Education has always been a game of “political football.” The main political parties in the UK have often resorted to blaming their opponents for the failure of educational policies, and if we are to believe recent findings, none of them have done a particularly good job at educating the population. There is even a claim that today’s children are simply unable to match the literacy and numeracy skills that their grandparents had. There has been criticism of the use of tables showing an increase in pass rates and standards. There is widespread scepticism that all that has been done is a reduction in the required standard for a pass or a specific grade. This criticism seems to have foundation.
Recent figures in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report across 65 countries in literacy, numeracy, and science place the UK in the 20s in all three, with no sign of improvement from three years prior. It suggests that Chinese pupils are effectively three years ahead of their UK equivalents. The blame is laid squarely at the door of policy makers who are failing to use budgets effectively – and certainly failing to attract the best talent to the task.
Inevitably, politicians have once again come out to blame each other, but it seems as if no one has done a particularly good job over the years. The present Coalition government probably has a slightly stronger case because it has had little time to make a real impact on education.
The annual tables attempting to show educational improvements have obviously been nonsense. However, one of the main reasons why countries in the East have progressed so well is the status that their societies have placed upon teaching as a profession; it means they have attracted the best talent, which is not the case elsewhere.
It isn’t all doom and gloom, because the UK remains a centre for extensive research, innovation, and talent in so many areas. It does, however, focus on the need for people, schools, and businesses to see whether they are lagging behind in their own skills and do something about it if they are. In a single world market, one country should certainly ensure that it is not falling behind so dramatically that its workforce will be less skilled in the years to come.
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