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Education (Ref: i1001)

Education is a classic area of government policy which causes deep and passionate argument, disagreement, dissent and antagonism. It really does cause bitterness in just about everybody. But the only people who suffer are children, so that's all right then. Trouble is they grow up and eventually they is us.

The debates over education have never been amicably or successfully settled anywhere at any time under any system. All attempts to direct education by government from above have always caused acrimony to large numbers of people, caused teachers to be ill-used, mistreated and frustrated, short-changed children for the sake of giving the parents the pleasure of arguing and have achieved far less than virtually everyone believes they could and should. Prescription is seen by everyone not to work yet the answer from all sides is simply some other kind of prescription which, this time, will work. My prescription is better than yours so there.

'Normal' systems now are a variation on a theme of : we, the government, are paying for education so we demand efficiency so you will teach this, this and this, by one of these methods and be bound by the following laws and regulations. Failure to abide by any of these things, such failure to be determined by us taking these measures of your performance, will or may result in punishment of a kind or kinds to be decided by the government at the time, inflicted on you and/or those around you and/or on the children or others you are failing to educate according to the government's direction. All the rules, except this one, may be altered by the government at any time without notice or appeal.

Is it any wonder education is a disaster? The whole concept is based on fear and power games. Nobody dare buck the system, nobody dare experiment, nobody dare dissent. Except every few years when at an election, which is also used to decide on the sizes and colours of tomatoes, this mob is thrown out and the other mob gets in. This mob said its policies were right but now they are obviously hopelessly wrong and the other mob's policies are obviously right and ... Break out of these vicious circles and change the prescription by not prescribing at all.

Have no state education policy at all. Have no national curricula at all. Have no defined government-approved school or teaching kind, method or philosophy. Allow all kinds of school, no matter what.

Have an education income tax that is ring-fenced so that it is all used carefully for education. Have two pots of money, one for the 95% of routine uses, the rest for contingencies and other uses. Allocate a sum of money for every pupil equally (equal opportunity not equal outcome), this sum to be given unconditionally to whatever school or institution the parent decides the pupil is to attend. Allow and encourage all schools to top up their funds by any means by as much as they can, but these top-ups to be publicly declared continuously. Anonymous donations of funds would be permitted but declared as such when they are given and these donations would be subject to mandatory disclosure by court order if necessary. Cater to special needs by means of the contingency fund, so that children needing extra effort to educate get whatever can be afforded. The extra necessary is to be decided without reference to the institution which is to provide the extra. It is to be measured not by what is to be done to help but by what the need to be met is, thus again separating need from dogma. This is to stop prescription of philosophy by government even in the case of special needs. (In fact it is probably far more important, not less, that experimentation free from dogma be freely permitted for those with special needs; they are less able to cope with the imperfections of 'regular' methods than so-called normal children.)

Have the 'efficiency' (euphemism for standard) of an educational institution judged by its users not by a higher authority. They can vote with their feet so will do so.

Have a view of the state of education and its scope and what it is making available, by having a schools inspectorate system which can examine any institution at any time without warning and with total freedom. But no power to do anything except to report findings and this reporting of findings to be mandatory and completely public. This should effectively show up institutions which for example fail to teach even the three Rs, which state of affairs would almost certainly be against the wishes of just about everybody.

Allow any local government district or geographical division to decide it does not want to have any educational institution of whatever kind in its area and allow it to force the closure of that institution with the mandatory provisos that the decision is voted on locally in a referendum, that the reasons are given in some legally binding truthful form, and that there is no power at all to stop that same institution setting up business again somewhere else, including a hundred yards away in the neighbouring jurisdiction. There will additionally be no mechanism for demanding that funding for the institution be cut off from above by force.

It is highly likely, in fact inevitable, that some schools and some systems of educating children would be dismal failures. This is to be regretted but is the price to be paid for the freedom to experiment and to find methods that perform better than any devised so far. Today's effective prohibition on experimentation, because we demand perfect success because this is what we mean by 'efficiency', also effectively crushes any attempt to improve the status quo. Today we make everyone suffer but with the new system we improve the lot of all at the expense of the few who suffer. Additionally we change our definition of efficiency and failure altogether so that they become far less destructive concepts in the first place. It is also likely that some parents and children would not be responsible in their use of the available opportunities for education (things are perfect today?) and some institutions would also not deliver on their responsibilities. But all this would be done in the glare of public irresponsibility, they would be seen to be doing this and unable to hide. The social cost would be the inducement to toe the line. A school that produced an inadequate 'product' would go out of business.

Under today's system it is considered essential that a method of measurement of performance be available to all. This is universally done by means of exams. These systems are at best mediocre and at worst a disastrous disservice to our children. And they are not necessarily the only way of doing things. Moving responsibility for the standard of performance of 'education' as a whole to parents and the institutions that their children attend will give the last word to parents not to 'authorities' who always and inevitably have agendas of their own which do not and cannot always agree with those of the users of the educational system. Parents can vote with their feet. With complete freedom to experiment with educational styles and methods there will always be a place for any dissatisfied 'customer' somewhere. Including, of course, home education, paid for by the allocation of funds per pupil.

Removing the need for government to dictate to schools and teachers, with its accompanying tyranny of power over jobs etc, still leaves the issue of measuring the attainment of the pupils, how much and what kind of 'education' is being achieved. In the new system exams are no longer needed as a means to punish teachers because they are not efficient at spending tax-payer's money, or not good enough for kicking by those with power wanting to exercise it over those without power. In the present system exams are also needed to measure the status of education in the 'users', those undergoing the education, so that the people and employers etc can judge the quality of the products they are going to use in their universities, factories and offices. But, always and everywhere, it has been very clear that these products are people and that exams provide some measure but usually a hopelessly inadequate one. We use it because it is the best we can manage. At the moment. But shift emphasis. Those doing the educating, and determining what goes into exams, and their results, do not, and cannot, know to what use those qualifications are going to be put. A university or company or other body employing our newly educated products does know. And it also knows what it needs from the product. Surely then it would be better for the user of the product to carry out the testing? Change the emphasis in the business of deciding whether to employ a person (a change from a product!) away from what the State says the person can do (what the person IS in today's distorted view) to who and what the person IS. Then, if some particular knowledge or skill or characteristic is needed by an employer let the employer be responsible for detecting and measuring this quality. This has the added benefit of avoiding saying that a person 'can do only these things and not others and we have no measure of who the person is' to 'this is the person and it is presumed they could do anything and there is nothing we can state categorically ahead of time that they are not capable of doing'.

Now it is also obvious that it would be useful to be able to advertise one's abilities in a formal manner voluntarily (rather than have one's inabilities advertised involuntarily) so allow the exam business to be completely voluntary and a demonstration of extra effort and achievement not just a minimum requirement. This new system has the extra colossal advantage of removing the stigma and pointlessness of attempting to force all children willy-nilly to try and acquire all-but-useless, qualifications which they neither need nor want and which cause untold misery and distress in their acquisition.

Anarchy of a kind would have huge social advantages and also naturally evolve into some degree of order over time. But the order would be generated from below by the wishes of billions of people not from above by the vested interests of a tiny handful of 'experts'.

Votes and Polls.

  1. What subjects are most important to teach in primary schools
  2. What subjects are most important to teach in later schools

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