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So here-s – another – thing I don’t know about.

How much of education is teaching stuff and how much is simply corralling the blighters as they age?

Or, to be more precise.

So, teaching a 5 year old basic numbers is a time consuming task. Lots of repetition and so on.

Teaching a 16 year old would, I imagine, be easier. The concepts are more likely to be grasped, rote learning would be reduced. I think.

I’m also aware that some things rather can’t be taught later. Languages to true fluency tend to have to start with young brains, going back later doesn’t quite cut it.

So, leaving aside that “later doesn’t work” point and to stick with the first.

What ends up being the question is how much of the education system is trying to jam in stuff as soon as possible – stuff that could be learned more easily later – and how much of it is actually necessary to learn right now?

In one sense the point is obvious. Any of us could go do a GCSE in a few weeks couple of months and yet this takes 15 year olds 2 years. Some of that is experience of course but that’s also part of the effect I think. It’s easier to learn stuff with a more developed brain. Umm, maybe.

The implication of this is about the missed year of schooling just now. How much does this actually matter? If education is largely waiting until brains have developed enough to learn the stuff easily then missing a period doesn’t particularly matter. It can be picked up easily enough as an older person.

On the other hand, if everything has to be taught and taught and taught then missing some few months will delay completion by that same few months.

My assumption is that both effects are in play, as with so many other things. We can’t go teach division until addition and subtraction are mastered. But it’s also a heck of a lot easier to explain to a 16 year old than a 10 year old that, in fact, ratios are fractions and fractions are ratios. They’re just different expressions of the same base idea. The concept of something being the same but different is easier to grasp that little later.

So, anyone know?

Given the state of the academy I doubt this is something anyone has ever bothered to study – far more important to detail this year’s woke necessities – formally but still, anyone know?

35 thoughts on “Education”

  1. It would take me a lot longer than a couple of weeks to swot up for my GCEs again.

    My gut feeling is that missing a year at any point in a child’s education would take a year to recover, each year building on the previous.

    Surely they’ve forgotten some of the things they learned last year, as well as not learning this year’s stuff?

    I’m not an educationalist, as you can tell.

  2. While I’m an engineer I did do one year of Education at uni to give me the option of teaching engineering. If I dredge down in my memory (30 – no, 33!!!!! years ago!!!!!) I can probably remember some background. There is an overlap, and the younger they are the more it’s babysitting, but there is also a delayed development effect from late schooling.

    Anecdata: As a three-year-old I was bored out of my skull sitting around at home, my Mum took me to play school, I screamed the place down, the next week she got me into a nursery school, full of books and plastic Meccano and stuff (I remember a fish tank!) and I settled straight in devouring everything I could.

  3. My BIL, a retired teacher takes the view that kids will catch up pretty quickly and isn’t massively concerned about the missing year on potential academic attainment. He is on the other hand very concerned about the social development skills that home isolation will have on many kids in the course of the next couple of decades and on following generations that will be raised by such kids. We are a social species and enforced isolation during the developmental years will have consequences.

  4. Most studies on interuptions to education have examined delays to starting schooling, not gaps in the middle of schooling. There is conflicting research. Parents have a belief that children born immediately before the September start should be delayed a year to give them time to mature, but studies such as show that has the opposite effect and such delayed children are behind their peers. There are also studies and parental beleifs that the opposite happens.

    In England primary schools have two admission dates, September and January, and summer children would normally enter in January. There are studies and parental beliefs that summer children should not be delayed but entered in September. My experience administering Schools Admissions support this – there were more parents applying for early entry than there were applications for late entry.

    The differentials between pupils’ school development depends a lot on what schooling they do. If primary school is sterotypical American-style four-year babysitting all pupils tend to average up together. If primary schooing is sterotypical Japanese-style six-year cramming, any delays to schooling builds up as each sequential schooling step builds on the previous. There are some studies that show delaying entrance in American primaries has a beneficial effect

    As I said, most studies of this sort are on delays to primary entrance, not on interuptions to secondary schooling. I vaugly remember there have been studies on secondary schooling in the aftermath of the 2011 Japanese Tsunami and some Haiti natural disaster. They will be at extreme ends of the educational system. I’ll see if I can track anything down.

