The fish ladder

Following on from my last post, and from Momster‘s comment, there is no doubt that learning would be better served by ongoing communication between teacher, parent and student, ratter than a periodic summary report card.  However, whereas in an ideal world, that would be the only consideration, in the real world the twin spectres of university admissions and job applications hang over the whole educational process, particularly in the final years.  We have fallen into the habit of regarding education as a selection process in which the weakest must be filtered out by a series of increasingly difficult obstacles.  Rather like salmon fighting their way up the rapids in autumn, those who overcome each barrier are permitted to go on to the next stage, until the survivors reach the ultimate goal of the spawning bed (that’s the salmon, of course;  nobody would want to liken university life to a spawning bed!)

The unpalatable truth is that much of the activity in schools is directed to providing the means for universities and employers to select their candidates without needing to invest any resources in preparing them, and all too often they still complain about the quality of that preparation.

Universities have always complained that their students arrive without sufficient academic skills – back in the fifteenth century the colleges of Oxford were appalled by the lack of grasp of Latin grammar among those entering the university.  However, they did at least put their money where their mouth was, by providing facilities, funds and staff for a school with the sole purpose of ensuring a steady supply of young men with the necessary mastery of Latin.  (By the time I graduated from that same school five hundred years later the founders would once again have been appalled by the standard of my Latin).

Perhaps that model could be revived, with universities providing the funding for ‘pre-admission’ programmes, thus letting them take direct charge of the final preparation and selection of students, and freeing the schools from the contradiction of trying to educate and weed out at the same time?  I realise that this is, in effect, what already happens in those systems where universities admit far more students to the first year than they can accommodate in the second  (Canada and Switzerland spring to mind), but would it not be better for all concerned, and especially for the schools, if the whole process was a little more honest and transparent?