Opinion

The education system, like so much else, is broken. But now we can fix it.

We’re at the cusp of something, and the education system is the canary in the coal mine. Time for leaders to show themselves, writes Big Issue editor Paul McNamee.

School child

Opportunity awaits. It does not look like that, not at the minute. By every measure, we’re in the soup. Lockdown has closed everything. Hospitals are packed to breaking with the Covid-sick. Shops are shuttered and many businesses can’t operate. The impact of tariffs on trade post-Brexit is yet to be really understood.

Schools are shut, parents are fearful for the future and for the next hour of home-schooling. The USA, so close in so many ways, is lost in confusion.

Happy new year!

However, the vaccine rollout remains a shimmering light. At the risk of rumbling on like Boris Johnson on a metaphor super-binge, that little prick (the jab, I mean) will take us to Shangri-La. And in Shangri-La we can nudge people at the packed bar in a pub and both apologise at the same time. We can get frustrated at how busy the train is and harrumph that operators know nothing about peak travel. We can hug. I’ll hug you all. Legally!

Actually, let’s leave the hugging to the side. No random stranger hugging. Maybe for the best.

Instead, we can reform the entire education and financial system in Britain, and beyond. Why not.

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The education system, particularly at the upper ends of secondary level, is focused on exams and exam success. And now, for a second year, exams will not happen. It looks like an alternative method of adjudicating knowledge and progress has merit. Prelim and mock exams will play a part, but so too will teacher assessment of work.

And while being out of school and away from the support system school allows can bring challenges for all pupils, particularly for the poorer and more vulnerable among them, this lack of exams is not an entirely bad thing. There will be some students who will do better in a wider scope beyond exams. I recognise the sensation that you are smart and enjoy parts of school but are not wired for exams.

Do we simply revert back to the exam system in 2022 when, hopefully, life is evened out? Or do we shift education in some radical ways?

This will mean asking what schools are for. It means trusting teachers, those at the sharp end who build the lessons and see talent, to create new kinds of approaches that both nurture and challenge and ready for life ahead. Out of this crisis there is potential to radically shift for the better.

As for the financial system, it’s just not working. Those left feeling disenfranchised by the giddying acceleration of a naked profit, free-market system are clear on both sides of the Atlantic, even if they’ve been stirred up by pocket-lining,
self-serving, egomaniacal charlatans to target their ire at totally the wrong people.

And that’s before Covid made many businesses sustainable only through state aid.

We’re at the cusp of something. Time for leaders to show themselves. Time for us to demand they do.

Paul McNamee is editor of The Big Issue 

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