Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Notes on the transcripts (10) - Qualifications, the UNCRC and 'a world defined by systems of knowledge'.

We've nearly finished working through the [uncorrected] transcript of the Monday's oral evidence for the House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee short inquiry into The Badman Review [opens pdf], thank goodness, because I'm finding it very tedious now and would prefer to be blogging about other things! Ah well: this might be the last stretch of this section.

(Please note that the quoted sections below are excerpts from an an uncorrected transcript and therefore neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record.)

In my previous post, we'd just covered the part in which the minister was discussing how many sides of A4 we'd be required to present to our LAs by way of 'curriculum', or whatever they're planning to call it. Graham Badman spoke on this next:

Graham Badman: I'm delighted to say it won't be me doing this.

Doing what? I need to scroll back up the transcript again to find out. Ah, it was David Chaytor's question about the proposal for a statement of intended learning, how detailed that's going to be and who is going to draw it up.

We shall leave the space on Facebook for somebody else, which is a blessed relief,

The poor lamb! Sends our beloved autonomous learning into oblivion - and suffers a backlash! Shocking.

but against the background of the demands of 21st-century society,

Nasty modern people, with their new-fangled communication methods.. Oh wait. I'm chair of Becta. Um.. it should all be restricted!

I go back to the UN convention, because the UN convention actually doesn't specify just the right to education; it specifies the right to take part in society and to have that requisite level of qualifications.

WHAT?? The UNCRC specifies a certain required level of qualifications?? Where? I'm running a search through it for the word 'qualifications' and I'm finding.. nothing. I even pasted the whole thing into a Word document and searched there, in case the online version missed it. Still nothing. But I'll look in more detail, in case it's phrased differently. In fact, I'll read the whole thing through (again).

Oh, I like clause 1 of article 13!:

The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice.

And article 14:

1. States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

2. States Parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable, legal guardians, to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child.

But the articles with particular relevance to education are numbered 28 and 29:

Article 28

1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular:

(a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to all;

(b) Encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational education, make them available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need;

(c) Make higher education accessible to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means;

(d) Make educational and vocational information and guidance available and accessible to all children;

(e) Take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates.

2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child's human dignity and in conformity with the present Convention.

3. States Parties shall promote and encourage international cooperation in matters relating to education, in particular with a view to contributing to the elimination of ignorance and illiteracy throughout the world and facilitating access to scientific and technical knowledge and modern teaching methods. In this regard, particular account shall be taken of the needs of developing countries.

Article 29

1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:

(a) The development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;

(b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;

(c) The development of respect for the child's parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own;

(d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin;

(e) The development of respect for the natural environment.

2. No part of the present article or article 28 shall be construed so as to interfere with the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions, subject always to the observance of the principle set forth in paragraph 1 of the present article and to the requirements that the education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be laid down by the State.

Do you see anything about qualifications in there? I don't, and I've just read the rest of the UNCRC - including parts II and III, and I see nothing there either.

Back to Mr Badman, then:

Although I understand why autonomous educators believe it would be difficult to outline that,

Outline what? "That requisite level of qualifications"? I don't know what he means. It is difficult for us to outline in advance our children's definite path through life, but that's no more difficult for us than it is for any other parents, or teachers, or experts. Perhaps we're just more honest about it.

equally I cannot conceive of a situation where, for example, a child of middle secondary years does not know something about oriental history, given the world as it is now;

Given the world as it is now; being a welcome addition to what was otherwise largely irrelevant. Who decides on the body of knowledge that should be imparted to all young people, even assuming they could all be persuaded to open the tops of their heads and allow such a body to be inserted without obstacle? Who should decide? Nobody, because that traditional, dictatorial brand of pedagogy belongs in the past, Victorian age where it was developed and practiced to serve the interests of the ruling classes alone. People nowadays have access to a much wider sphere of information than a predetermined curriculum can provide. Their options are wide open; they learn best when they're entirely free to follow their interests and develop expertise entirely according to their age, aptitude, ability and any special educational needs they may have. Isn't Becta and 21st Century schooling supposed to be all about that? I'm finding Mr Badman's true position in these matters increasingly difficult to ascertain, possibly due to the bewildering array of conflicts of interests he seems to so cheerfully inhabit.

does not know something about carbon sequestration, if they are interested in science;

If they are interested in that certain branch of science, I think it's likely that most home educated children of a certain age probably will know something about carbon sequestration, even if they might not know it as that. (Are we to be tested on this later? Panic! It's like being on University Challenge, isn't it?) And yet, amazingly, some people still do rate intelligence and its applicability according to which random bunch of facts from the entirety of human knowledge of which a person might seem to have understanding. The fact that its the diversity of our species rather than its conformity which has ensured our collective survival for so long seems to escape them.

and does not know something about the nature of the economy.

Everyone knows something about the nature of the economy. But, let me guess, that knowledge only counts if it happens to be the same 'something' as Graham Badman knows.

