Education System to Blame for Rail Chaos?

In Saturday’s Guardian, Julian Glover concluded an item on the recent problems on the railways by writing:-

“…that points to the real reason for the mayhem: there are not enough engineers in Britain. The education system, as much as the rail industry, should take the blame for that.”

On first reading I thought that this was more neoThatcherite blaming teachers and schools for all society’s ills but then I realised he wrote “the education system” and not “teachers” or “schools”. While teachers and schools are obviously part of the system, they have very little say in what is taught or deciding the system’s aims and priorities. Syllabuses are dreamt up in ivory towers by people who are no longer in the classroom. The aims and priorities of the system are handed down in Whitehall diktats.

One such diktat resulted in science being compusory from age 5 to 16 instead of 11 to 14 as had previously been the case. As a result primary school teachers, who for the most part had not had a science education, suddenly had to become experts in science. Being taught by someone unfamiliar with the subject matter is not going to help the student develop an interest. Secondary science teachers used to teach students who were interested and usually had an aptitude for the subject. Now they have to spend time trying to teach it to students who do not want to be in the lab and thus have less time to spend on students who actually want to study science.

As a result of this, science education is suffering and students who might have had the ability to become engineers are not gaining the necessary qualifications to get onto engineering courses.

The education system does not exist in a vacuum, however. Its direction is determined by people who themselves have not been educated in science or engineering. We have been told that education must be “relevent” but the current science syllabuses do not mention the link between science and engineering.

More importantly, the education system reflects the society of which it is a part. Engineering is not valued – going back to the rail companies, if they are feeling the financial pinch they cut back on construction and maintenance and thus the work available for engineers. How many engineers do they employ as opposed to personnel officers or accountants and how do their salaries compare?

Ultimately, if the rail chaos is due to a shortage of engineers, the fault lies with a society that values making money by dealing in shares and the money-markets over and above producing something of real use.

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