Friday, 12 February 2016

A plea to Nicky Morgan and STEM evangelists

It seems, if the reports I have read are true, that the Education Secretary,  Nicky Morgan*, has warned schoolkids that choosing to study Arts subjects, "Could hold them back For the rest of their lives."

It seems she said this at a 'Your Life' event to promote and encourage kids to study the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths). She told the gathered masses that studying arts and humanities closed our children's career options rather than opened them. She continued by saying that those kids who have no idea what they wanted to do tended towards the arts and humanities stuff but this closed so many options whilst STEM subjects meant doors would be one for you to pursue careers in medicine (bit of a silly example after the comments from yesterday's doctor's strike) and engineering (wonder if she's visited the former manufacturing centres recently).

She said that employers valued maths as the most desirable subject, which is a fair comment because being numerate is important, but then put any spark of intelligent thinking out before it could catch fire by adding, "People who study maths to A level will earn 10% more over their lifetime."

The last nail in the coffin was banged in with the observation that too many kid are making the wrong career choices at 15 - perhaps this means that we need to give them more information and let them make their choices a little later?

It seems to me that the three foundational subjects derive their status because everyone needs to be able to read, write and count - I don't think many would disagree with this - but the event was about the STEM subjects (maths and physics in particular) so I guess we can write off Morgan's comments as mere marketing. But I don't think we can ignore them because in her words we find more of the same old tosh that is damaging our kids and making our nations poor as we disregard the arts and humanities. Mind you, looking at some of the tosh that gets wheeled out in the unmade beds, concrete hours and other 'art' that some competitions parade and applaud, perhaps the arts are doing the work for her!

Now I am someone who studied maths and science and had pretty useful careers in engineering and technology. I am a STEM person and I have enjoyed the world I inhabited before swapping it out for a dogcollar, but have to make a few observations and issue a few correctives:

i. Education is about imparting knowledge in a way that enthuses and informs. It's goal is to discover in each of our children those things that attract them (so we need teaches to understand and make them attractive) and things they have natural gifts and attitudes towards- and maximise them.

School is about discovery, nurture, excitement and enabled and fulfilled kids - not blessed grades!

ii. Whilst I, as a kid, wondered about those who 'don't do science' I soon came to realise that we are all different and my spending every available minute in London's Science Museum (I'd walk their and back from Stoke Newington most Saturdays as a kid) was something that shaped me. I wonder what I'd have done if I'd discovered the V&A first (was nineteen before I lived there for a week listening to Wagner) or stumbled into the National Portrait Gallery - would I have become captivated by music and art then rather than fifteen years later?

Taking up the STEM subjects in favour of the 'soft' subjects might, as Morgan says, get you a career in medicine, science or technology BUT if you don't have additional languages you'll function at a disadvantage and need those who did humanities to speak and listen for you. Oddly, most of my medical friends were musicians and book readers - loves that began at school and saw them get better grades in English and mUsic than they did in Maths and some of the sciences.

What we are heading for with this eschewing of the 'soft' arts and humanities is a bland, uncreative and dismally grey world.

iii. This is not about enabling kids and seeing them fulfilled, this is (in my humble opinion) about creating a country who are at the forefront of technology and science: It's about Gross National Products and out 'taking our place' as a major technological and scientific force. Because this generates money and wins worldwide approval.

This is about more than making our children numerate - it's about guaranteeing income and marketable goods for future. Isn't that why we worry abut out the advances in technology from the East?  We buy their stuff because they use cheap labour and high technology whereas where once might ocean-going vessels were built we now find a few men welding shopping trolleys (I kid you not!).

What I think Ms Morgan should have said is this:

'Kids, find the things that excite you and put everything you have into making them yours. Become the best person you can be at the things that excite you and seek to understand the world around you. Learn that we are all different and understand that 10% extra earnings over a lifetime is a lot to pay to deny who you really are!'

Going on, she should end with:

'Teachers, excite and enthuse those in your care. Help them to explore the whole world before them: Take them to the theatre, concerts, museums, art galleries and more beside (this is where she apologises that they can't really do this because of the lack of government funding and the deconstruction of the state education system). Take you children and watch them and as the flame flickers in them, fan it into a fire that consumes them and help them to blaze with passion for those subjects.

Some are called to be actors whilst others are called to be doctors - both bring cheer to the soul.

Some are called to be artists whilst others creat computers that enable to who aren't to be creative.

Some will build and do technology, but without the copy writers and journalists, who will read about them or buy the products?

Some will make music and sing, others will dance and all, regardless of their occupation will find solace, comfort and inspiration in this.

Dear Ms Morgan - don't condemn our children (or our nation) to a grey stodgy future.

When I was doing Physics we were told to buy the book 'Scientists must write'
By the time we're finished will it be 'Scientists need to learn to read?'

+ 'Your life' is a campaign to encourage the kids to study maths and physics; their goal being a 50% increase of kids taking exams in the subjects over the next three years.

* perhaps from henceforth that should be amended to 'moron' (should we have a poll?)

1 comment:

JonG said...

Hmm, let's consult Wikipedia:

Nicky Morgan - Jurisprudence degree.

Hunt, Cameron, Hammond - PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics)

Michael Gove - English

Osborne - Modern History

Theresa May - Geography

IDS - Sandhurst.

Clearly, not choosing STEM subjects is a major handicap!