A new outcome for our education system
Guttentag one and all.
Last time I (Sam) wrote, way back when, I raised the question; why are we here? I explored the theme and applied it to schools, questioning the purpose of our education system. What is the desired outcome for participants? What does 'to do well at school' mean?
I'm not sure who's responsible for setting those parameters, but I do know (i checked) that there are no official league tables for happiest schools and there are no A-C grades awarded for being fit and healthy. Why not?
Surely, our schools should be preparing children for the reality in to which they are headed? Important as they are, upon leaving education, there is much more to contend with than grammar and arithmetic. Knowing the name's of King Henry's wives does not help people understand the impact of interest rates on their mortgage.
Rather than deride the status quo, in today's blog I want to stake a positive case for a new outcome. An outcome that addresses reality and which in achievement, provides tangible benefits for participants of our education system and the UK as a whole.
The particular reality we are concerned with, of course, is food:
Eating is central to, and has a profound effect upon our lives. Having a healthy and meaningful relationship with food is to have a fundamentally strong foundation upon which to build everything else.
It seems that as a nation, we have forgotten this simple truth.
Regarding our physical health (to which food is intrinsically connected), we are bombarded with apocalyptic metaphors in the media; "the obesity time bomb!" "Diabetes Doomsday!" "Sugar Suicide" "CARNIVOROUS CORONARY CATASTROPHE!!!!"
Hysteria aside, the facts behind these headlines are pretty scary: 64% of Britons are obese or overweight (Guardian 2014) and there are 3.2 million diagnosed diabetics in the UK (Diabetes UK 2014). This represents a significant increase from even 10 years ago. If we were to treat the million obese Britons eligible for weight-reduction surgery; it would cost the tax payer a staggering £9.1bn (BBC 2013).
Everyone knows that what and how we eat has dramatically changed withn the last two
generations. Quite simply, we cook less and eat more mass produced factory food. It seems apparent that said change is having an adverse effect on our health. Simple. Cooking our food at home, from scratch and using fresh produce, has a positive effect. Simple. Watch this excellent RSA video, which explains the simple truth more eloquently than I ever could.
All the above in mind, the outcome I propose is thus:
"Upon leaving the education system at 18, every participant should be able to prepare a meal from fresh produce"
In it's most basic form, this is a simple outcome that would be easy to implement and measure. It really wouldn't be difficult. From this small step we could build a reality where a whole generation has the means (and therefore motivation) to intuitively throw together a tasty curry/lasagna/chili from what they have in the kitchen.
People would cook more, an outcome of which would be a change in behavior and diet. More of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff; saving money, supporting producers and getting healthier in the process. Simple.
Why am I here? is a question with endless connotations and infinite avenues of exploration. Most people will offer a different response even if they share an almost identical context. Despite the elusive and fluid nature of the question, it is one of fundamental importance; to ignore it is to forget purpose.
I think Matt's blog last month was a vivid exploration of this very question. The difference between tomatoes grown at home and tomatoes on the super market shelf is undeniable. It is actually a challenge to produce the 'bland watery balls of nothing' you find in those neon aisles. So what an earth are they doing there!? Why are they here? If you were to ask Mr Supermarket that very question, I'd be willing to bet my left lung that he'd say: “Why, to make me fistfuls of cash of course. What a ridiculous question” or something to that effect.
We all know this. If Mr Supermarket wants to spend his time collecting currency, then that is his prerogative and he is welcome to it. I don't have to buy those tomatoes. What I find worrisome is when you apply the 'why am I here?' question to schools, of which attendance is mandatory.
This blog is way too short and I am way too under qualified to attempt a full exploration of that question right here, right now. But so are the vast majority of us. Does that mean we should just ignore the question completely? Should we just accept that gaining 5 A-Cs is of vital importance? Is what Ofstead says about a school both true and relevant?
What I would like to offer for your consideration right now is a short anecdote.
My Brother is 33, he is a good husband and a loving father. He owns a large, handsome house (which he renovated himself) and is a highly qualified telecoms technician. By all accounts he is doing well for himself. That said, he didn't achieve 5 A-Cs and as a result will quite happily declare that he is a failure and intellectually inferior. Such is the legacy of his schooling.
His experience at school, like that of so many others, has no real relevance to the world he inhabits today. At no point has knowing the plot of Romeo and Juliet helped him out and never has he completed long division on paper. The same is true for me and I made it through university. You've no doubt heard a similar anecdote before.
The content is actually irrelevant, to get 5 A-Cs you have to remember a load of stuff that somebody else has decided is important and regurgitate it in a very specific way come exam time. When you leave school it's done, never to be revisited. Get your C in maths/English/Science then forget about it forever.
This begs the important question; why are schools here? To encourage the development of skills that are necessary for survival in a dynamic and often unforeseeable future? Or to coach people to pass a very specific form of abstract examination? We strongly believe in the former and hope to be a part of the movement towards that end.
Well, what a (school) year it has been. For both us and our students over at Sandymoor School. Whilst we have been busy building our business, our pupils have mirrored this activity at their own patch. The plot belongs to the pupils and they have done everything themselves. With our support; they have planned the plot, dug the beds, planted the seeds, cared for the plants and sold the produce.
When we started this project we envisaged a situation where the kids were not just growing veg, (although there is value in this) but selling it to the local community on a regular basis. We wanted to provide a platform by which the school could foster meaningful links with the local community, whilst allowing the kids a more open ended environment in which to develop. This project is not about ticking Ofsted boxes and abstract quantified data. It is about allowing the the pupils to take on a real business, allowing them to learn from their mistakes and to experience the dynamic world in to which they will inevitably graduate.
We are happy to say that the first year has been a resounding success. There have been tears along the way and we've lost a few at sea, but what the students have achieved is remarkable. During the summer term they built up a regular customer base and kept them well supplied with top quality salad. On top of that, they managed to sell all their produce at a local summer fair. After repaying their start up loan to the head, they made a healthy profit of 97 pounds.
Like us, Sandymoor School is still in its first year of existence. Next year will see more pupils arrive as the school grows and more space put aside for the market garden. We think we are on to something really special here and are very much looking forward to being part of the evolution of the school, the pupils and hopefully the way we do education in the UK.