I have a confession to make to you all; it may amaze you to know this, but I do tend to get rather animated when people talk about children and education and at times, I have been known to lose my temper! It seems to be happening more regularly than usual at the moment, which I think is an indicator of the times in which we are living. It has been some months though, since my last, full on eruption of anger, that was until a couple of weeks ago, when I read a quote from the English Schools’ Minister, Nick Gibb, who was quoted as saying that, “Social and emotional learning is ghastly and likely to distract from the core subjects of academic education.” It turns out that this is not a new quote but one from a couple of years ago, when his Government first took office. It has resurfaced because the Government have recently revised the criteria for successful schools and have removed the assessment of how well English schools cater for the social and emotional development of pupils from the process of inspection. I am appalled but sadly, not surprised. This is after all, the same Government that two years ago, suggested that we should hire former soldiers as teachers, in order to bring order back to our schools.
It strikes me, that as the current world events and in particular, the economic crisis continues to suffocate so many of us, Governments are obsessed with clinging to certainties and in education that appears to be a desire to return to a simple academic model of basic subjects, taught in disciplined environments where children are regarded as vessels to be filled with knowledge. This is the pattern in England, most of Western Europe, the US and Australia. There seems to be a belief that in order to regain economic and social control and to reassert the industrial dominance of the 20th Century, the West needs to return to some set of long lost rules and systems. There seems to be a belief that because we have taken more humane approaches to schooling; the understanding that all children are different, with different interests, skills, weaknesses and personalities, and we have therefore endeavoured to create more humanist and personalised approaches to what, in the past was a pretty dehumanising experience, that we have, in fact, broken our system and it is this that has led to our economic frailties and social decline. I worry that education and the developments in it over the last few years, are being used as a scape goat for a far more complex social and systemic problem.
The 20th century and most of the dominant economies during it, were driven by structures first articulated by Frederick Taylor and his work on The Science of Productivity, which as it developed became what we know as the study of ‘Time and Motion’; the thinking being that greater productivity came from increased efficiencies; a model that in an industrial age is extremely effective. We used it in the early 1900s and it was adopted and refined with stunning effect by the developing Asian markets as the new millennium approached. It was based on the idea that success came from doing what you do; manufacturing product or delivering services as quickly and as cost effectively as possible, to do this, you would need a workforce that had a good basic technical ability and that could be managed through rules and routines which would be assessed for effectiveness. We set targets that were fixed outcome focused and data driven, creating professional development programmes and performance management cycles that ensured that people got their heads down and did what their job descriptions told them, without fuss or question in order to encourage greater speed and accuracy.
The education system was designed and structured in order to create a mass populous that would function in this mechanistic and efficient world. It worked and very well, for most of the last century, but of course times have changed and the future success for most traditional economies now lies elsewhere; in innovation, creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit. We are struggling though, because most of us are finding this new world, post Taylorism; a world of uncertainty, of ever changing industrial and service models, of fragmented workforces and decreasing public sector investment, very hard to live in. Mental health problems across the world have never been higher; there is a mounting discontent that comes with a sense of powerlessness. We have been talking about the age of enterprise and innovation for many years; a new organic future, where the innovative and curious will thrive, where risk taking and those that can challenge convention will drive the agenda, yet we have done very little to prepare people for this, either in business or in education, because many of us were educated and condition to live in a Taylorist environment.
In order to thrive in times of uncertainty, change and fragmentation, you need above all things, to have great mental strength, the ability to challenge and to experiment. Never before have people needed to be able to analyse their own emotional responses, fears and aspirations in the way they do today and its why, sadly, any country obsessed with dragging education backwards, due to some kind of misguided belief, that certainty will only come from a return to traditionalism, is going to fail; fail us and our children.
Education needs to put the individual at the heart of its process because we are no longer training our children to work as cogs in large manufacturing machines, they will need to be street smart, enterprising and emotionally intelligent and to that end we need education systems that recognise and deliver on that; not as an alternative to knowledge but in equity to it. A new age, requires a new toolkit, a new toolkit requires new imagination and a recognition that the past is exactly that.
The reason so many people continue to struggle in the modern age is because they don’t have the competencies and skills necessary to realise that change is no longer a review process carried out every few years in an organisation’s productivity cycle but that it is a very real part of everyday life; now and increasingly in the future. A real commitment to social and emotional education will ensure that this is addressed; it will help people to focus their energies on realising aspirations and cementing their values. It will mean that they can turn confusion, anger, passion and uncertainty into something productive because the future is not standardised. What is ghastly is that so few of our ‘Taylorist’ politicians have the experience to recognise it.
P.S. You can see me speak in March at the SPEAKERS for BUSINESS showcase. Click here to book free tickets.