Watching the BBC’s latest costume drama, a very English adaption of Tolstoy’s War & Peace, has made me realise just how much stuff we now have to learn to be considered educated. Tolstoy’s story is set in a society where science was only just beginning to make inroads into the educated elite, where technology was pretty limited and where your ‘lot in life’ was largely determined at birth. A modern primary school education would have sufficed for most people.
Fast forward 200 and some years and a primary school education won’t get you anywhere. We’re fast approaching a point where a high school education won’t get you much either. In the education arms race, a degree is a minimum and post-graduate qualifications are becoming more like the norm. As our society becomes more and more complicated, will we see an end to this escalation in educational requirements? Are we in danger of some people just giving up and saying its too hard; I’m never going to get there? It seems that many people have disengaged from politics as our world appears to become impossibly complicated and leaders who promise to understand the issues and hold the solutions subsequently fail to deliver. Could fatalism become the fashion?
It seems to me that we can’t let our education system become an arms race. We cannot allow a situation where students without a degree are considered a failure. We cannot allow a situation where Oxford and Cambridge are seen to be the only tickets to a bright future. The fact is that none of us can predict what will happen in the future and which skills will really be most useful. Any modern economy needs people with a broad range of practical and academic skills.
We need to be harder on ourselves – getting an education should be about being good at something, whatever that something is. What we define as a good education seems to have narrowed to a really worrying extent. Society in general seems to have checked out of this debate – its someone else job to figure it out. Its all too hard. We simply cannot afford to do that. We all go through the education system and we all recognise that a modern working society needs a broad portfolio of skilled workers to make it tick. So where is the debate? Its not owned by the education sector or the teaching profession. Its owned by all of us.