Monday, March 03, 2008

Bought the Grauniad for the first time in a long time. Found my blood pressure rising: funny how that doesn't happen with the online versions of the newspapers... I supposed that if I come across a view I don't have time for I tend to flee to another page rather than allowing my feelings to build up.

There were two stories that particularly caught my attention... the first was about the lack of parental choice for schools. It's not that I disagree particularly with what is written in the article, it's just that I think it is so shortsighted to think about education in terms of schools nowadays. With the advent of 3D worlds anything is possible - you can make education enjoyable and entertaining, personalise it, engage pupils in it. People of all ages are continually learning and the old fashioned idea of schools as places where children go for six hours a day, which stand idle for the other 18 hours, is such an old fashioned and wasteful idea.

I'd like to see learning centres which can be used by everyone... money going into facilitators for education instead of teachers in the old fashioned sense... children given choices and the chance to do art -- or music -- or mechanics -- or dance all day every day if they want to. individualised, personalised education which can teach children the things they need to know... which isn't a lot of facts and figures, but skills and the use of their curiosity. I truly believe that we are going to think that schools are SO 20th, or even 19th century.

A letter was responsible for my rising blood pressure really. In it a woman says that she is going back to work full time and putting her baby into a workplace nursery and she cannot understand why friends are shocked that she isn't working part time instead.

For a long time I have lived by the premise that we can't tell other people what it is right to do, and I stand by that. I don't wish to tell this woman that she ought not to be putting her child in a nursery and going back to work. Hell, for all I know she might turn into a baby battering horror mother if she didn't go back to work. But not telling other people what to do doesn't mean that I don't have an opinion. My opinion is that if you are all right with dropping your precious baby into the hands of strangers, in a place where he will not get one-to-one care (or even one to two or one to three in all likelihood) then you are not properly bonded with your baby.

It's an unfashionable thing to say, and it conflicts with the idea of having an open mind about such things. But honestly, I DON'T have an open mind about childcare. My minds is made up. Children need a dedicated parent to look after them, especially in the first year. They ought to have their needs met by someone who loves them, not someone who is paid to look after them. I feel angry that government tries to convince parents that it is not just ok but a positive thing to leave your children in the care of others. It isn't.

There is good research available that also shows that later, when children are three or four years old, they do better in more or less every way if they spend their time with a dedicated adult who loves them than in an institution, no matter how good, or how well funded a facility. Two researchers some time ago set out to show how positive nurseries were for children aged four. They studied children in nurseries and those who stayed at home with their mothers and expected to show that the children in nurseries had an academic advantage and a social advantage over the others. In fact, they proved the reverse.

Communication in the home is usually two way, and parent make an effort to put things into context for children, referring to things they have done, or things they have shared in an attempt to give what they are talking about context. Children ask questions, and receive most of the information in the form of conversation.

In schools, children tend to restrict their questions to practical things: Where are the scissors? Can I go to the bathroom? Can I use the paintbrushes? One of the first things they learn in a group environment is that it isn't always safe to ask questions, and they learn that pretty damn fast. Often, even when questions are appropriate they find it hard to speak up.

People, particularly those in the pay of the government, talking of children being independent, as though it were possible to force independence on them before they are ready. You can't. I think the growing incidence of selective mutism in schools which I have noticed through the rising number of questions asked on mailing lists and noticeboards is a marker of the discomfort that many children feel on being forced into a formal learning institution much too early - in most cases nowadays nursery is beginning at 3 and school is beginning at 4 in the UK.

I think that our society is paying a price for poor advice to parents. This can only get worse.

No comments: