Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Great Education Myth

Ask anyone who has ever served in the armed forces and they'll tell you that the organisation is entirely held together by the experience and cunning of senior NCOs. The "Bilko effect", if you like.

A good Sergeant Major is generally worth a platoon of officers, but in this egalitarian age, those naturally intelligent and canny kids who don't quite know what they want from life, but something more than flipping burgers, are being misguided. Brighter kids who might once have found their way into the forces and up through the ranks are forever being encouraged by our "education for its own sake" system, to stick with the system, and run up student debts of £30k whilst reading media studies and tourism instead.

One thing an educated person generally doesn't want to to do is join the army and get shot at (especially in pursuit of lost causes), and whilst there are indeed many fine officers, the recollection of those readers who attended public schools (still the primary feeder for officer training) is likely to be that the armed forces were not generally the first choice of the most gifted students.

All walks of society need their share of foot soldiers and NCOs; we can't all be Field Marshalls. But the obsessive redirection of anyone who can write their name on a piece of paper into further education has caused a general dearth of talent in the "NCO realm" of team leaders/lower management in public service operations like local councils, the civil service, railways and especially the NHS. The culture of attempting to educate the edges off an average square peg in the hopes that it might one day be rammed into a round management hole, is probably wrong.

30 years of the comprehensive system has not produced a terribly competent country: we are currently more in debt and producing less than ever before. And we are obliged to import all manner of artisans from Eastern Europe like there's no tomorrow. Maybe one of Cameron's crusades might be to dare to question this failed system and find ways to show 16 year olds a broader range of opportunities than simply stuffing them into university at all costs.

Most 16/18 year olds don't know what they want to do in life, so to have to make a life choice at that age with the consequences of student debt making subsequent career changes trickier, seems unfortunate at best. Maybe a (voluntary) year in the army is actually exactly what they and the nation want, and it should be made available and possible without any detriment to resuming an academic career.

But one key problem of this occasionally aired notion seems to be that our educators realise that kids who have seen a slice of real life will be rather less tolerant of the many irrelevant and misguided folks that form the bulk of our educators. However, TMP would take that chance.

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