10th March 2021

As children return to school this week there is much debate about how to help them ‘catch up’. This is creating a good deal of anxiety amongst children and parents alike as everyone wonders how to squeeze the quart of material ‘missed’ into the pint pot of the time the children have left in school. The whole discussion makes me think wistfully of one of my own favourite quotations about education, generally attributed to W.B. Yeats: ‘Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.’

The panic around post-pandemic learning has highlighted the extent to which our education system has become obsessed with measurable targets and achieving a certain universal ‘standard’, no matter what. Such targets and the associated league tables supposedly create healthy competition and thus raise the standard for everyone. But this thinking also necessarily creates failures, because not everyone is made to achieve the same things in life (and wouldn’t it be dull if we were?). Education should surely be about encouraging and supporting each individual to achieve their own full potential.

Sadly there will always be those who mock what they describe as the ‘all shall have prizes’ mentality as mere ‘woolly liberal’ thinking. But we serve a God of grace who loves and values all his children as individuals, and the ‘race set before us’ has only one prize, accessible to all participants: ‘Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith’ (Hebrews 12, 1-2). In this race, all that matters is our personal best. It would be good to think that this could apply to the education system too.

Debbie Pinfold