The Sinking Foundation of Our SchoolsAfter asking over a dozen teachers what is the one thing that distinguishes a good student from one that is not so good, I have gotten exactly the same answer; Self-confidence. A full 80% of a child's ability to absorb information is influenced by their self-confidence. I would like to guess that perhaps the other 20% is based around creativity.
I have a big interest in education, I think we all do, and so I find it disheartening when so many TV presenters, musicians, scientists and celebrities, are happy to admit being bad at maths, usually with an accompanying cheeky grin, which sort of says, don't ask me anything, almost like it's a badge of honour. There is a deep rooted impression among children now that maths students are swots and that maths is hard, when in reality, maths is no harder than any other subject. This attitude, which is carried all through school years, makes teaching maths a more difficult job.
It doesn't matter how creatively you teach maths anymore, because the minute a child comes home to find that parents or grandparents shy away from helping them with their homework and continue to say how difficult they found maths in their day, it will take a long time to change these things around. It doesn't help, parents or children, that the way maths is taught changes regularly with the latest quango.
I think the answer lies in making maths fun and making our children learn without them actually realizing what is happening. A great professor, Richard P. Feynman (1918–1988), once talked in interview about going fishing. During his famous lectures on physics, he felt as if he was casting into the classroom and one by one he saw students playing with the bait and their eyes would light up as first one got hooked, and then another, and gradually he would reel them in. He is regarded as one of the best communicators of his time.
The UK think tank Reform released a report which shows that the drop in people taking maths A-level is costing the UK economy an estimated £9bn. Elizabeth Truss, one of the Reform report authors, says the UK is moving towards a maths economy in which those with numeric skills will prosper, and Reform also says that a maths A-level can put an average increase of £10,000 a year on a salary. Perhaps it wouldn't hurt to point this out occasionally to our young people.
One of the main problems of planning an education for our children is trying to predict what life will be like when they leave school and become part of the huge UK workforce. We take a snapshot of now and try to push that idea into the future and see what it will look like. To see how absurd that is, just think back to the early 90's. No household internet, computers were slower than a toaster, computer games consisted of a black and white screen and a square ping-pong going back and forth. Even 'Tomorrows World', with all their expertise, mostly got it wrong. In less than 20 years what we have achieved, and the changes we have seen are nothing short of staggering, and this change is accelerating. We all plan for the future, yet none of us have a clue what it's going to look like, and yet we're meant to be educating our children for it.
This is why the fundamentals are so, so important. Lots of people are put off maths for life because they can't do their times tables in primary school. If there is one thing that you can do as a parent that will catapult your child into the world of learning, it is to give them a firm foundation in maths, and this starts with the times table.
One thing you will notice about children, they aren't frightened of being wrong. They are willing to have a go. What so often puts them off is the response they get from others, including other children, teachers and parents, when they do get things wrong. They think, or are told, they are stupid, and to go away and get it right. This means that at a very early age, they become fearful of making mistakes and this stifles their creativity. That doesn't mean being wrong is being creative, it means that fear of being wrong pushs them down a safe path of conformity. A path that is very black and white, and with clearly defined edges. This leaves little room for imagination and self-expression.
There is a pattern emerging here and that is, schools are expected to perform to a certain standard because of government targets. The national curriculum is being re-written to conform to these targets at the exclusion of everything else. We leave little room for the children to make mistakes and to learn through their mistakes, and the creative mechanisms they are born with, in order for them to make sense of the world, are being educated out of them. Pablo Picasso once said, 'All children are born artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up'. Fundamental to education are the mistakes you make along the way, therefore fear of mistakes creates a fear of education.
Our response to this seems to be to send our children to school earlier and earlier in their lives, to 'give them a head start'. I would maintain that what we actually do is stunt their ability to learn at an even earlier age than the law tells us we have to. We make the mistake that because our children learn so well and so naturally when they are young and away from school, that they will do exactly the same when they join a classroom. What is natural at home, at the grandparents, or in the garden, is not natural in the classroom. The environment of learning is crutial in making this work. At home a child 'learns' by trial and error, and in a different way to someone else's child next door. They learn different things at different stages, to suit themselves and their parents. When this is carried over into the classroom, errors show up as not acceptable, without ever realizing that perhaps that particular child wasn't ready to learn that item just yet anyway.
By the time a support teacher is allocated, the child has lost interest in school and is already classed as a failure, perhaps even feeling traumatized by the whole experience. This is devastating to a student because they assume there is something wrong with them. Actually, so do their friends, their teachers, their parents and everybody else around them. In my view, the fundamental basis of all education is learning how to learn.
Remember the good old days? We learned to build trains, and planes and cars. We built weaving machines, manufactured all kinds of metal and ceramic wares for the home. Factories sprang up all over the country and so began the Industrial Revolution. Not many of us can remember back that far, in fact, none of us can, but our school system is still based on a foundation that was laid down back then. All children of a certain age were plonked in a classroom with lots of other children and made to learn facts and figures that ensured a steady supply of fodder for factories, farm labour and the armed services. 'Cause don't forget, we still had an empire back then.
Those that slipped through the net ended up doing menial jobs, or no job, a practice and a threat, that continues to this day.
YES, there is more and more money being pumped into schools and, YES, this money is reaching the people it is being targetted at. But the money is being used to prop up the current system because the 'system' is seen as being more important than the pupil. A parallel that is fairly obvious given the origins of our mass education system.
The effect of having more money is that there are a lot more 'initiatives' being put forward as candidates to solve the problem. We've seen how the apportioning of blame for failure seems to free up a whole lot of resources, as then you can target a particular group of misfits, with the hope that this will automatically bring the targets back into line and the students up to standard. .......... Wrong!
The whole reason for an 'initiative' is to bring a student back into the mainstream again, something to which they have already cancelled their subscription.
One answer must be to change the 'beliefs' of a child from one of failure to one of anything is possible. From 'I can't', to 'I can, I am, I will and I do'. Just as in early childhood we learn extremely complex and complicated things like talking, walking, interacting with others, eating and drinking, in a bitty (and often witty, at least to our parents) way, we can learn to break down anything we want or need to learn, into pieces that we find manageable. This makes the task easier and more achievable.
By listening to the CD's at bedtime and learning in small chunks, you will notice a big difference in your child, in a very short time. You will notice a curiosity and joy in learning that is matched only by their openness to finding solutions and with a much improved self esteem. Equally, watching the DVD yourself, will give you an arsenal of games you can use with nothing more than a pack of playing cards, to enable your child to do high speed calculations and problem solving and positive thinking.
One thing I know to be true, every hour you spend with your children, will benefit their education, and is an investment in the parent/child relationship. Every single day you do this with your child (10-15mins) will allow them to build on the knowledge and speed they have gained from the day before. YOU will build in them the confidence and mastery in maths that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Go on, do it now! Visit the maths program page and order your package today!