Oliver James: Sting in the tale

If schoolchildren and students are forced to believe that their economic future is wholly reliant on educational performance, it encourages subordination and conformity. Education becomes a process for stunting creativity and fostering mindless obedience to authority - useful traits in a corporate workforce. But even if you accept the premise that schooling should serve the goal of economic growth, this stultification is not at all in our national interest.

If qualifications are king, it helps employers to select the subservient people most likely to obey them. Large retailers want neat, clean, obedient folk - and detailed reports on their academic and personal performance at school dating back to age five are useful in selecting them. Allied to psychometric tests (many of which have no sound scientific basis as predictors of the best employees), the present education system suits employers just fine as a way of finding the most productive labour.

But one intractable truth facing developed nations is that they cannot compete with the low wages paid in developing nations. Our future lies in hi-tech, high-skill industries. However well we may create subservient worker-bees, there are always larger hives of more compliant ones in developing nations.

Above all, the more inventive and creative we can be, the better our chances of sustaining our present affluence. If we create a nation of 'Yes' people, our capacity for innovation will soon end.

You only need to look at Japan. Their competitive, exam-obsessed system is hideously effective in suppressing imagination and creativity. So effective that a scientific charlatan sold vast numbers of a book there claiming that the lack of creativity was due to a crucial bit of kit missing from the Japanese brain (the obvious alternative explanation - that it was due to a destructive educational system - was barely mentioned).

I shall not labour the point that many great thinkers, inventors and leaders were famously useless or mediocre at school. The Richard Bransons got out as early as they could. If Blair wants us to become Thatcher's rapacious nation of entrepreneurs, education is the last route by which he will achieve it.

But neither Blair nor Brown has thought through what they are trying to achieve for us. They blithely assume that if they can get the 'brightest' to university, saddle them with a lifetime of student-loan debts and values which require large mortgages and school fees, they will drive economic growth. For the rest, it's about megalithic assessment systems to put people in the right boxes as young as possible so that they do the plumbing and decorating of Tony and Cherie's houses or are banged up in prison if they steal their consumer goodies.

The idea that school or university should drive economic growth is antithetical to wellbeing. How pathetic that sacrificing it on the altar of qualifications is not anyway going to achieve that goal.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.


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