Stop, look and listen

"Every reform, however necessary, will by weak minds be carried to an excess, that itself will need reforming."

—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literari, 1817

David Flower

As our front page story points out, after 16 years of "reforming" and "restructuring" the British education system, the verdict passed by OECD's (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development) economists is that opening up the system to the marketplace was a mistake it's not working.

The OECD says good things are happening in British schools—more students are staying in school longer and increasing their qualifications—though the authors of the report aren't sure whether such changes are the result of education reforms or the "recession-led fear of unemployment."

Despite its attempts to point out the education system's redeeming features, a Times Educational Supplement editorial (August 11, 1995) concludes there are "serious reservations about the damage market forces can do to quality and equity" in the education system.

Sixteen years is a reasonable period of time in which to reform a system. I would have imagined that after such a lengthy period, all the problems would have been sorted out. Not so, say British newspapers, which are decrying the state of education in Britain. The newspapers claim students aren't adequately prepared for the workplace. It's interesting, then, that the OECD report criticizes "employer-provided training" which it claims is predominantly "short, informal and uncertified..."

The OECD report prompts me to reiterate a common theme of my editorials. Education is, and always has been, changing. Education reflects society and adopts societal. Teachers assist children who reflect every possible trait. Teachers devote incredible amounts of attention to their students. Education is not a business; teachers do not subscribe to conveyor-belt approaches to education.

We have to handle students with care; we know the impact role models have on impressionable children. In a publicly funded education system, teachers need to be conscious of costs, but our efforts cannot be, nor must they be, driven by a profit motive. We cannot, for the sake of our future or our children, put economics over education.

As the OECD points out, experimenting with a child's education can be damaging. Imagine what would happen if that experiment continued (in the name of ideology) for the whole of the child's school life. Surely a lesson is to be learned from Britain's fail ed education system.