graduate’ jobs has, in any case, been inflated for many years.  Whilst there are some jobs for which a degree is essential (I don’t think I’d want to be treated by a doctor whose highest relevant qualification was a Biology A level, for example), in many other fields the stipulation that a job is only open to graduates is just a lazy approach by employers to filtering the applications they would otherwise receive.
But in any event, why should a degree lead to a ‘graduate job’?  The suggestion that there should be a direct link from one to the other is one which isn’t challenged enough.  Those who argue that there are now ‘too many’ graduates, who have studied the ‘wrong’ subjects, are starting from a very instrumentalist view of the purpose of education.  At the heart of that perspective is the view that the job of the education system is to turn out the right number of people with the right qualifications to meet the needs of employing organisations.  It is, in short, a factory producing a workforce.
Disguised as a pragmatic approach to meeting needs, it is based, in essence, on an ideological viewpoint, which responds to the needs of the predominant ideology of the day, namely capitalism.  And it is an ideology accepted by politicians of all parties, which is why so many are able to talk about ‘post-ideological’ politics.  Ideology has never gone away; it’s simply that they’ve all signed up to one single ideology.
But for some of us, education and learning have their own intrinsic merit as part of a process through which humanity develops and which enables people to seek fulfilment other than through work.  Education solely for the purposes of employment is a way of ensuring continued subjugation to the needs of the economic system; education as a vehicle for personal and collective improvement is potentially a vehicle for regaining the freedom which has been lost. It might even be argued that more widespread education for its own sake is one of the means by which the current system can, ultimately, be changed.  A seed of destruction, perhaps? The lack of politicians who understand and support that view merely underlines the extent to which the prevailing ideology is dominating political thought.

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