34 Million!

Sadly on the 9th October, news broke around the world that 15 year old Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head by a member of the Pakistani Taliban. Her crime?  Bravely advocating girls’ right to an education in her country. Two of Malala’s class mates also suffered injuries in the attack. Malala has been in the UK for over a month receiving special treatment and is said to be making a smooth recovery.

For a 15 year old girl to be so fearless and so daring is truly inspiring! When I was Malala’s age, I was in my final year at Secondary School stressing about GCSEs. I had the ambition to be involved in politics, but advocating for Human Rights was the last thing on my mind. This event has made more appreciative of living in a country where education is free and available to all females.

There are currently 34 million girls around the world who do not have any access to basic education, secondary education, let alone an opportunity to go to University. And to think that I have exercised this fundamental human right for the majority of my life and not once thought about the alternative. Who has not complained about school? Many of us have. But to not be able to reminisce on my nursery or primary school memories is unthinkable!

Even in countries where there is a limited access to free basic education, more legal work, policies and awareness is needed to ensure that education can be reached by all despite your gender.

The Financial Times article explores the importance of female literacy, I have listed a few points I felt were important to share:

– “Female literacy improves health and enables women to assert their legal rights.”

– “Education also affects fertility rates. Literate women tend to marry later and have smaller families. There can be marked differences within countries.”

– “There appears to be a correlation, too, between educated women and a decrease in sex-selective abortions. Putting more girls in school is the single best remedy to the tragedy of millions of “missing” women, though the link breaks down in China where the one-child policy has distorted the picture.”

Former Prime Minster of the UK and now the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, declared the 10th November Global Action Day for Malala and the 34 million girls not in school. You can support girls like Malala by signing the “Our million-plus petition”.

Even though our state education system in England is far from perfect, I am genuinely grateful to those that sacrificed and campaigned for my human right to an education- young women like Malala Yousafzai.

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition!

Earlier this month Education Ministers of the European Union (EU) had an informal meeting in Cyprus to discuss education policy and economic development. The aim was to explore how investment in education can have a positive effect on economic development and help young people’s labour market prospects. Nobel Prize winner and Professor at The London School of Economics (LSE) Mr. Christopher Pissarides was also present at this informal meeting. Mr Pissarides gave a presentation on the role of education in the Europe 2020 Strategy* and how education is a way to successfully exit from the economic crisis.

But do we not know this already? These methods are as profound and innovative as someone discovering gravity today! Yet these solutions are still not followed through with tangible and consistent investments. We do not need any more meetings and time spent on repeating common knowledge. Meanwhile, Education has been hit by austerity cuts across the EU and we will see the consequences of these cuts in years to come.

To discuss good education policy and investment in the next generation is a step in the right direction, but I will be saving my applause for something more concrete.

Cyprus Presidency of the European Union 2012: Press Release – Maintaining the quality of education in every way possible is a priority 

Cyprus Presidency of the European Union 2012: Feature – “Education is an investment and should not be allowed to suffer”

*As part of delivering growth through effective investments in education, below are two policy actions agreed to by all 27 member states of the EU:

· To reduce school drop-out rates below 10%

· For at least 40% of 30-34–year-olds completing third level education.

Commonsense really is not all that common

Once again the term ‘common-sense’ has been disproven. The recent change in the GCSE English grade boundaries mid-way through the academic year seems to have produced a winner and certainly several ‘losers’.

On 23rd August, students sadly found out that their grades had been relegated due to the decision to raise grade boundaries by exam boards. There are thousands of pupils who would have received a ‘C’ grade under the January grade boundaries however, in June they were awarded a ‘D’ grade under the new system. Despite admitting that students have been treated unfairly, Michael Gove (Education Minister) refused to readjust grade boundaries.

I thought it was ‘common’-sense not to change the rules during a course of a game and definitely not implement the rule changes without informing all participants. In the case of the English GCSE exams, the exam boards obviously did not apply the same rationale. The winners and losers are easily identifiable in a game. As a result of this fiasco, the ‘losers’ are the pupils who sat this exam in June, their English teachers and parents. It is widely accepted that education has a significant influence on life chances, and the boundary downgrade has unfortunately followed suit.  Thousands of pupils needed particular GCSE grades to go onto Further Education and later on when applying to university, usually a minimum grade ‘C’ is required.

To be accepted into a good university is highly competitive as it is. How many more knock backs in education can this generation take?  First the increase in tuition fees, then EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance) was abolished and now this! Many pupils now have to re-sit their English exam before going on to Further Education. This now delays pupils by a year, although, on the 31st August, the exam regulator Ofqual offered those pupils who sat the exam in June an opportunity to re-sit in November.  Nevertheless, a re-sit five months later is of no use to students who need their results now.

English teachers and teachers in general put in a lot of effort to prepare their students for exams. The downgrade does not reflect such hard work.  Additionally, teachers formulate each pupil’s predicted grade and for a large percentage of pupils not to meet their target grade reflects badly on the teachers and the school.

Opposing arguments claim that predicted results are usually higher than that of the GCSE grades achieved. This may be the case but because of the downgrade the percentage difference between predicted and actual grade achieved is a lot higher.

With funding of schools indirectly linked to how well a school performs on the league table (parents tend to make a decision on which school their child will attend from the league table and funds now follow pupils through the pupil premium scheme) this blunder has a potential to affect school funding also. Parenting is a selfless, at times thank-less and expensive role.  Financially supporting a child in education is expensive and time-consuming. To unfairly assign parents with an extra year in this role should be addressed and compensated by the government.

The winner to me seems to be Michael Gove. He wanted school exams to be more rigorous and then the grade boundary catastrophe happens. Weeks later Gove conveniently announced that the GCSE will be replaced with the Ebacc (English Baccalaureate) in 2017 (this will be monitored and discussed in future posts).

There was certainly both a lack of transparency and communication between the examination bodies, schools and the government. Unlike the English government decision, the Welsh government decided to re-grade the disputed GCSE exam papers. Could this spark the beginning of Wales having their own examining body, thus devolving further powers away from Westminster?

What can we learn from this?

It is unknown why the English GCSE exams became harder in five months. Was this due to political influence? Did exam boards react out of fear of the Gove-levels? What we definitely know and what we can learn from this mess is that a student’s education and hard work should not be treated like this again. We are in need of efficient checks and balances on examining boards as Ofqual do not seem to be doing a great job.

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