Everyone has potential, so why do we insist on stopping people from reaching it?

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Imagine you could visit any place you liked, no strings attached whatsoever, for as long as you liked. Where would it be? Far away across the globe experiencing a whole new culture? Or maybe some sun and sea on a hot beach? We’re all individuals with our own tastes and preferences.

Now, let me ask you, if you could be born and raised in any place, where would it be? I can bet that a lot of you would not have chosen the same place. Visiting is one thing, but growing up in a somewhere is a completely different thing.

There are numerous long term considerations that need to be made in choosing a place to grow up. And yet, it is highly unlikely we will have made any of those decisions ourselves, all of this would have likely been decided far before we were born. Whether you live in a village or a city, live in Europe or Africa. These are all things where you are simply born lucky or you aren’t.

Now, let’s throw this life lottery aside for a moment and give ourselves some omnipotent control over the process. You have a choice between a society where all people are free to do whatever they like, so long as they are suitably qualified, and another where people are split into two groups at a young age, with one group allowed to do whatever they like and the other restricted.

Which would you choose?

The reality is of course that there is no choice involved, you simply live with the reality you’re given. But Britain is now heading back towards a society that segregates, rather than uniting people with Theresa May’s declaration that grammar schools will be making a return. This selective schooling practice involves children sitting an exam at the age of 11 that will determine the entire course of their lives.

Of course, some people argue that this will give the brightest their chance to succeed. However, this ignores the fact that we are relegating a whole population of people into second class citizens with no opportunity for redemption. The evidence as it stands is that this approach is detrimental to learning, as Finland proves with its continual high position in educational markers such as reading ability and mathematics. In Finland, there is little focus on examination and educational segregation based on ability. Instead, all children are encouraged to do their best rather than being branded as failures. Instead of dragging down more gifted children, this leads to improvement for everyone.

There is also the question of what we can really test at 11 years that will have such a lasting impact on someone’s life. Whilst basic literacy and numeracy are necessary, they form only the foundation for our lives in the modern world. So long as these basic milestones are reached, most people will be able to attain the skills necessary for most walks of life, given enough time.

Indeed, the reality is that our educations systems favours rote learning and fact regurgitation far too much, rather than practical application and critical analysis. How much of the knowledge that we learnt in high school are we still using today? The things that have stuck are the practical skills such as the ability to understand and utilise mathematics, and the ability to read and retain information. All the small facts that seemed to matter so much for exams have largely been junked. This same issue applies to medicine. Facts about complicated protein pathways are rapidly forgotten, but the memories that stick are the patients with diseases we learn to recognise, and conditions that we learn to manage.

This also raises the question on whether the skills we choose to test are really an indicator of a person’s ability. For example, one can easily argue that the criteria for entering medicine are really only indicative of a person’s ability to manage facts rather than the whole host of skills necessary to be a doctor. Is this one indicator sufficient?

The second issue is the fact that people are also not just static statues but full well capable of development One does not simply become an adult at 18, there are a whole host of developmental processes going on, and even after that, many people may decide that they want a change in career direction. Should we really be limiting this at the age of 11?

If there is one thing that our schooling system proves, it is that enough money can give anyone a good chance. Are the people that rise out of Westminster really that much better than the rest of us? Or is it that so much money has been thrown at them that they are too big to fail?

And this is the fundamental crux: success is not the result of genes or aspiration alone. Money is also a necessary ingredient. What we need is a well funded education system that caters for everyone’s needs, and not just a few of us. Putting in an arbitrary test at age 11 won’t solve it.

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