Examining education, my experience and thoughts

The leaked proposal that Gove has plans to shake up England’s education system by returning to O-Levels has got me thinking.  Not so much about O-Level’s or GCSE’s because I can’t comment on them being that I’ve gone through all my education in Scotland, a completely different system.  However…
I always remember doing work experience in a local primary school (excellent experience it was, gave me insight into the world of work and I didn’t even get paid – shock!) in a Primary 1 class.  It was around September/October and so the intake was fairly new.  The teacher was experienced, she had been there a while, had taught a lot of different primary school children of various ages.
The experience of working for a couple of weeks in this class showed me the importance of education from the very earliest of ages.  I’ve always loved learning, as has my sister, and both of us could read before we went to school thanks to the efforts of our Dad.  Thankfully my sister and I both soaked it up and it set us off well.
In the Primary 1 class doing work experience I saw children who benefited greatly from parental input at home, it was fairly obvious from chatting to these children that their parents were giving them input but also from chatting with some of the parents when I had the chance.
Sadly, the opposite was also true and I was saddened when I asked one 5-year old what his mum and dad thought when took a picture home we’d done the day before.  He shrugged and said he’d shown them but they didn’t look at it.  I never pressed the issue but it saddened me greatly.  If his parents couldn’t spare a glance at a picture he made when he was five, were they likely to be interested in anything about his education?
Also in that time there was a boy in the class who was disruptive.  While the teacher was talking to the class, he’d simply get up and go and play with his favourite class toy, or who would just wander about looking out of the window or would simply leave the class.  At playtime he wouldn’t share toys or equipment with others, he couldn’t understand why other children wanted to play with his things.  He wasn’t quiet during story time, he demanded the time of the teacher above those of the other children.  I spoke with the teacher about him one day after all the children had gone home.  The teacher was well aware of his troubles.  He didn’t come from a disinterested family.  He didn’t come from a poor family, he was an only child who came from a family who had wanted to spend more time with him as a younger child and as such had not sent him to nursery school.  The effect of this, the teacher and her colleagues thought, was that he’d not learned about sharing, about belonging to a group who were learning to work together, share together, play together and who were learning that being a group meant that the focus was no on themselves all the time.  They felt he was about two years behind his fellow five-year old’s in his growth and development.  They felt that this was derogatory to his development.  I can’t disagree.  He seemed to be acting like a child in nursery rather than a child in school.
School and education is something that always interests me because I basically love education and I believe that everyone should get the absolute best from their time in schooling.  I believe that everyone is entitled to the very basic of education no matter their background, in fact, everyone should be entitled to all levels of education no matter their background, rich or poor.
Everyone in Britain should be entitled to learn how to read, how to write and how to add up and subtract at a young age, an age of below ten.  I don’t believe that anyone should leave primary schooling without being able to do so, and if they do then there should be questions asked why.  Isn’t it the basic right of every child to reach the age of say, ten, and know how to do this? That’s why I believe that primary education should be able to determine how children below ten should be able to learn the simple things.  If a child comes into school education at five, I think there should be minor tests at the age of seven and nine that then determines at the age of eleven what level a child will enter secondary school at.  Not tests where the children are subjected to exam style settings but a specific set of questions done on an ordinary day within the classroom.  This would also highlight children who haven’t picked up on the basics.  I also believe that children in primary classes should learn history (including historical geography), current affairs (including current geography), and also a basic class in physical education that centres on exercise and diet for a child their age.  What I want for every 11-year old is that they can read, they can write, they can do the basics in maths, they know the local and world history in a basic form, that they know geography in a local, basic and geographic form and that they also understand the basic political running of their country.  It doesn’t have to be in depth but a basic understanding.
I basically loved school but there was one major part of school, secondary school particularly, that I detested.  EXAMS.  I not only detested them, they made me ill.  Stress related migraines, sickness, the lot.  I failed at least one exam because of a stress related migraine.  I turned up, but such was the pain in my head I could see the questions but they just didn’t make sense and whatever I wrote down as answers obviously didn’t make sense either because come August and exam results it was a big, fat fail.  It upset me because it was a subject I loved and excelled in during the school year but, alas, the curse of the exam meant that all that hard work was for nothing.  My hatred of exams continues into adult life, I had to sit two last year and while I did very well in both (100% in one, 97.5% in the other – blows own trumpet) the very thought of them had me stocking up in strong painkillers.  Before I entered both those exams numerous people told me I’d be fine, I’d ace it and offered lots of encouragement and it was all welcomed but I kept thinking that if the exam curse struck me down, those words would not help.
Every year around this time I think about all those high school students revising and preparing to sit exams that will determine their future and I sympathise with them, it’s a very stressful time.
It’s partly the reason why I would get behind continued assessment throughout the school year rather than spending the year learning a subject and massive exam at the end.  I am not a fan of exams at all.
Picture by Comedy_Nose on Flickr