From education to employment

Looking Back on the Week that Was with FE News – Part On

How far can you throw?

There is a reason why this comes to mind at present. The question of trust has moved beyond that lovely exercise so close to the heart of situation comedy writers everywhere, where Character A assures Character B that they can fall backwards, they will be caught safely. Cue a hilarious coincidence ““ the doorbell goes, the telephone rings ““ and Character A moves away at the crucial moment allowing Character B to do the same thing that the show’s ratings are normally doing when such a gambit is used (plummet to earth).

Bring on a Can of Laughter

But let us leave aside the canned laughter that leaves you wondering if watching a potato slowly mutate into the planet’s most intelligent life form might not be a more productive use of time. The question is one of trust, one raised often both by the media and towards the media. The recent conference of the biggest economic nations on the planet ““ G8’s little shindig in St. Petersburg, an interesting Tsarist backdrop during an era when many accuse these leading lights of industry and finance of economic imperialism ““ has raised trust as a problem once again.

Everyone is very familiar with the issues surrounding Third World debt, and the long running campaigns to have the “developed” world simply cancel this enormous burden that acts as a buffer to economic success and personal prosperity for so many. There have also been numerous references to the problems of climate change and the dwindling of resources. Education is held up as a key component of economic and political development, and the conference had statements to make on this. So”¦just how far do their expressed commitments go, and how far will the nations go in fulfilling them?

Taking a Look

So, what exactly did G8 have to say in the section of their conference statement entitled “Education for Innovative Societies in the 21st Century”? To begin with, the Chair said:

“We adopted a statement on the need to promote modern effective education systems to meet the challenges of a global knowledge-based economy. We agreed that economic and social prosperity in the 21st century increasingly depends on the ability of nations to educate all members of their societies to be prepared to thrive in a rapidly changing world.”

All good, so far. It all makes good sense; encourage education to provide the tools that the individuals require to succeed. However, what irks slightly is the concept of “social prosperity”. What is this? Are they going to try social credits that will be doled out at the Post Office? Maybe that would be a good idea, however. If we consider one element of “social prosperity” to be interaction with other people on a level footing, then forcing more people to stand in a long Post Office line might be just the ticket. Everyone is there for one purpose and united on a common footing of hatred; namely, the loathing of the line.

Personal Interaction

The other question that springs to mind is the concept of “social prosperity” based on personal interaction ““ rather than some kind of league table, as those are just so popular ““ and the way that this works with the “knowledge based society”. This type of society is born of computers, serving two oddly contrasted functions. On the one hand, instantaneous communication and exchanges of data fuel the burgeoning of the economic prosperity and should serve to bring millions together. So”¦a good thing”¦

However, with an ever increasing number of people perched on chairs staring at a screen rather than engaging with real people in person, an element of distance and “virtuality” is being bred into our society. Similarly, the information age is rife with the same prosperity based bias that allows those more economically fortunate to make use of it and excludes the rest. It is difficult to see how this separation of humanity by distance and this propagation of financial discrimination can possibly serve to encourage “social prosperity”.

The statement from the G8 seems to indicate that their approach to the problem has yet to take these considerations into account. They stated:

“We shall facilitate wider use of information and communication technologies, enhance standards in mathematics, science, technology and foreign languages, and support the engagement of highly qualified teachers in these critical areas.”

All laudable goals ““ no canned laughter required for this! But what happens to our “social prosperity” when people no longer communicate? What happens when a generation springs up who spell “mate” as “m8” and who believe that “lol” is a real word? We risk creating a society when real laughter will be so rarely heard in person that it will sound fake and canned next to a studio sound effect.

Jethro Marsh

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