Education, education, education: Lewisham College’s disregard for the past part 1 of 2
Robin Ghurbhurun Lewisham College's director of e-learning says that his students live in a digital world and `… the last thing they want to do is walk into a classroom that looks like it's from the 18th century.’ Why is it that when people speak about educational reform they dismiss the past as if it is something to be embarrassed about? The truth is that we ignore the successes of old at our peril.
Tony Crosland, the education secretary of the 1960s said `If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to destroy every f**king grammar school in England, Wales and Northern Ireland’. There has been a war on traditional teaching for many years and while Mr. Crosland was quite colourful in his intent to overhaul education, it didn’t start there. The Government has been tinkering away at education for the past 170 years. What has it given us? In the year 2000, seven million functional illiterates: That’s one in five of all UK adults. In January of this year, the rate across the UK is said to be between 10 and 15 per cent. In poorer areas, it is a lot higher. How can you acquire knowledge if you can’t even read? Was it always this way? In his excellent book `The Welfare State We’re In’, James Bartholomew looks at the past. In 1803, Thomas Paine’s `The Rights of Man’ sold one and a half million copies while William Cobbett’s Address to the Journeymen and Labourers sold 200,000 copies in two months. Samuel Bamford `the weaver poet’ said that Cobbett’s writings `were read on nearly every cottage hearth in the manufacturing districts of South Lancashire’. This was achieved in the schools that Lewisham College is now trying to rubbish in favour of elearning. And what has been the track record of elearning at institutions of higher learning like Lewisham College? UKeUniversities Worldwide (UKeU), an online university for the British higher education sector, was launched in 2000 by then Secretary of State for Education, David Blunkett. The UK government gave it £55 million and expected additional private sector investment. The first online courses were launched in March 2003, and by November 900 students had been recruited. It was predicted that there would be enrolment of one million students by UKeU’s tenth year of operation but actual student take-up proved disappointing. The private sector investment never materialised. Finally, the Higher Education Funding Council for England said UKeU was unviable in April 2004 and closed the venture.
It seems to me that before Lewisham College attempts to promote e-Learning as some kind of cure-all while dismissing tried and tested methods of teaching, it ought to pause for thought. British schools were once the envy of the world. Former colonies like Hong Kong and Singapore are places where education techniques originating from the reviled 18th century are still present. They teach maths much better than the UK these days. How did it go so wrong? Who’s to blame? I point my finger at the Government.