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On #education, life and #TED – a bit of a rant, really…

November 10, 2010

Being the stingy individual that I am, I don’t want to pay hundreds to be asked questions I am perfectly capable of (and in fact keep) asking myself, so here I am lying on my own, informal, free but equally potentially hard blog couch. I’ve not blogged for a long while now and it’s not because I haven’t done anything (how I wish that was the case..). The reason is because I’ve got quite frustrated and even angry at people and stuff and have been waiting to calm down. But it turns out I am not the calming-down type..

For those outside the UK, the education sector here is facing massive cuts; student fees will rise; students seem angry – not entirely sure about that one, though, as not many students were available for objective and meaningful comments; now that money’s involved more, some parents have suddenly decided they might want to get a bit more involved rather than take the rather popular approach of giving birth and then handing over to the state, the schools, the Tooth Fairy and the Government to turn their offspring into wonderful individuals with highly-paid jobs and ever such good manners.

Q to several students: “How do you feel about paying £7 a week for 20 years for the benefit of a university degree and experience?”
Student’s forceful answer: “It is excessive! Why would I pay that for a few hours of contact time?”
– loud cheers from fellow students in the room –
Q: “But you will only pay once you earn over a pretty well-off threshold…”
S: “No no no no no no. We don’t want fees. We want really good grades. We want someone to hold our hand even at postgraduate level. We’d rather not do many of the tasks we need to. We want highly-paid jobs after uni…. We care about the environment, sustainability, equal opportunities and we are not one bit greedy. Honest!”
– I exaggerate, of course, but you’d be surprised by how little in fact –

Now, I have my separate axes to grind about the teaching that sometimes goes on in some places, the motivation (or lack of) of the lecturers to excel in that area, the place that teaching and support for teachers REALLY occupies on some universities’ strategies (despite what they say to attract little purses..; someone was wondering brilliantly earlier today: “How come it never rains in a university prospectus?” How come indeed?), but come on!!! That’s why you’re in uni? For lectures? To be told how to get high marks in the exam? Not to find out what you’re really about? Not to meet inspirational people by attending all the extra-curricular activities/talks/seminars put on by students societies/faculties/departments all the time? Not to see and feel in awe of people who have and are making this world better? Not to see why replacing a phone keyboard with one button (and fooling millions of people into buying it and its subsequent occasionally laughable incarnations) is not actually enough to make any bloke (turtleneck or not) worthy of being called the biggest philosopher of the century? – by the way, if you want to watch a truly inspiring presentation that has a really funny allusion to that (and forget about my rant for a little), check out the following one:

Now that I’ve got this out of my system, I am still holding on to my very deep belief that the only way out of all our current problems is through education – and I don’t mean only schools, so do talk to your kids rather than follow them on Twitter just ‘cause they’re “digital natives” and we all know what they’re like…’ I find it harder though every day to believe that society is not going down the pan, that there will be someone or something able to knock the “customer” ethos out of the students’ minds, that we’ll all find a way to put our heads together for the greater good and also put a smack around the heads of those that feel it’s their right to expect everything delivered to their open mouths (don’t even get me started on the Church’s latest populist criticism of UK plans to get some people off their behinds for a change. Idiots!) If only we did all of the above, then we’d have a better chance to come up with a creative and effective solution to the Changing Educational Paradigms which Ken Robinson talks about (brilliantly illustrated by RSA Animate, by the way):

(disclaimer: other than some apple juice and perhaps too much coffee, I haven’t drunk anything today and what’s more, until I saw one of the Leeds TEDx speakers from IBM tonight walk off in a bit of a hurry after his ‘let’s build smarter cities through technology’ pitch didn’t offer much to my ‘let’s grow smarter people because without them your smarter cities won’t work’ statement, I never felt I seriously needed to chill… I just dislike consultants telling me about ’empowering people through tech’ when in fact what they’re showing as evidence is kids filming each other bouncing off walls in crappy places in random parks in run-down areas they have no intention of leaving because their extended families really didn’t know the first thing about bringing a kid out into the world and have truly and completely “filled [them] with the faults they had/ And add[ed] some extra, just for [them]”… ok, I’ll shut up now…)

NOTE: I’ve been told!

I’ve just seen this quick clip (via @jadekelsall) and, although I still think that to expect really high-quality education for free is a little bit ambitious, I cannot but agree with what these *very articulate and frankly cool and interesting* youngsters are saying. I would definitely fund them (how can we get more like them? how can we get better schools and better families? how can we stop some starving themselves for a pair of designer boots or similar ridiculous things? how can we do that in a free part of the world where people *often* do just what they like? Here I go again … no wonder I scared that IBM chief away … he only wanted to sell some tech, not solve any particularly big problems…)

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