Are world Education Systems failing?

Is it a cultural problem or the consequence of a woke society?

Let’s look at two countries and two examples.
In a pre-election speech in 1996, Tony Blair, the UK prime minister between May 1997 and June 2007, said that his three highest priorities in government would be “educationeducationeducation”. He paused after each word, his audience expecting him to talk of three different priorities. Repeating the same word is a mark of the importance he placed on education as the essential way forward for society and the economy. It was an effective sound bite.

Blair secured three landslide election victories, the first Labour prime minister ever to have done so.

But was his vision flawed? It was his labour government that introduced tuition fees, making it difficult for students of poorer families to attend university. And he introduced a target, which he achieved, of 50% of school leavers attending university. However, that only resulted in many undergraduates only being able to find low-paid clerical jobs.

He had unwittingly created a “culture” of making university qualifications appear to be the only goal for young adults leaving school. Those wishing to pursue careers in more technical, and less academic, professions felt insulted and left out. There is clearly a place in society for both brain surgeons, research scientists, and academic thinkers, as well as plumbers, train drivers, and road sweepers. All contribute to society and the economy. You can’t have one group without the other.

In my view too, Blair was hypocritical, he sent his own children to expensive private schools. When they were in university, he charged poorer students rents to stay in accommodation he had bought in his childrens’ names. His current property portfolio is valued at 35 million. Was he genuinely concerned about the importance of education of the ordinary people who democratically elected him and his party?

What is Woke?

Woke originally meant being “awake” to new ideas and opinions and had a positive connotation. Nowadays, the concept is associated with people who are bigoted, extremist, not questioning or debating the facts.

In Thailand, there is a strong culture of never questioning your elders or “betters”. The late King Bhumibol repeatedly told his subjects that they had no need to think, that he would do their thinking for them. The vast majority of Thai citizens followed that instruction. Partly because to disagree would invoke the harsh prison terms of the Lèse Majesté laws, but also because it was perceived as being given in a positive way, that the king was saving his people the trouble of thinking for themselves.

If ever this was a way of creating a woke and compliant society, this was it. It suited the totalitarian vision of Thailand’s feudal society. From the cradle, Thais are told to obey and not question. This is reinforced at the temples, at school, and even at Thai universities. Every morning, at 8am, the national anthem is played, and pupils and students are forced to stand respectfully and listen. There is nothing wrong, in my view, of patriotism, but Thailand does not differentiate between patriotic fervour and pride in one’s country and the evils of xenophobia.

Education is not the learning of facts but the training of the mind to think. (Albert Epstein). The very word, Education, comes from the Latin, ex ducere, to lead out (of a person’s mind), to encourage critical thinking. Western countries are not immune to wokeness. People believe the propaganda coming from governments and much of the media. Many YouTube videos are made by presenters who are pushing their own opinions and one-sided ideas, not allowing their followers to form their own views after they think for themselves and look at the facts.

I’ll leave the last word to Nelson Mandela.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

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