Thursday, 20 October 2011

If only we had thought it out

Now then, what's the future of education, eh?

You can find out here, at grit's day, because yes! I have my finger on the pulse.

I left behind one of my kids on the island today, having wrestled the other two on the ferry. I turned round, just as the boat pulled away. There, over the widening churning waters of Banyan Bay, stood Squirrel, alone at the pier, with a surprised face, growing smaller as the sea froth spread out between us like a goodbye wave. See? That's how connected I am.

To track significant events - like what time is the next boat out? Will she have the imagination to get on it? Has she any money? things like that - I try and follow education news; it prompts me to imagine the scenarios ahead.

I guess one scenario is informed by that idea that the more things fall apart, the more people work to hold it all together.

So, as an ill-equipped, outdated, factory-school system falls apart, the more the state will try and control those kids who are spilling away, dropping off the edges. They might impose on them, by obligation and regulation, the state interpretation of what it is to have an education.

Imagine if they were to match kids who don't or won't go to school with digital text-books, a prescribed state curriculum, and threats of prison. Call it compulsion.

Sure, the majority of parents would still choose the buildings of school as a daycare centre, but via a compulsory sign-up, the fringes could be co-ordinated electronically. I could imagine the regime would insist kids show up for appointments so the state can check them for bruising. That seems to be something they're quite keen on.

Well, as any alternative educating parent will tell you, there's nothing like that in force! Yet. Half-way provisions, home tutors, flexi-schools, educated other than at school schemes, electronic options, they all run locally around the country, as small or large-scale projects. As far as I know, you don't have to take your clothes off for them, but they do require a certain amount of agreement to the demands of the state. The point is, at the moment, none of them are compulsory.

The situation we have now is that parents still hold power. By law, you can choose. To accept provision, and to decline it. You are free to choose school, flexi-school, funded support, your own thing. You're not compelled to accept any one educational service if you don't want it. You're free, by law, to educate your unique child as you see fit. You can make it up as you go.

And if you want to spend every day trying to manage events so that three awkward kids walk in the same direction at the same time and get on the same ruddy boat to attend the same chemistry session like you said you would, well that's up to you.

I suppose the point is, what with all this leaking school system and e-bookery (even if it is all a plot by Amazon), the future could unroll in different directions.

Maybe the state will want control and use technology accordingly. Maybe the state will increasingly encourage profitable service suppliers to offer pre-set provision and your choice is between them. Maybe the state will back off from dictating parental choice at family level but opts for compulsory registration and monitoring whatever you do. Maybe it'll just leave things: don't ask, don't tell.

The pressure from parents I guess will stay broadly the same, even though people might move in and out of different camps as children grow and their needs change.

There'll be pressure from parents who don't want any involvement from the state, or who want to create a totally child-led provision. Parents who want to choose state services on a pick&mix basis. Parents who want funds for exams. Parents who want school one year, and an opt-out the next, with or without Local Authority support.

Of course there will always be people who know what's best for everyone else, all of society, and maybe the world! Those who dictate how every child is fulfilled in school; anything else is downright odd! Everything went downhill when they banned the cane, huh? They'll sound more and more as if they live in 1882.

I have no conclusions about any scenario. Except I believe that parents should think now. While they have a chance.

For your child, and not for anyone else's, what would you have? Total state control of education? Total non-state interference? The option to accept funding for exams? The option to opt out and opt in of school as you wish? Compulsory involvement? Freedom of choice?

I'm selfish. I don't care what people choose, so long as I have a choice. I guess my view relies on the hope that not many people would seriously choose for themselves and their children the route of total state compulsion and no-choice education.

My position also lets me be irritatingly high minded and say I believe it's a responsibility of every parent - school-choosing or not - to look ahead and consider what they would want for their child's education should political, social, and cultural events change the options of the future.

The message is, Think now, because events unfold, and overtake you quicker than you can respond!

And I can tell you from experience, people who look ahead are well placed to act decisively and strongly when those events unfold. They're not taken by surprise or wrong-footed by how the world shapes up.

After leaving Squirrel on the island with a giant exclamation mark bouncing over her head, we caught up with her eventually.

We missed only three more boats during the day - one by 30 seconds which I ran for and nigh on killed me - which caused us to change plans at the very last minute, sometimes twice, with the last emergency plan made breathlessly on the phone, all thanks to Dig not making it exactly clear which boat he would catch en route to the scenario you all should fear: his master plan to bend the entire globe to his will by force of commas.

The chemistry choice was brilliant though - with eggs and games and pop-in-the-mouth fizz-bang experiments. Worth catching. Even if, after setting off for home at 5.30pm, we finally landed here at 10pm (all kids intact).

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