Boredom

Boredom - is this the reason for Gangs? Image via Wikipedia

Stephen Twigg, Labour Shadow Education Secretary, has called for longer school hours.

But why would we need them?

I agree that we can improve the education system in this country, doubtless, and I have my own ideas on that. I also am not opposed to a longer school-day. I think it has many advantages, for the right reasons.

But Twigg cites reasons like helping to stop teenagers joining gangs, providing a “haven” from a chaotic home and better preparing students for the world of work.

These aren’t the right reasons.

Unfortunately, the one new policy Labour seems to have come up with is one that, like most of their policy, just provides a band-aid. It deals with symptoms, not causes.

Why are children joining gangs?

Why are home lives chaotic?

Why are students ill-prepared for the world of work?

Simply, ‘a longer school day’ does nothing to ameliorate these.

Children don’t join gangs just because they aren’t in school. They have to go home sometime. More lessons of the same old garbage that already doesn’t engage them and leaves them ill-prepared won’t suddenly, magically, prepare them.

HowStuffWorks does some excellent articles, and Twigg should really take the time to read-up before making policy. They list four reasons why most gang members seem to have joined (I’m too snowed under with work for more academic sources) :-

Poverty; Peer Pressure; Boredom and Despair.

Personally, I feel despair to be the most important .

More hours in the school day won’t alter poverty, or peer pressure. Boredom is the only one that more time in school could attempt to solve, but it blatantly cannot work – if children are not engaged as it is, why would more of what they cannot engage with help alleviate boredom? If they are engaged, why are they joining gangs? This is the importance of youth centres, pool, activities etc – not forcing children into doing more dull maths problems – keeping them occupied while not distancing them from work and society. If we want to tackle gang membership, it has to be more nuanced than “more school”.

If children’s home lives are chaotic, offering an extra hour or two of respite doesn’t help. Well, it may help a little, but you have to go home sometime, or not. An extra hour here or there is just a band-aid, and doesn’t get to the root of the problem – why home lives are chaotic.

Of course, I would not be so crass as to presume a one-solution-fits-all to families’ internal issues…unlike certain politicians in Labour. Causes may be widespread – in my experience, I’ve come across relationship strain, financial problems, alcohol…However, I am proud of the Liberal Democrats for offering parenting classes to parents of children under-five for parents who feel “under pressure“. This is a good first step, and acknowledges ROOT issues, not merely symptoms.

As for preparing students for the world of work…

I’ve never quite been able to work out what the “skills” future-employees need. Time-management? Get your homework done. Research? Get it done well, with more sources than Wikipedia.

But, I acknowledge, children aren’t being taught some necessary skills – personally, I favour lateral or divergent thinking, critical thought… education based on the way of thinking, not merely facts and figures. In other words, to prepare students for the world of work, we need a total overhaul of schooling, not just more of the same.

Twigg may agree. But just looking at this quote…

“The workers down tools when they hear the bell ring, and are strictly separated into production lines, focused on building the constituent parts of knowledge – maths, science etc,” he will say.

“At the same time, students are rigidly separated. Taught in batches, not by ability or interest, but by their own date of manufacture.

…and I can see exactly where he gets his ideas from. Before, Twigg couldn’t Google, now he can! He is directly ripping-off this excellent video of Sir Ken Robinson, illustrated by RSA Animate. I’ll leave you with it, for far better ideas on education than Labour offered us last week.

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