What Children Think About Education…And What That Tells Us We Are Doing Wrong

1 Jun

I spent a few days at the Eisteddfod last week.  While the Friday was so ridiculously cold and wet that I sat in soaking jeans, a jumper and three (yes three) coats, the rest of the week was glorious by my past Eisteddfod experiences.


A hoodie, under a leather jacket, under a gilet. I was still cold.

This year on the NUT Cymru stand we held two main interactive events.  One was a keepie-uppie competition in conjunction with Show Racism The Red Card Cymru.  The winner took home two tickets to the Wales v Belgium game, courtesy of the generosity of the FAW.  The winner was an 11-year-old with 113.  My mind is blown by that score.

The second competition was our Education Tree.  Here we asked children to tell us what they thought the purpose of education was by writing their thoughts on a paper apple and adding it to the cutout.

photoMighty oaks from little acorns grow

Some of the answers were truly inspiring and really emphasised the merits of the Foundation Phase approach to learning.  It was heartening to read some of the comments that focused on the enjoyment of being at school.  These included (translated from Welsh) that the purpose of education was:

“To learn new things and new ways of doing things.”

“To reach your full potential.”

“To learn through enjoyment.”

“To play with friends and learn new skills.”

“To open up new opportunities.”

There were also some very simply but powerful messages such as:

“I love school.”


“To be the best we can be.”

What did come through however was the number of responses that stated education was purely a driver to finding a job.  While of course economic considerations and being employed upon leaving school must be an integral part of education, to think of it as the only factor is worrying, and goes to show the pressure we put on pupils throughout their academic lives.  It also goes to illustrate exactly what we have been teaching children about the learning experience.  It is about getting a job.  Failure to be a success in school makes for a failure in the workplace and a failure in life.

While the sample was small, 70 responses in total, 19 of those (27.1%) gave getting a job, or variations of that theme, as the sole purpose of education.  When you consider that in some instances these responses came from very young children who were attending a cultural festival it is even more depressing.

In some ways this little experiment acts like a microcosm for the education debate in Wales.  On one hand you have the Foundation Phase philosophy and more recently the themes of the Donaldson report.  These are encouraging a lighter-touch approach which builds in flexibility and enjoyment.  They focus on individuals being exposed to cultural and social developments as a critical part of the learning experiences.  They want to ensure we create positive people not just working machines.  On the other hand there is the rigid high stakes testing and accountability regime that was brought in post-2010.  This has limited the commitment to art, drama and other expressive subject matter with the sole focus on creating pupils that fit the economic model.

The reality is that there has to be a balance.  We need confident, independent and creative learners who are skilled in the ways that contribute to high employment but who are also focused on contributing to wider society and who have a passion for learning.  The two systems currently in existence in Wales are clashing and there needs to be a focus on the transition to ensure that they fit more smoothly in future.  Judging by the seeds of the apples growing on the Eisteddfod tree we haven’t yet managed that.

For information my personal favourite came from the little boy who wrote simply, “Rwy’n hoffi pwdyn”…..”I like pudding.”  A view I think we can all get on board with.

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