Monday, 15 November 2010

Education, Society and Business

Of the 3200 undergraduates admitted to Oxford last year only one was from a British Black Caribbean family. Said like that Oxford University is immediately thrown into a bad light. There may be more to it however. I write only in observation as I have no way of substantiating any research on this.
The first thought is that clearly their admission procedures need looking at for prejudicial practice. One might imagine a figure around 100 admissions would be more appropriate by relating numbers to population.  Imagine though that opportunity might be at fault. The admission policies and criteria might show equality but maybe the opportunity does not.
That throws the responsibility back on to the education system and maybe further back on to the Local Education Authorities and ultimately the Government.  Oxford and Cambridge have a very demanding academic standard with a limited number of places and so to gain entry you have to be very able, very mature in interview and just lucky on the day as well as having self belief and confidence and ambition.
Another statistic that enters the frame at this point is that most Oxbridge students come from Public Schools and it is tempting but ill considered to suggest that it is because they are fee paying.  That brings selection and other partisan debates into the fray as well.
The essence of it is that the Education system in the UK is in poor shape. We no longer command respect around the World for it as we used to do, and we no longer have the expectations and apparently the consistent motivation across the industry to shine.
The Schools blame the Government interference. The Government lament the fall in social standards and have no redress that we can afford. The papers blame the schools on one hand, the parents on the other and the government for nanny interference by turn. The Society that does not have consistency of standards of behaviour and controls is also probably the fault of our parents and their parents, so far as fault is the right term. Consequence is another. The boom in babies after the Second World War coupled with the loss of significant numbers from that generation and the preceding one and the sheer scale of regeneration needed set up all kinds of consequences. Changes in life opportunities and traditions for home life, work, and other social contexts meant major shifts in attitudes, allowances and expectations.
The increasing speed of technological applications (that’s ‘apps’ in modern phone speak) also creates and continues to create speedily shifting sands. So it all shifts round and no one seems to have the answers. The Government is at the mercy of the latest education nerdy fad and the teachers roll their eyes. My observation is that they are asked to do an impossible job made so by the attempts to make it all evenly registered and compliant.
The kids aren’t all the same so why herd them all into a meaningless regime designed, but not successful, at giving them equal opportunities? It only means some are disinterested at any one time and kids get bored. Who would want to be a teacher against that background? I saw some Chinese children on a programme doing mental arithmetic in class. They were hugely talented at it. The mental exercise gave them dexterity with other things and they were loving being challenged.
All of these observations come to no firm conclusion. But I feel the numbers of any one particular classification of students entering the rarefied halls of Oxford is not the real point; wanting to do mental gymnastics probably is.
The impact on Business behaviour, resources, performance, recruitment, and therefore the wealth of the economy and the UK is immense and the threads run through everything.
Bob Shepherd  is the owner of  Bob Shepherd Associates 

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