In a few days time our TV screens will be saturated with coverage of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, and All Change Please! can’t help but be reminded of its very first post, published on the 28th October 2009 – so long ago that Labour were still in power. Sadly little has changed since then, except that ‘Gold’ has now been re-cast as ‘EBacc’. Here’s an extract:
‘The Olympic Games Committee made a surprise announcement today in which it stated that in future Gold medals will only be awarded to the winners of the 100 metres, which it considers to be the only true test of an athlete. Winners of other track events that involve at least some competitive speed running will only be awarded Silver medals, while other, so called ‘soft sports’ such as pole-vaulting or horse-riding will only gain winners Bronze medals. Team games, in which it is impossible to identify a single winner, and sports that can be played professionally, such as football and boxing, will still be offered as recreational fringe events, but no medals will be awarded. A spokesperson said ‘It’s essential not to further devalue the gold standard, and we hope that this action will encourage more athletes to train for and compete in the 100 metres’.
Crazy, and of course quite untrue. Except that in the UK that’s exactly how we view the current education system – we prepare everyone for success in one event that only a small proportion of entrants are capable of succeeding in. What makes it worse is that the one event is, by definition, ‘academic’ – theoretical rather than practical. An academic is ‘a person who works as a researcher (and usually teacher) at a university, college, or similar institution in post-secondary (tertiary) education’. Why is it that we all want our children to be brilliant academics, but are quick in a discussion to dismiss an idea as being ‘academic’, i.e. of theoretical rather than any practical relevance? As a result we have a nation full of trained 100 metre runners, the vast majority of whom have no chance of ever achieving Gold, and frequently see themselves, and are also seen by potential employers, as failures and as such un-equipped for any other event, such as work in the outside work. And how much longer will the essay and the multiple choice question remain the main format for assessment, given that few jobs involve a great deal of essay writing or answering mcqs.
If the UK is to remain, or even become, in any way competitive in the global market place, it’s much too late therefore for a slow, evolutionary incremental shift in public opinion and institutional structures, curriculum and teaching method. We need to think the unthinkable. Nothing less than a short, sharp revolution in needed.
Since then, Nick Glibb’s Team Df-ingE’s EBacc has if anything made the situation even worse, as the latest announcement by the Olympic Games Committee reveals:
“In the latest attempt to further increase standards at the Olympic Games, and to provide greater opportunities for less wealthy athletes to win gold medals, we are announcing that in future 90% of athletes will be expected to enter for a broad and balanced range of seven gold medal competitive speed running events. Participants wishing to enter for further non-running based ‘soft’ bronze competitions and recreational team sports may do so if they wish, providing they still have enough time and energy left.”
“Just think, if we’d been allowed to enter for the Shot Put instead of the 400 meters we might have won a medal!”
Lower image credit: Flickr/TiareScott