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Thursday, February 25, 2016

"Early years fascism"...!?

Earlier this week I attended the "Lifelong Learning and the Power to Create" event at the RSA which had an an impressive panel of Dr Vince Cable, Lord Willetts and Lord Blunkett.  At the risk of reducing to the absurd, the theme of the event was, "Lifelong learning is really important; what a shame the treasury doesn't agree."

Lord Willets spoke last and unless I have completely misunderstood or misinterpreted what he said, he made an assertion so jarring that I had to put it down here.  He was bemoaning the 'early years tyranny'.  This made me sit up with a start.  I must have missed the pitchfork wielding mobs of nursery nurses and primary teachers who had so successfully held the public purse to ransom for so long... [another missed opportunity for the withering sarcasm font I wish someone would design].  

He then said that with the developments in neuroscience and our understanding of neuroplasticity, which is almost always a precursor to some appalling piece of quackery, it was entirely possible to 'teach old dogs new tricks' such that: 

"the Return On Investment for retraining a 50 year-old was higher than funding early years education"
I got the impression that he believed that funding should be shifted from teaching babies and children basic skills to adult education.  I think we should pause for a moment for that one to sink in...




Just in case that didn't immediately set off a klaxon in your head as being worthy of the prize for this year's most spectacularly unsubstantiated argument from authority (and we have some genuine competition from all the rubbish currently being spouted about Europe) consider this...

And let's be generous...

  • If we assume that 5% of children in Lord Willets' imaginary world don't survive to an employable age
  • And 5% die before they work for 20 years (which is about 10x the actual mortality rate)
  • And we assume that 100% of 50 year olds who are retrained by his scheme live to work for a further 20 years (which is just nonsense)
I said let's be generous...

Then 90% of children are going to work for at least 2.5x the length of time of the 50 year olds in his silver-surfer utopian experiment.  Which makes it practically impossible for the ROI of retraining 50 year olds to be higher than early years education.

As my heart rate returned to normal the CEO of the RSA Matthew Taylor summarised the debate in his urbane and witty manner.  Until he thanked Lord Willets for raising the issue of,

"Early years fascism"
At which point my chin hit the floor and a man behind me involuntarily coughed up his own spleen. Now, as I said I'm prepared to accept that I might have missed the pitchfork wielding tyrannic mob of nursery nurses and primary  teachers but I think I would have heard about them donning blackshirts and swastikas.

I'm not against adult ed. I'm all for it.  But the best way to improve adult education is to concentrate on teaching children how to learn.  

That is a gift that just keeps on giving.

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