Reading around the Web: Education

This week’s theme is education.

Last week, I highlighted a few recently-published pieces on communication, a frequently controversial topic that remains subject to ongoing and often-divisive debate. This week’s theme is equally high profile, and generates a similar amount of lasting discussion.

In the UK, the quality of the education available to existing and future students of all ages is a constant concern. Schools are regularly inspected to ensure that they meet a range of requirements and that action has been taken in areas meriting improvement, and not a year goes by without adjustments being considered and implemented to the methods that teachers use to deliver lessons, and the structure and number of examinations that students will face at any given time.

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More recently, discussions have focused on how well education prepares students for the workplace, and when and where they might be given the opportunity to learn the skills likely to improve their chances of landing the job that they want. Of increasing importance is the future result of a good or lacking education, and how the first is to be adequately differentiated from the latter.

Further muddying the waters is inconsistent criteria: in some cases, extra-curricular activities are deemed indispensable, and in others, top grades are the first and last items on the agenda.

Recent proposals have resurrected age-old concerns that education now focuses too firmly on tests, and that students are being encouraged to learn not to gain skills and knowledge, but solely to populate their CVs with good grades. From this perspective, lessons are, increasingly, engineered only to meet the demands of the syllabus, and reliable understanding of a subject in entirety is unnecessary once the requirements for each exam have been met.

Clearly, this is an important topic of discussion. A good education can be vital for future career plans and prospects, and how that education is received is no less significant. High quality teaching means very little if it isn’t delivered successfully, and if a student can’t, for whatever reason, engage with it.

Here are a few recent contributions to the topic.

On 20th February 2018, Penguin Random House released Educated (in hardback!), a memoir by Tara Westover. Born into a survivalist family that distrusted the government, Westover was home-schooled for years, and thought that the children in mainstream education were brainwashed. More or less on her own, she achieved the grades for university, and went on to achieve a PhD at Cambridge. Westover talks in her memoir about finding a balance that allowed her to reconcile her family’s beliefs with her later experiences and the wider world, and while she recognises that without her determination to succeed, her upbringing could easily have been an insurmountable barrier to her academic achievements, she also shows that it was, in its way, vital – for she was always told that she could achieve anything that she put her mind to, and shown the value of self-reliance. In addition, Westover casts some doubt on mainstream education, and emphasises instead the importance of hard work, belief and an open mind.

In Meet the UK’s contender for the million-dollar Global Teacher Prize (TES), Henry Hepburn interviews Andria Zafirakou, a finalist for the 2018 Global Teacher Prize. The Prize, now in its fourth year, was founded to recognise exceptional teachers that have made a significant contribution to their profession.

In Schools scrap PE time because of exam pressure (The Telegraph), Olivia Rudgard discusses the impact of removing students from classes such as PE to focus on their other subjects, and the claims being made that this is detrimental to the physical and mental health of those students.

In Tuition fees should be based on career prospects, says Education Secretary (Independent), Ellie Cullen discusses Damian Hind’s view that university tuition fees should be subject to variation, based on what he calls the “value” of the course – to be determined by factors including the future benefit of the course to the student. The launch of a government review into university funding has cast a spotlight on tuition fees, which are often criticised for being prohibitively high.

Web-based teaching can improve science understanding for struggling pupils (ScienceDaily) depicts the results of a three-year study by the Taylor & Francis Group, which shows that web-based learning tools can be beneficial to to developing and improving an understanding of science, particularly so for students that struggle with the subject. This is an important finding that has ramifications generally for how science and, potentially, other subjects, might most successfully be taught.


Reading around the Web is a weekly feature of recommended non-fiction reading. In last week’s installment, I highlight newly-published pieces on the topic of communication.

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