The Guardian article that Kevin shared yesterday fascinated me. The link doesn’t work, for some reason, but the article is here. The summary is that, by means of fast moving, punchy, 20 minute presentations, repeated three times, with a ten minute break between each for some physical activity (juggling, apparently), they can cover an entire GCSE syllabus in three days. And cover it well enough for pupils to then pass the exam. The results weren’t quite as high as by traditional methods, but the trade off between that, and the astonishingly small amount of time it took is probably acceptable by the standards of most business models, for example. And if you fail, you can always do it again – the following week, if you like!
The article is full of excitement over the amount of time that is wasted in schools, and how much more efficient this system seems to be, and thereby stands the problem. The education system that we’ve evolved is, as we’ve discussed, in large part about childcare. It’s concerned with keeping children out of the way of their economically productive adults, so they don’t prevent the economic productivity from going on. Within that structure, there is no advantage in making education efficient. Which is odd, because the text of the education act makes parents responsible for ensuring that their children receive an education that is both efficient and full-time (either by attendance at school or otherwise). And I’m starting to wonder if an efficent education, is, by definition, not full-time at all.
It’s all reminscent of the days when we (well, not me, I wasn’t born) were told that technology would give us all free time. We’d all be working three day weeks, or less, because the technology would get the necessary work done in a fraction the time, and we’d all be wondering how to fill our new leisure time. Except it didn’t happen, did it? For a while we had some people working as hard as ever, whilst the others couldn’t find jobs at all, and lived in poverty. Then we had economic boom, in which we successfully invented work for everyone to do, most of which is completely unnecessary. We created call centres, and all forms of bureaucracy, essentially to keep us all busy. And of course, the childcare industry, which is built on the need to cover all the time we spend doing non-work. Heaven forfend that we could earn a living wage in three days, and take the rest of the time off.
If I’m ever in a position to do so, I shall run a three-days-a-week business. One where part time work is the norm, and where people can go home when they’ve finished what they were asked to do. In the war, when people were asked to contribute to the war effort by working seven days a week, productivity actually went down. And in the seventies, when the power went out, and businesses went to three day weeks, it didn’t. We’re all working far too hard. It’s not necessary. But for as long as you’re all doing it, it is necessary, because the the amount of time you work, and the amount of money you earn doing it, is what sets the cost of all the things I need to live – house prices, and food, and petrol, and clothes, and all the rest of it, are set based on how much money you have to spend on them. The harder we work, collectively, the more expensive things get. We don’t get any advantage from it. So, I’m saying, let’s stop. It’s not necessary, and if we all stop together, we don’t have to starve to bring about the change.
So, yes, let kids study GCSEs in three days. If that’s how long it actually takes, then let them do that, and then stop. Have fun. Spend time with their families. Learn things that they want to learn, from a position of having the time and energy to do it. But the idea of a generation of children with time on their hands is a terrifying prospect to the powers that be, and I’m guessing they will strain every nerve to avoid it happening. Look out, Monkseaton High School. This isn’t a revolution that you’re going to be allowed to start.