PISA is a half measure of education

In this country parents don’t choose to live in poverty in order that every penny of the family finances can provide one child with the best possible education. We do not sacrifice all leisure and play in order to spend every waking hour and minute on extra homework. Nor do we threaten our children with our own suicide, when the child looks likely to fail an exam. Asian parents, on the other hand, apparently do.

In the UK, we want our children to grow up as rounded, happy individuals. The purpose of school is not simply about passing exams, but also for building character. It may be easier to get a child through an exam if we teach by rote, but we also want our children to have curiosity, creativity, and a sense of adventure. These qualities are not easy to measure, but are essential for a successful life.

Meanwhile in Asia, they look to us with envy. Their children pass exams well enough, but they tend to lack curiosity, creativity and a sense of adventure. In the early Blair years, a mass of Pilipino nurses arrived to save the NHS from its staffing crisis. They were wonderful, but they were so compliant that they sometimes seemed unable to think independently. Later, this created a management backlog, because they weren’t suitable for promotion. Their education system is good for teaching people to work on a factory production line, but not good for creating thinking individuals.

David Cameron recently made a speech where he blamed the British education system for the failure of manufacturing in this country. He meant that the future of manufacturing should be about production lines, rather than thinking lines. When he speaks of manufacturing, he thinks of the cheap output of China, not the brilliant innovation of Rolls Royce and AstraZeneca.

He meant that he wants British children to become more like the Pilipino nurses. He doesn’t want them thinking or creating. He just wants them serving. He believes that our future is one of low productivity workers, feeding machines, for factories with a low-profit margin but massive turnover. He wants us to compete with the Chinese on their terms.

This is not a vision for the future that Labour should be adopting.

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