Letter from London: Losing sight of the golden mean

EducationWorld May 2019 | International News

Home education is becoming a hot button topic in the UK just as it is in India, as reported in the brilliant cover story ‘India’s nascent homeschooling revolution’ of EW’s affiliate publication ParentsWorld (March 15). How I wish we had a similar pair of excellent complementary journals for education and parenting in Britain! This informative cover feature frankly discussed difficulties and disadvantages of homeschooling children in less gifted and wealthy households. However, despite the difficulty or even impossibility of many parents teaching children at home, perhaps because both parents need to work and they may not themselves be well-educated, the number of homeschooled children is rapidly increasing both in India and Britain (in the latter by over 40 percent in the last three years). Why?

While it is illegal to deprive children of education in the UK, it is not illegal to homeschool them. The reasons why parents opt for this alternative vary. Sometimes there’s the problem of children’s mental or physical health, sometimes because they are bullied in school, because gifted children are stifled in mainstream schools, and sometimes it’s the perverted desire of extremist religious sects to thoroughly indoctrinate their children. But the main reason that the homeschooling movement in Britain is gathering momentum is the abysmal quality of state-provided education.

In India, ParentsWorld blames the national obsession with rote-learning and uncritical regurgitation of ingested facts for examinations — the Gradgrind mentality of Charles Dickens’ Hard Times − for stifling creativity. Yet I question the assumption that “the global digital revolution has made the accessing and storing of information obsolete”. Every child needs to acquire a solid bedrock of stored knowledge on which to build, and as usual, we are losing sight of balance — of the ‘golden mean’. It’s never one or the other, both are needed. If “creativity and critical thinking” skills are not being taught in schools, there is surely a role here for extra-mural help at home from parents and numerous (often Internet-based) courses, night-schools and private tutoring groups often led by suitably qualified parents. Home-education for most children should be an adjunct of formal schooling. Children need to learn to live with other children as a preparation for their adult lives. School may not always be pleasant, but such is the reality of life, and hiding away from it is not good education.

In Britain, the problem of formal schooling is the opposite. It is not the rigour of rote-learning and concentration on examinations that’s to blame but lack of it, the loss of intellectual discipline and the infiltration of left-wing and Marxist dogma that I wrote about in my letters of November and December last year. A remarkable BBC programme has recently given weight to my fears, and I shall tell you about it in my next despatch.

(Dr. Peter Greenhalgh is a Cambridge classical scholar and former professor at Cape Town University)

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