Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Sweetshop Principle

You walk into a sweetshop and ask for some sweets. The shopkeeper asks you for £1 which you hand over. The shopkeeper then walks off to serve the next customer without giving you your sweets. Would you feel peeved? Would you ask for your sweets? Might you cause a scene?

The answer to all three questions is probably "yes" (although the third would depend upon your temperament). However, we are quite happy that the curriculum proceed along a proscribed route even though a proportion of the pupils/students have paid but not got the goods. Payment in this case is by attendance and by trying rather than in cash, but the situations are equivalent.

It would be easy to blame this on "poor teaching" or "poor students", but neither is the case. The problem is caused by a system that lays down what is to be taught in a given time period.

Let me give you another example. Suppose you and I were going to be taught to play the piano (assuming you don't already). I have no musical ability at all, so the probability is that you would pick it up rather more quickly than I would - and no-one would regard that as odd. Yet, when it come to arithmetic, English, history and so on, we are all expected to proceed at the same rate. "Ahhh!", I hear you say, "This is where differentiation comes in." No, it does not. This is where some get more (and usually more interesting) bits of curriculum than others. Why should everyone travel at the same pace in all subjects?

The rules of the Normal Curve will apply. The majority will be grouped around the mean whilst some will be significantly more or less able than average. The ones above the mean will be bored and a proportion of those will be disruptive in class just for something to do. The ones well below will not be getting what they paid for and so some of those will feel they might as well be disruptive too. The only guaranteed "good" kids are the ones who are average and therefore engaged.

Education tends to be a blame culture - teachers blame their charges for not performing. Educational institutions blame the teachers for not keeping everyone on target and the government blames the institutions for not producing success. And the system obviously works because the people in government are, in general, well qualified and so they got to the top! There is no impetus to change even though things are not working for the majority.

The system has created people who specialise in their teaching areas, so the system will feed itself. It will, by luck, have catered for some clustered around the mean and a slice of that group will go into teaching. They in turn will teach to the set curriculum, producing more who fit the profile created by the curriculum. So, for them the system works. There is little impetus to change, except for the blame culture.

The ones who are failed by the system, do not usually succeed. They are labelled as "failures" whose only chance of achieving is on the football field, in X-Factor or by winning the lottery. They turned up, put effort in and still came away without understanding. A proportion will then feel peeved, ask for their sweets (which they cannot now have because they did not take at the prescribed time) and some then make a scene by under-performing (at best) or by filling the courts (at worst).

If you pay for a product you should get that product.

No comments:

Post a Comment