The recent report on education from the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI) states that the role of education is to equip people with the skills and personal qualities they need to succeed in life. In the recent Times Education Commission report, the commission’s chair wrote about “the need to give young people the intellectual and emotional tools to live productive, fulfilling lives.” Both are hard-hitting analyses, sharing the belief – as does Life-Based Learning – that the current approach to how we educate children is not fit for purpose and that we need much more of an emphasis on skills and aptitudes such as creativity, critical thinking and communication.
The TBI report – Ending the big squeeze on skills: How to futureproof education in England – is withering in its assessment of the current national curriculum, labelling it highly prescriptive and inflexible. The relentless promotion of EBacc subjects, it says, crowds out important non-EBacc subjects such as art and design technology – important not least because of the skills and attitudes such subjects promote.
Moreover, the obsession with one-off, closed-book, end-of-course exams skews teaching methods towards rote learning and memorisation. There is little or no time for children to develop other key skills and aptitudes, which are in any case not tested and therefore not valued. Instilling in pupils the 4Cs – creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication – is “not a luxury but a necessity”, the report says.
The focus of the TBI report is the world of work in the coming decades and the skills that will be required – digital skills but also critical thinking and creativity (the ability to generate new ideas and methods), problem-solving and “skills in self-management such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility”.
This analysis mirrors a key criticism of the current education system made by the recent Times Education Commission. One of its arguments is that – partly because of our obsession with exam results – we are treating children “as passive recipients of knowledge” and failing to teach them to be creative and critical thinkers, and active participants in their own learning.
Following the publication of the TBI’s report this letter appeared in the Guardian newspaper. It is worth reading in full:
I support the Tony Blair Institute’s suggestion to reform the outdated GCSE and A-level exams. I am a university lecturer and see the effects of our school system on a daily basis. The current system is narrow, valuing only memorisation of bare academic facts, and does not allow children to learn how to think outside the box and to develop independent critical thought.Letter (name and address withheld) to the Guardian, published 25 August 2022
Many young people arrive at university lacking basic communication skills (verbal and written) and without any experience in experimentation and making mistakes. They are fearful of discussion and of doing anything they consider might be “wrong” because they are so used to being rewarded only for getting an answer “right”.
Many panic when they are not given every last detail on how to do an assignment and ask endless questions, down to what font size they should use. Young people’s imaginations and potential are being stifled by a system that accepts only one answer as being correct, that does not teach them basic life skills and fails to prepare them for life beyond the school gates. Universities do their best to reverse this mentality, but it is hard when it is so ingrained throughout schooling, and compounded by the ever-dwindling resources that we have at our disposal.
The purpose of LBL is to make sure that children are ready for life beyond the school gates by better preparing them for the challenges of tomorrow – including but not limited to the world of work.
We want children to:
Life-Based Learning also aims to ensure that we better look after the physical environment, improving the long-term prospects for the entire human race.
The image at the head of this article is by Leo Fontes from Pixabay.