Education Reforms and All That Jazz

A while ago I had great fun reading about the introduction of “baseline testing”, for primary school children in the UK. I have mixed feelings on both sides of the argument. I do not have children (yet) but I have absolutely no problem with the assessment of children’s abilities, on the condition that they are then taught at the appropriate level. Otherwise, what is the point?

If a child starts primary school, at the age of 4 1/2 , with a reading age of 7 but then translates into junior school with a reading age of 8 then the school has done very little to improve that child’s literacy ability. I know from personal experience that this “one size fits all” approach is damaging to a child’s engagement in learning. When I started school at four (and 8 months), I was given a Peter and Jane book. That same day I went home threw the book at my mom and shouted, “It says ‘Look’!” I then stomped up to my bedroom and read one of my Disney storybooks. I had to endure this offence to my reading ability for the next two years, through reception class and year one. I was not happy and my parents even sent me to an educational psychologist.

My husband was in an even worse situation, he went to a private school between the ages of three and eight, by the time he went to a state school, he was so far beyond the standard teaching remit of that age group that he lost all his enthusiasm for learning.

For children, far more than teenagers and adults, learning is exciting and amazing. If you are not challenging a child and just repeating what they already know, they lose all engagement with what the teacher is trying to tell them. Conversely, force feeding education to a child struggling with something too advanced for them will do the same. This is why I agree with ability testing and teaching them accordingly.

There are aspects of the American education system that are appealing in this instance, children that show increased aptitude, across the entire curriculum, are moved up to an appropriate age group. One way of removing the stigma of learning with, sometimes wildly, different age groups would be to start the educational journey with children of the first 2-3 years of school in mixed groups, of age and ability. Then, they could move on to the following, middle school years, as their intelligence and ability dictates.

I understand that the objectors to the testing of primary age children think that it is ‘too much too soon’ (as the campaign is named) but there is also such thing as ‘too little too late’, just look at the way foreign language teaching happens in the UK.

That was the UK government pushing increased testing for children and parents fighting back. Several months later, here in Cyprus, the opposite was happening.

Public education in Cyprus is dire. Teachers aren’t taught how to teach and their eligibility for a teaching role depends on whether they have a degree (not necessarily a relevant degree) and how long they have been on a waiting list. This year, a lyceum (years 12 and 13 in the UK )end of year Modern Greek (the equivalent of a Brit taking English language) exam, yielded the lowest ever average result of just over 7/20. The pass mark is 10/20. It was blamed on a ‘difficult’ exam question. However, the average results for previous years have also failed to meet the pass grade.

The governing party here is trying to institute reforms to the public education system, with changes to teacher appointment, teaching hours and leaving certificate pass marks. Unfortunately, the opposition party, staunchly communist, believes that the teaching profession is fine and opposes all reform proposals, in order to maintain the teaching union’s grip on policy making.They have conveniently forgetten previous years’ failures and are focusing on this year’s exam question, which scandalously required teens and young adults to engage in “critical thinking”. How dare the exam board expect such a thing!
Then again, the communist way is for all to remain equal, for everyone to be of one mind and opinion. Thusly, students should only be taught WHAT to think. Allowing students to be schooled in HOW to think would mean they question the status quo, allowing some to rise above others in accordance with their intelligence. No, communist thinking will not permit that.

Overall, Cyprus spends the most on education, but provides the lowest standard in Europe.
I propose we make a switch. The Cypriot teachers go to the UK, where all the whiny parents and the “too much, too soon” brigade can be safe in the knowledge that almost nothing will be taught to their children. While in Cyprus, British teachers will benefit from the higher pay, increased benefits and will provide a superior quality of education.
I am all for letting children be children, but the point of “learning through play” and other such approaches, is the learning and even then, should be confined to nurseries and playgroups. A school, college, gymnasium (high school) or lyceum (college) is a seat of learning, a place to become educated. What is wrong with encouraging children to be the best they can possibly be? Are we really suggesting that underachievement is something that should be, if not encouraged, but indulgently tolerated?
It is the nature of life, to strive for something higher. It is human nature to explore and question that which we do not understand. How can it possibly be the position of politicians, parents or religions to curtail that very essence of our existence?
I am not a teacher, but I have friends who are, across sciences, arts and humanities, and the one thing common to all of them is the passion they have for educating young minds and their desire to assist in their development. They have taken the time and energy required to learn different teaching methodologies, they continue their education to maintain their knowledge.
Keep politics and religion out of the classroom and let policy for educating the future generations be made by those with a deep understanding and love for the broadening of our children’s horizons.

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