Education or training
Too often in our society, education is seen as little more than training for employment. This is a model that it is in the narrow political interests of the government to promote, as it implies that the principle beneficiaries of education — higher education particularly — are its recipients. From there it is just a small step to the argument that education should be paid for mainly or entirely by those who benefit from it.
Education and the civilised society
As long as we see the country’s wealth in purely economic terms there may be something to be said for this attitude, but even then it needs to be recognised that higher education itself contributes directly to the gross domestic product by training engineers, scientists, teachers, and even artists and musicians.
But in fact many of the things we value most cannot be traded and therefore cannot be measured economically. Higher education develops greater understanding, critical faculties, reasoning, and historical, artistic and political awareness. Higher education is one of the marks of a civilised society and if we want to live in a civilised society we need to make adequate provision for it out of the public purse.
The Peace Party believes that society benefits as much from the education of its members as do the recipients of that education, and that education should therefore be paid for from public funds. This idea is largely accepted for primary and secondary education, partly because they are compulsory, and partly because people tend to see lack of basic education as diminishing the individual’s ability to make a contribution to society. We would like to see the same principle applied to any individual, of whatever age, seeking to develop his or her potential in ways that would enrich society.
What is a ‘good education’?
Educational theorists, politicians and pundits have tended to approach this question from one of two main directions. There are those who see education primarily as a way of fitting individuals into society — teaching them their responsibilities, what is expected of them, the traditions of their country, how to gain employment that will make them an asset to the community, and so on. On the other hand there are those that see education as enabling people to develop their full potential, to get the most out of life, and to become ‘well-integrated’ individuals.
A moment’s reflection will make it clear that a really good education would aim to do all these things, but all too often the two approaches are seen as mutually exclusive. There are important insights on both sides and we would like to see an education system that sought to pass on the high points of traditional culture (classical music, literature, the Arts in general) while at the same time recognising that a child that is not motivated and curious is unlikely to learn much at all.
Schools, whether by that term we mean primary or secondary schools, colleges, Universities, or other institutions of teaching, learning and enquiry, exist, we believe, to enable people to achieve their ‘potential’. A good school is one that does this successfully, not necessarily one whose pupils achieve high examination grades, but unfortunately schools are still seen by many people (but not, generally, by teachers) as places that should fit their pupils for pre-determined roles in the work-place.
This viewpoint, we believe, under-values people. It betrays a fear that unless people — particularly young people — are properly trained and constrained they will come to no good. There is little independent evidence to justify this anxiety, natural though it is. We would welcome, and will promote, a more open approach to education that tries to support the natural curiosity and enthusiasm of the young (and in many cases, the old) and to guide, rather than constrain.
Most teachers are well-suited to this task. They usually have a natural and genuine sympathy with their pupils, and do not by and large need government edicts to tell them how to do their jobs. The continual controversy over ‘educational methods’ and constant obsession with ‘league tables’ sets school against school, and encourages parents to view every school with suspicion. This does both schools and teachers a disservice. We would abolish league tables and encourage a natural, constructive and friendly dialogue between teachers and parents — all of whom have the best interests of the pupils at heart.