I was horrified to hear a news item last night about the high cost of education for parents of school aged children before they even get into school. One estimate put a value of $2000 just to equip a primary school child. Few real details were included but items like stationary and uniform were mentioned.

To me this is ridiculous and suggests that we have lost sight of what we mean by education. It also suggests that there is an ever widening barrier between the haves and the have nots and an increasing stress on conformity and uniformity. Add to that the modern stress on testing of individual children according to ‘Naplan’, a short, limited measuring device which seems to involve an enormous amount of coaching (and resources) but which to me doesn’t prove very much about what a child has learned. Worst of all the results are available publically, putting even more pressure on teachers to prove how successful they are in what the rest of the country apparently feels is their job. Learning is an immensely complicated process which, if it is to be measured accurately, involves an enormous numbers of different aspects of life and knowledge.

We could just dismiss this anomaly between what we do and what we claim to do as unfortunate if education weren’t so important, particularly in the highly competitive world in which we live today. I believe that the most successful country, or countries, of the future will be the ones that really understand what education is and should be, not just in terms of what happens at school but also in the lifelong learning which should be part of all our lives.

Far too much of what we call education today is merely a repeat of what we have been doing for at least the past 70 years, with a few variations such as laptops and smart boards in the belief that this shows that we are progressives. Yet these measures are merely icing on the cake of real learning which should cover large areas of knowledge and be continuous throughout our lives. If we took this idea on board it would really make a difference in education, in our collective knowledge and in our ability to succeed in the world, both as individuals and as a nation.

Far too many of our leaders, particularly our politicians, finished their formal education in their early 20s and haven’t been near any in depth learning since. Unfortunately this also applies to the leaders in education which is why we struggle with a very limited understanding of what education is and what it should involve. People, particularly the decision makers, seem pleased with a system which exhibits conformity when real learning should be measured by its variety and its lack of conformity. Unfortunately those who question this, both students  and parents, are put under pressure to conform, and there are penalties if they don’t. This has more to do with power than education. The latter should be more focussed on the beautiful sponges which are what children have as brains, with a wonderful curiosity and desire to learn until we knock it out of them.

We are not going to progress or be successful as a country until we recognise what a wonderful wealth we have in our children’s, and our own, brains. We should be encouraging and enabling both to flourish. This is what we should be measuring but we put it into the too hard basket and measure our success by our conformity. This is more a measure of our failure.