I agree with Fern Britton: Let’s put home work in room 101

I don’t yet have kids so I first noticed the problem when Frank Skinner agreed to put Fern Britton’s kid’s home work in Room 101. I noticed it again when my sister had kids and her and her partner bought the “I Used to Know That” series of books. It became clear to me when my lovely hard working intelligent friend who is a maths teacher opened the boot of his car and I saw it rammed full of marking.

Like it or not education has a problem. [There is a smirk on my face as a say this but] “If I may be so bold: I think I may have the answer!” though I am sure many will vehemently disagree.

A: We should pay a full adult professional salary to children to attend school. And they should get performance related bonuses which are link to test scores. 

Jennifer Senior’s book: All Joy and No fun makes the point that children have become economically worthless and emotionally priceless. She also cites several examples where in the past precocial teens made valuable contributions to society by engaging in adventurous and risky work older more timid heads didn’t want to do. I.E Abraham Lincon did paid geological survey work as a teenager before becoming president of the USA.

Mathew Leberman claims that we retain less than 30% of the information that is disseminated to us in school. That 1000’s of hours invested for a very pore return.

This makes school a massive waste of time. This is surely a travesty? I am angry about that and you should be to.

In Europe there is a demographic time bomb largely because people delay reproduction. So our inefficient use of educational time has two opportunity costs. It keeps valuable intelligent and productive teenagers out of the work force, and delays the arrival of the next generation.

Could it be that we are seeing the results of perverse disincentives? I always hate to see companies using unpaid interns. This practice is particularly pernicious because the intern’s time is not costed properly and therefore colleagues don’t take the time to think about what they should be getting the intern to do. They send them out of the office, on pointless errands and view the internship as a one way street. It’s all about what slave labour they can get, and thinking through what to do with these graduates is a chore.

My worry is that education suffers from this problem writ large. I was shocked that the syllabus had barely changed from when I was at school in the 80’s and 90’s.

Education is slow to adapt because of the large number of vested interests involved. But perhaps the one vested interest we are not taking properly into account is the children. We have not properly costed what their time is worth, so there is a perverse incentive to make kids spend 5 days a week in school and then do hours of homework.

What are teachers doing all day every day that they then need kids to spend additional time working at home to prepare them for the work force?

Poverty of aspiration is cited as an issue in under achieving schools that serve poor neighbourhoods. Most people are heavily loss averse. If kids became aware that a certain career path would mean that they make less, than they currently do now to study, that would be a huge incentive to follow an economically productive path in later life. It would give them a tangible point of reference. Would it be a good or a bad thing if fewer children chose the statistical meat grinder of a career in the performing arts?

Perhaps young children shouldn’t get all their salary. It could be held in trust, and they could receive an age indexed percentage of their performance related bonuses in a digital currency that can only be spent on age appropriate goods and services, with some parental controls built in.

There is an argument that we want children to learn for the love of it but we don’t expect anyone else to do their work purely for the love of it. The rest of us even the ones who enjoy our work get paid something.

Surely the biggest barrier to developing a love of lifelong learning is that under18’s are siloed in schools against their will and adults are absent from our educational establishments. I would think a very quick way to improve standers in schools would be to have a few adults learn in schools with under 18’s. Ask university lecturers if the rein in the bullshit a bit when they know they have a few mature students in the room. My guess is they do.

Adult learners would be better customers for the teachers, who could give instant, effective feedback.  At the moment children are the products of education and the parents are the customers. So at the moment feedback is only given twice a year at parent’s day.

I hypothesise that children would work harder if their work had economic value in the short, medium and the long term, as opposed to just the long term as it might do now. Teachers would be happier and more effective if there work was subject to greater scrutiny, and if the students truly became their customers as opposed to their products.

Society would be a better more competitive and productive place if we got people ready for the work force faster, and didn’t shut adults out of learning. Perhaps the real issue is that an ineffective education system is tolerated because it benefits ineffective adults most, due to the reduced competition in the work force. Maybe the problems in the education system are so intractable because we don’t really want to solve them. No-one likes to be shown up by someone younger than themselves.

At the end of the day, if teaching was really getting better, people would be ready to enter the work force sooner not later in life. We would be producing productive member of society sooner, not razing the school leaving age to give the system another two years.

If computer coding is now a vital skill for the modern economy, why should kids get free tuition and adults be prevented from accessing this vital knowledge? And who better to imbue teen agers with a thirst for knowledge, than adults who have gone back to school to improve themselves. Who better to create links to the world of work than adult class mates who are already working? As much as I loved some of my teachers, many of them are lifers. If we want to empower children we should increase the porosity between the world of work and education.

If we gave the education system a report card it would certainly say: “Could do better”. That is not a criticism of anyone who works in the education industry; it is simply a statement of fact. The only criticism I would ever level against anyone in this debate is that: I think it is unacceptable behavior to not explore ideas that could help us all do better in class.