Robin Hodgkin's radical new view of English education

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The educational system that seeks to evaluate human potential by external examination is deluding itself. Something new and revolutionary is needed to overcome the problems of deviance, of boredom, of youth unemployment, and crime which the present system of adolescent "containment" imposes upon young adults.

These are not the radical statements of a young English idealist, but the wordly wise sayings of former schoolmaster and recently retired Oxford lecturer Robin Hodgkin.

His sentiments are also shared by many young scholars, among them schoolgirl Dina Rabinovich. Writing in the Sunday Times of London, Dina stated that "examinations are an insult, demeaning to both our brains and knowledge."

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The fact that the examiners themselves see nothing wrong in testing two years' work in a period of two to three hours, ignoring totally all the student's work throughout that period, strikes Miss Robinovich as ludicrous.

So, both teacher and taught are questioning the confined experiences of the school and its system of passive, parrotlike learning.

Mr. Hodgkin proposes a radical change to accepted practice allowing higher education only after young people have reached their 20s. the years up to 13 or 14 would be aimed at success for all in basic skills "of literacy, numeracy, music, craft skills, and simple athletic-gymnastic attainments." Any pupils failing to make the grade would be able to attend superlatively staffed boarding schools. This would form the first of Mr. Hodgkin's linked and interdependent elements in his new program of secondary education: initiation, earning, service , and learning.

Junior colleges would appear in England, with everyone spending six months on a residential course after leaving school. Successful passage through one of these courses would provide minor privileges like cheap student travel, early training for motorcycling and driving as well as introducing students to the problems and opportunities and complexities facing them in the modern world. Drama, arts, and outdoor adventure would figure in the curriculum.

The second element, earning, would occupy about half the "secondary" population, not necessarily full-time. Here commerce, agriculture, and local government would need to rediscover and sustain apprenticeship roles with industry helping to meet the cost by a redirection of taxation.

In this way, then, socially useful jobs like extra postal services, more adequate animal care on farms, or even domestic service in hotels and institutions could be done by "learner workers." Heavier work, from street cleaning to coal mining, could be included here.

The line between this productive work and "helping" work involved in the third element, service, would be drawn by defining service as meeting the needs of people who cannot cope by themselves -- young children, old and handicapped people, or wherever disaster exists or danger threatens.

Those two years of service, plus the earning element, would attract educational coupons allocating a set number of years in higher education, preparation for which would be included in the fourth element of learning. Study opportunities would mix the options: evening classes to open-university type mixed-media courses and periods of concentrated residential study.

"Education," Mr. Hodgkin observes, "is then something people do and make. It must be deversified, related to work, to cultural activities, and to excellence in many directions so that as many people as possible can see the far horizons and wish to move toward them."

This he hopes will mean further moves to "equal opportunity -- but opportunity not so much for having and owning as for doing good things, and that means doing one's share of 'good' work."

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