I am not a regular reader of the Edmonton Journal. In fact I think I can honestly say that the demand for this particular publication is fairly limited in the sleepy pastures of Northamptonshire. I am therefore grateful to Tim Loreman who posted a link to an article in this newspaper in a reply to the piece that I posted yesterday on this blog (Where will you finish in the global race? March 12th 2014). It would appear from Tim’s posting that the apprehensions I expressed about politicians interpreting education simply as a means to securing economic advantage are being similarly debated in Canada.
Mariam Ibrahim writing in the Edmonton Journal under the headline “Critics raise concerns over oil industry involvement in Alberta curriculum redesign” states that:-
“Critics say they’re worried about the direction of Alberta’s massive overhaul of school curriculum after it was revealed Tuesday major oil companies are being consulted on changes”. Edmonton Journal March 12, 2014
The article discusses the fact that three large energy companies have been invited to participate in a review of the Alberta State curriculum which is being rewritten in preparation for introduction into schools in 2016. The concerns expressed are not so much about the consultation with businesses about the curriculum, but rather the fact that this appears to take precedent over other potential stakeholders in education. Naturally we should welcome industrialists taking an interest in the education of our children, but is it unreasonable to suggest that other sections of society may also have a view about curriculum change and the direction in which education is being taken? Mike Hudema, climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Canada proposes that:-
“I think it’s the job of the government and teachers to present well-balanced views on different issues and subjects within Alberta and having Syncrude and Suncor [oil and energy companies] as explicit partners in the redesign at least gives the impression that the table is not balanced.”
Of course it may be argued that as a representative of Greenpeace Mike Hudena would be likely to oppose the influence of oil companies upon the curriculum, but I have detected of late that many agencies and individuals have awoken to the dangers of an unbalanced influence upon developments in this area. Recently leading figures in the arts in the UK including the artist Grayson Perry, playwright David Hare, former director of the National Theatre Sir Nicholas Hytner, concert cellist Julian Lloyd Webber and sculptor Antony Gormley have expressed their concerns that the place of the arts in the school curriculum is being marginalised and the rich cultural scene created in the country is being jeapordised. Similarly leading sports organisations such as British Cycling and UK athletics have expressed a view that the low priority afforded to physical education and sport in schools is likely to have a negative impact on both health and the participation of young people in community sports activities.
I am certainly not suggesting that the arts and sport should take precedence over other areas of the curriculum, but would argue that we need to ensure that we have a curriculum balance that enables all children to demonstrate their aptitudes and abilities. There are many children in our schools who whilst not destined to become engineers, bankers or captains of industry may contribute much to their communities through their abilities as performers, artists, athletes or carers. A well balanced curriculum will ensure that opportunities are available to all and that our future society is recognised not only for its economic prowess but also as a place where everyone belongs.
Yesterday I expressed my concerns that a UK government minister focused her attention upon a “long term economic plan” as the driving influence behind education and for success to be measured by the “earning potential” of those leaving school. Tim Loreman points out that these views are not limited to the UK as evidenced in the Edmonton Journal article which cites Alberta Education Minister, Jeff Johnson arguing that:-
“We want the economy involved in the education system… If we’re going to build a relevant education system, we need the voice of the employer, the business community, economic development — we need those people at the table.”
He does, of course have a point. The voices of business executives and employers should be heard in all discussions about the curriculum, but this should not be exclusive, neither should their views take precedence and I would suggest that other interested parties should be equally heard.
One of my greatest apprehensions about the ways in which our political leaders are taking education today is the danger that those children who have for many years found difficulties in adapting to our education systems will become further marginalised by these changes. I recall a few years ago after presenting a paper about increasing learning opportunities for pupils with special educational needs at a conference in an Eastern European country, the executive of a large paper manufacturing company approached me and in all seriousness asked me, “why should we bother educating such children, after all they will never make an economic contribution to my country and will probably be a burden upon our taxpayers?” I remember at the time being quite angry with this man and his limited interpretation of education, but also thinking that I was fortunate in living in a far more enlightened society in my country. This was at a time when I felt that our policy makers were fully committed to an agenda for inclusion. Now I am no so sure. Are Tim and myself in a minority in feeling this way?