Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Compulsory Education

Amidst all the change, excitement and hype associated with contemporary education it must not be forgotten that education has always provided continuity in passing on knowledge, skills, values and traditions. Schools at their best are places of intellectual excitement and nourishment. But their custodial function remains. Parents wish to know their children are in a safe place, while society wants to ensure that those children whose parents neglect their learning are having a second chance at least.

While my boyhood held school and family in separate parallel tracks I was not aware of any conflict between them. This is not always so. There is often tension between the family and the State as the supplier of schooling and learning. Those who keep asking for a return to the 'so-called' traditional family values in education have themselves to answer a question - if the monolithic Communist bloc of Eastern Europe cracked under the pressure of Western information technology can the tutelage of kin also withstand the same pressure.

At one time family and workplace were the main educative sources. In the 19th century the nation-state took over the role. Now schools compete with the global multi-media world. That is why teaching is now much harder than when I was in the class-room.

It is easy to forget how recent a development is compulsory schooling. Teachers often complain that as a profession they lack recognition. As an occupation there is not the weight of tradition that say law or medicine carries. Further, for centuries children assumed adult responsibilities much younger than they do today. Indeed, the very education structures we have created prolong childhood and have introduced adolescence.

Equity is a problem for modern educators. A nation cannot afford to waste its available talents. Present access to the global multimedia is inequitable and is likely to remain so. A question any society faces is how far should the State intervene and provide assistance on socio-economic as well as gender and ethnic grounds?

Western society balances two prospects of freedom: capitalism - the maximisation of profit - and democracy - equality and social responsibility. The tautness between them though uneasy provides the dynamic upon which our way of life exists. Somewhere in there environmental sustainability is struggling to be heard.

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