Child-centred education has taken some battering lately particularly from Civitas which has published not one, but three, books all saying the same thing: child-centred education is a problem. But child-centred in this context is misrepresented as child-led where the child, stepping in the footsteps of Rousseau, follows his own inclinations without guidance and discovers what he needs to know. I say “his”, because Rousseau’s views on the education of girls emphasised how to make herself pleasing to her husband which isn’t quite so “progressive”.
Child-centred is not child-led. It is placing the child at the centre of education. Those who attack such education fail to say exactly who, or what, should be the focus of education if not the child.
Are parents the centre of their child’s education? Should education be constructed to meet parental demands? But what if these demands conflict with a child’s needs?
Is society the centre of children’s education? Certainly education has a part to play in preparing children for their future roles as citizens, parents and workers. But should society’s needs be paramount? How far does, say, encouraging pride in country become nationalism and xenophobia? When does society’s need for stability morph into the encouragement of unthinking conformity?
Should the Government be the primary focus of education? But this brings risks of squashing genuine dissent, of moulding children into unquestioning obedience to the regime.
Should education become focused on the inspectorate? The last decade has seen schools trying to second-guess what inspectors judge as outstanding or, at the very least, good. This has led Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief HMI, to publish a letter reminding inspectors there isn’t one preferred way of teaching.
What about results? Should they be the focus? But the OECD has already warned that England has an excessive focus on exam results which risks negative consequences. These include brushing aside, or downgrading, anything that can’t easily be measured. As education secretary Michael Gove said, “If it can’t be externally assessed, then it’s play
Should business be at the centre of education? As I said above, education prepares children, among other things, to have the necessary skills to enter the workplace. But should business actually drive what happens in the classroom? Education is a growing market and profits are made through the sale of goods and services. There’s nothing wrong with making a profit from selling, say, stationery and teaching materials. But schools risk becoming “conduits” for taxpayers’ money to find its way into shareholders’ pockets if the education market is manipulated to provide an enduring and lucrative customer base. What do I mean by manipulating the education market? It is when edu-businesses lobby governments to pass laws which make it easier for business to profit from education*. When private equity firms and global giants such as News Corp get involved in education it might be promoted as altruism but it’s anything but. It’s investment.
My question, then, to those who don’t believe the child should be at the centre of education is this: if not the child then who, or what?
* See Debra Kidd’s blog
for “connections between this neo-liberal noise and the dominant market forces lobbying education”. For one specific example, see Phonics: the sounds that letters make. Kerching! here