So, even if you go to the broadest spectrum of what constitutes a curriculum and an entitlement, it would not be difficult to get beyond that definition.

Beyond what definition? Is it just me, or does anyone else struggle to follow his exact meaning in this session?

I think it's intriguing that the Royal Society of Arts has defined a curriculum in about two pages. I actually tried it on home educators and said, "Well, have a look at this." They in the main rejected that as well, but there have to be some broad - brushstroke elements to what is reasonable in a statement that, as I've said in the report, gives the child choices. If you don't know about something, how can you make a choice?

Oh - weary sigh. Our children do learn about things - it's just that we don't dictate in advance for them what these things will be. They choose and then find them out for themselves, so we can't know in advance what they are, or might be. It's not a complicated concept to grasp, is it?

Going back to "Elective Home Education", I cite at the end the court judgment in the Harrison case. What was said at that time - forgive me while I find the right page - was this: "in our judgment 'education' demands at least an element of supervision; merely to allow a child to follow its own devices in the hope that it will acquire knowledge by imitation, experiment or experience in its own way and in its own good time is neither systematic nor instructive ... such a course would not be education but, at best, childminding." That was the court's judgment in the case of Harrison and Harrison.

True, and we do supervise - and help, assist and facilitate. But we are not the Encyclopædia Britannica and nor, against the background of the demands of 21st-century society, do we need to pretend to be.

Q39 Mr. Chaytor: The logic of that is that the statement of intended learning does have a requirement to conform to certain general outcomes or to work towards certain general outcomes, doesn't it? It's not simply tailored to the individual child.

That's an interesting question, especially in the light of the 1996 Education Act, which sets out the "Duty of parents of children of compulsory school age [to] cause [them] to receive efficient full-time education suitable - (a) to [their] age, ability and aptitude, and (b) to any special educational needs [they] may have,
either by regular attendance at school or otherwise." It doesn't say anything about "certain general outcomes".

Graham Badman: I will answer that. I am independent and I really am truly independent and it is beyond my brief, but as somebody who has spent more than 40 years in education, whether we like it or not, we have a world defined by systems of knowledge.

So we do, to an extent, but those systems are - and should be - far wider than the ones covered in a school curriculum, and they're being stretched by independent thinkers all the time. We don't just need people to be trained to accept instruction and retain key facts: we also need people to be free to specialise and to obsess on their own specific areas of interest. Orthodoxy might try to confine and preserve a body of knowledge, but it didn't - and doesn't - create it.

If you're going to take part in that world, you need to understand how those systems and knowledge developed.

My autonomously home educated son runs his own profitable business. I think that can safely be called 'taking part in the world' and yet he was never instructed by me about the development of knowledge. That's not to say he doesn't know how knowledge developed - just that the learning of this was never something we needed to plan. If we had planned and contrived to study it at a certain time - and this is key - he wouldn't have been half as interested as he was.

It doesn't mean to say you have to be equally interested in everything, but you have to know something

Dear me! Doesn't everyone know something? Why must we endlessly duplicate the same knowledge?

and so I repeat: it will not be me doing this, which I'm sure will be a great relief to all home educators,

- but that's not going to stop you telling us how it should be done:

but I would go for an education system that if it does not define the outcomes, at least defines a curriculum structure that allows that child to make choices.

So we have to impart knowledge, à l'Encyclopædia Britannica, and restrict the child to choices from within that particular chunk of knowledge. Has he thought this through? It's ridiculous. It no longer works in schools, and it won't work in the home either. Children are not complete fools.

I can't get to the end of this today: I have a home ed meeting to prepare for, but I will definitely - thankfully - now be able to finish my notes on this session in my next post.


Blogger Maire said...

He is a completely ridiculous, ignorant and foolish man and it is truly depressing that people like this have any credibility.

9:32 am, October 28, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for doing this Gill.
Badman's whining like a spoilt kid was grating.
I see a movement to simply refuse to comply. Hope that takes off.

10:10 am, October 28, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This video on youtube (thanks to my son for showing me!) is great for introducing the topic of tangential learning, and emphasises that 'study after study' shows that learning occurs most effectively when you're interested in something. It's amusing too. The contents surely can't be news to anyone involved in education! Why is it so hard for them to let go of the school/enforcement model of prescriptive learning? Enjoy!

10:57 am, October 28, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only mention that the UN make about 'level' of education is, I recall from somewhere, a mention of primary education.

And it isn't in a bit of anything specifically relating to education, or children, or families, or to any rights, duties or whatnotdoohickeys.....

1:26 am, October 29, 2009  
Blogger shepherdlass said...

Oh, good grief. Give children 'choice' by enforcing a restricted curriculum? And that silly comment about how can they choose to learn about something they don't know is there? Errr.... Isaac Newton .... gravity .... duh! How can that silly man be holding the sword of Damocles above our heads?

12:33 am, October 30, 2009  

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