What does the A Level results fiasco mean for education?

Bruno Cooke August 22, 2020

A Level results day was fraught with controversy over the grading algorithm drawn up to replace this year’s exams. With covid-19 reshaping nearly every aspect of our world, how will education move forward?

The role of education in 2020 and beyond

There is one constant in 2020 labour markets — and in politics, economics and culture at large, really, ever. It is change. The rules of the game are changing. Throughout history, during times of radical change, a select few have reaped huge rewards. 

In any case — the Klondike Gold Rush, the Dot-Com bubble, the first modern Russian oligarchs — intrepid, and fortunately placed entrepreneurs gained disproportionately. Certain individuals struck gold, while others lost out. 

Given the unfettered neoliberalism that has swept markets off their feet in recent decades, there are more and more opportunities to strike gold. Except, those opportunities are not available to everyone. The myth of capitalism, and the ‘American Dream’, is that everyone has equal access to it.

Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

The truth is, starting out with a million dollars (or $60.7 million) makes it considerably easier to make a million dollars. Knowing how the game is changing helps you to win. Even better, writing the rules of the game helps all the more.

Education and employment

The industrialised form of education and assessment that emerged in order to produce the hands-on labour force required by the industrial revolution is no longer appropriate for current labour markets. Labour markets are different from before. They are becoming increasingly mechanised and AI-regulated

This ongoing and major disruption has far-reaching implications. One of the measurable consequences is that fewer human bodies are required to produce, manufacture or assemble products.

The 21st century calls for a different kind of student. More and more, employees need to be adaptable, innovative, tech-literate complex problem solvers. Education should prepare students for this.

Education and capitalism

Many students require training in the capitalist system itself. The current dominant economic model is extremely good at protecting its secrets from the masses. The rich find it easy to siphon power and wealth from the poor because they can do so in secret.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

It is almost exclusively very rich people who dodge taxes. Why? Because only they can get away with it. The poor follow the rules because they lack the wherewithal to flout them.

Moreover, if all very rich people paid their taxes, poor people wouldn’t need to pay taxes. At least, not as much. In other words, it is only the people who need to pay taxes who get away with not paying taxes.

FullFact estimates the rolling tax gap in the UK to be over £30 billion a year.

Poor people don’t lobby government officials to grant them contracts. They don’t employ financial advisors to move their assets through a global network of tax havens, nor do they possess the political power to threaten local councils and win.

There are hidden costs to tax-dodging. Poor people shoulder these costs.

Education at home vs education at school

In order to prepare everyone equally for the world as it is, education systems need to teach everyone the lessons the rich teach each other at home. We can sort these fundamentally into capitalist skills – exercised in and around the workplace – and more basic life-management skills. 

For example, capitalist skills include: knowing one’s rights (labour laws), establishing one’s rights (unionising), and delayed gratification (investing in education, understanding the futility of buying lottery tickets).

Image by S K from Pixabay 

Life-management skills include: proper nutrition (not eating fast food),  understanding how political debates are framed in such a way as to demonise refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants and the working class poor, and understanding how to vote in a way that actually benefits you (understanding economic policy).

The point is that those who already belong to the financial, intellectual and political elites already understand the benefits of these areas of education. Therefore, they can have one more advantage over those who don’t.

If these lessons are taught in school, they can reach kids from all backgrounds, not just those whose parents have the time, context and resources to pass them on to themselves. 

This is a way to make sure the right lessons reach the people who need them the most, especially as a new approach to education is slowly taking shape.

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Bruno is a postgraduate student studying global journalism, with research interests in the intersection of the media, storytelling, culture and politics. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Packs Light and Forge Press, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com. He is a Student Ambassador for Tortoise Media, a big fan of Freddie Mercury and a novelist – his debut novel, Reveries, is available on Amazon.