For better or for worse? 2000 years of political influence in education

Year: 2017

Author: Findlay, Yvonne

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

State control over education has been embedded in the minds of philosophers for over 2000 years. Plato firmly believed that the state should have complete control over a person's education from birth to death. In particular, he emphasised the importance of early childhood and how the "...predispositions formed in children's early years tend to shape their adult beliefs, attitudes, and values" (Gutek, 2011, p 45). The Scottish Education Act of 1496 set the tone of future educations acts and clearly demonstrated the defining influence of politics in education in countries across the world. This paper traces in some detail the socio-cultural and political context and how they influence education systems in Scotland, England and Australia. The education systems of western societies, such as Finland, Sweden and the USA, are also mentioned. The Confucian way of thinking in South Korea and Singapore and how it permeates society, government and, therefore, the education systems in these countries is explored.
The 1870 Education Act is the first act by the Westminster Parliament to establish schools across England and Wales. School attendance was not made compulsory until the 1880 Education Act, which stated that all children between the ages of five to ten must attend school. This second act was in response to the use of child labour in the burgeoning factories of the nineteenth century industrial revolution. The purpose of the acts was twofold: to protect children from being forced into factory labour at a very young age, and to provide a literate and numerate workforce to cope with the demands of the industrial age.
The requirements of the twenty-first century workforce are different to those of the nineteenth century industrial age, but school education remains the primary agent in preparing our young people to take their place in the world. Learning: the treasure within (Delors, 1996) identified four key guiding principles for 21st century education: "Learning to know"; "Learning to do"; "Learning to live together"; "Learning to be". An examination of these four key areas is a reminder that learning in the 21st century should embrace a different set of skills and knowledge than those of the nineteenth or twentieth centuries. The paper questions whether the national testing regimes as practised in England and Australia enable appropriate 21st century learning to happen in our schools.