In a time where government authorities are desperately trying to improve the quality of education, they neglect to pay attention to the basic human needs of a child: care, attention, and support. While investing billions in rebuilding facilities may fix things on paper, has the impact of education on young people improved?
I recently left school to embark on my journey into higher education. Upon leaving, my school held a grand bourgeois leavers service which intended to serve as an inspirational memoir to motivate us in our next chapter of life. Despite the two-hour long spew of overused inspirational clichés that would slip anyone into a coma, none of the educational banalities meant anything to me.
One flippant phrase, however, used by the Foundation and Alumni coordinator resonated with me:
‘We had to wait for the donor’s sister to die to get the money from his will’.
This was the moment I realised my school had become a money-making institution and I was merely a playing piece in a money-making scheme.
Derived from Tony Blair’s — failed — audacious £55bn ‘Building Schools for the Future (BSF)’ programme, it was believed by education ministers, high-tech facilities would be the key ingredient in enhancing a child’s attainment and engagement level. When I moved to my sixth form, I was exposed to a new realm of facilities I had never had access to before. Nonetheless, I soon discovered, learning through newfangled technology had little to no impact on my education.
Whilst wasting half the lesson dissecting how to use an online literacy programme, I had noticed the modern way of learning broke down the barriers between student-teacher interaction. Google had become the first point of call and over time, pupils would ignore and actively avoid verbal communication with their teacher. But what are the implications of this?
Studies have shown, a positive relationship between students and teachers has long-lasting implications for both a student’s academic and social development. Those who developed positive relationships with their teachers often attained higher levels of achievement than those in conflict with them. Students who talked to their teachers frequently, receiving constructive guidance and praise rather than just criticism, demonstrated higher levels of engagement in learning, better behaviour in class and clear academic progression. A strong personal connection between students and teachers can generate a repertoire of trust. It can also create a healthy environment for academic progression by drawing students into the process of learning and promoting their desire to learn. Just reflect on your time at school and imagine your worst teacher. Did you work better or worse in their class compared to your favourite teacher?
Having been taught by many types of teachers: the strict-chalk-pen-thrower, the funny teacher, the I-like-authority teacher and so on, I’ve observed that students engaged better, worked harder and achieved higher when the teacher creates a classroom environment which is primarily used as a safe-space in nurturing a foundation of support. A ‘good school’ is not a school characterised by wealth or facilities. It is about the quality of trust, respect, and friendship between teachers and students. Evidently, the reason Tony Blair’s BSF plan failed was because there was no correlation or causation between educational attainment and better-facilitated schools. Reports such as the National Foundation for Educational Research discovered there had been ‘no impact on pupil attainment, or even that standards were worse than expected, at schools rebuilt or revamped.’
Travelling to Zambia immersed me in a society where inequality and lack of educational rights are endemic. Nonetheless, despite the poor infrastructure and limited access to academic resources, the students remained enthusiastic and thrived in academic progress. Despite having no access to high-tech facilities, students were optimistic, determined and motivated by their teachers to believe they could pursue higher education. Rebranding and rebuilding a school simply does not improve the quality of teaching, raise student academic levels or increase student engagement. Take a cup of mouldy tea and pour it into an expensive china teapot. The tea is still mouldy. It hasn’t changed or improved. The contents remain the same.
Neglecting and failing to recognise the importance of student-teacher relationships will cause a breakdown in trust and support; the essential factors in child development. Thus, causing disengagement, detachment, and dissociation within education. Plunging billions into an academic institution might have benefits in providing a cleaner canteen, flashy smart boards and smart touch electric water fountains. However, these advanced facilities will not motivate a child more than words of encouragement and genuine belief from a human being.
In the wise words of Lady Gaga delivered on her A Star is Born promotion tour:
‘In a room of 100, you only need 1 person to believe in you to make you feel like you can succeed and do anything in this world’.