I’m reissuing this one by request because sadly it’s a relevant now as it was when it was written. Our children are still being pushed to pass exams, instead of being allowed to learn. And now we have a new Education Secretary called Damian Hinds, who seems to have noticed that ‘schools need less stress’ and is going to send teachers a ‘tool kit’ to help them cope with it. Tell you what Damian, just get rid of all those tests and examinations and you would be surprised at what would happen in our schools.
I can’t in all honesty say that I expect anyone deeply entrenched in the philosophy that the more examinations children can be required to take, the more they will learn to take much notice of what I have to say about the natural learning process. On the other hand there is a Labour politician called Angela Rayner and what she is saying gives me hope, so this is more for her than for Damian.
This one is by special request, because so many of my friends think that what is being done to our children in the name of education is damaging, senseless and often downright cruel and I keep saying it isn’t necessary. So now I feel I must give you chapter and verse.
We’ve known all about it since the early years of the twentieth century when the first
educational pioneers, like Susan Isaacs and Maria Montessori discovered that learning is a natural and pleasurable process. And if we ever need proof of the truth of what they were saying, we only have to look at any young creature playing. Kittens may look cute but what they are actually doing is learning how to catch their prey, apes romp in the trees learning to maintain their balance and enjoying every minute of it, human children play all manner of games and enjoy them hugely. What they are doing, without knowing it, is using this natural learning process. It’s what all children do when tests and Ofsted inspections and league tables don’t get in their way. So how does it work?
It always starts with curiosity, which is natural and in-built.
If and when the child follows his curiosity, he starts a whole series of activities in which he learns what he wants to know, by trial and error. Mistakes are part of the process and not at all frightening. You learn from them.
And when you have mastered the skill and found out what you wanted and needed to know, you move on to stage three, which is a state of rapturous happiness. Just watch a baby when it’s learnt to feed itself.
When the skill is mastered and/or the knowledge absorbed, and the child has been making use of it for some time, he puts it to one side and seems to forget it. But there is a fifth stage. After an interval no matter how short or long, the child returns to the skill and hasn’t forgotten any of it, it’s part of his character now, once learnt never forgotten, like riding a bicycle.
So why on earth don’t most teachers simply make use of this process, sparking interest whenever they can, providing the materials so that child can satisfy his curiosity and enjoying the whole thing with the children? One sad reason is, that few of them now are taught about the process. All the information about it was removed from the PGCE syllabuses a very long time ago, to the disappointment of the great educationalists of our much maligned sixties, like Leila Berg and Mike Duane of Risinghill fame and the great AS Neill who ran Summerhill school.
But there is another factor which has to be considered today. Parents and teachers and children are all told by our politicians that they have to be tested to show that they are learning, some of the fiercer ones are even talking about bringing back the cane, god help us all. And of course what they’re saying simply is not true.
The real reason we keep imposing tests, exams, Ofsted inspections and league
tables is that the big “educational” companies make money out of it, it’s an extremely lucrative business and the more exams they can persuade our idiot politicians to impose on our children, the more the companies can earn.
We are in thrall to greed.