Soon enough, Education will change beyond recognition, if we let it

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There was an obsession with inputs into education, begun by Tony Blair, but continued by Labour leaders since then. They measured “improvements” in education by the class sizes, the amount spent refurbishing buildings, and by the level of teachers’ pay. The real measure of education is, of course, the results it achieves. Can the children read and write? Can they do mathematics? Do they have a grasp of STEM subjects? Do they understand history and geography? Can they speak another language?

We are going through a dramatic change in schooling with the steady
proliferation of Free Schools and Academies. We are moving away from the state as the provider of education and toward the state as enabler. More and more schools are becoming independent, while remaining state-funded. It is a move that should be facilitated and encouraged. We can help this by allowing for-profit schools as well as non-profit ones. The advantage, as Sweden discovered, is that for-profit ones learn the techniques that succeed and apply them to all their schools.

The future of schooling for most children will be free, in that the state will pay the fees on their behalf. Schools will be able to pursue independent policies, instead of having a uniform standard imposed upon them. Good schools will be popular and attract more students, whereas schools with a poor record will attract fewer pupils, and will have to overhaul their approach or close down.

What happens in the classroom will be different, too, as new technology
becomes available. The traditional format derives from the days when books were rare, so one teacher would read to the class. Arguments about class sizes will disappear when it becomes possible with artificial intelligence for each child to have a personal electronic tutor. This will enable each child to be taught at a pace they can cope with, instead of having bright children bored because they are being held back, or slower children dispirited because they cannot keep up. The teacher’s role will be to encourage, to co-ordinate, and to lead the class to interact with each other on the basis of what they have learned.

While they will teach the familiar subjects, albeit with new ones added, some schools will choose to specialize, trying to achieve excellence in subjects such as music or mathematics. The main advantage of the variety engendered by the freedom to follow different approaches to education are the choices this will offer, and the improvements achieved as schools follow the best practices pursued by others.

Overall, the effect will be to take schooling out of politics. Schools will no longer be places where local authorities, teachers’ unions, lobby groups, and ideologically-driven politicians vie for control of schooling in order to impose their own objectives upon it. Instead it will be about educating children, and equipping them to make the best of their lives, as it always should have been.

Dr Madsen Pirie is President of the Adam Smith Institute.

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