  5. A teacher writes:

    Pre puberty they suck up knowledge like sponges, post puberty they split into two groups, those that want to learn and those that don’t. The school system used to try to respect this simple fact of life but now we live in fantasy world where the government can change reality. Vast resources are wasted trying to teach trigonometry to thickos instead of booting them out to be tea boys in garages.

    As George Carlin said, “think how dumb the average person is, and remember half of them are dumber than that.”

  6. “Any of us could go do a GCSE in a few weeks couple of months and yet this takes 15 year olds 2 years.”

    Careful now, as this isn’t actually true. Yer actual 15 year old is doing some number of hours per week on a subject, for some number of weeks per year. State school hours are nine ’til three-ish, a six hour day minus an hour for lunch, so five hours per day in a five day week, for about 40 weeks per year.

    Memory’s probably flakey, but likely spent 5 hours per week on Maths and English, about 3~4 others. So,
    a single GCE subject is probably do-able within 40 days/8 weeks at 8 hours per day.

    The apparent difference is down to the hours available per day/year, and scheduling.

    The above assumptions give the possibility of 6.5 subjects attainable within a year, or 12-13 over two.

  7. “The implication of this is about the missed year of schooling just now. How much does this actually matter? “

    Been wondering about this meself over the past couple of weeks.

    From the point of view of the education system itself – yes, it clearly does. The thing is setup as a pipeline to shuffle the dustbins through increasing levels of specialisation – secondary to tertiary to uni.

    From the parents – depends upon expectations. Difficult to know how these might have been tempered during the year, or how they might be managed over the next few.

    From employers – tricky one.

    From the kids – depends on the age, and the type of education or level of knowledge/abstractions delivered at that age, which is the actual point here.

    Notionally, there should be a demand from parents/employers for education services for some age cohorts for some number of years – partially depending on the backlogs the education system(s) experiences.

    How does that demand get satisfied?

  8. Bloke in North Dorset

    Does it matter if a 15-year-old doesn’t study a Shakespeare play or 2, or misses a bit of history of England/Scotland/Wales etc? Not really, by that time they’ve learned to learn so if they want/need to find that information they can/ Their problem is going to be getting the chitties to show the rest of the world they’ve been through the process and been sorted with wither peers.

    From about 7/8 its a bit more of a problem as they’re learning to learn. Listening to Katherine Birbalsingh last year this is the group she was most worried about because they soon lose those disciplines.

    Up to about 7/8 there may be a benefit, especially for boys. Formal learning things like reading is more difficult for them up to that age and there’s a fair bit of evidence if you delay the process they then pick it up a lot faster at that age.

    But as will says, the real damage is to their social development and mental health.

  9. No one has yet mentioned Bloom’s Taxonomy (, this can help answer Tim’s question about learning at different ages- in essence, lower levels/ages are more focused on rote learning and the higher/older you go the more you are expected to explain and evaluate.

    At GCSE level you get one mark questions that test memory (e.g what is an ion), and the 6 markers would be used to assess higher-level thinking (evaluate the described method and predict the results), this is the prime difference between grades (not just how much you know but how you can apply it)

    A levels and beyond are even more so about applying and coming up with your own ideas.

  10. Roué,

    Pre puberty they suck up knowledge like sponges, post puberty they [don’t]

    The age of puberty is getting earlier, for unknown reasons (better nutrition, endocrine disrupters, others). Is this having an impact on education?

    Coming soon: tiger parents administering puberty-blockers to their children in order to keep them on the straight and narrow.

  11. Depends on the subject. If you’re applying for maths at university, you are discouraged from taking a year out because your skills atrophy if you aren’t constantly using them: for engineering, you are very much encouraged to go and have a poke around in the real world for a year before going back to study.

    There is also a distinct requirement to get as much stuff in before the “can’t be arsed” phase of teenagership.

  12. Blog posts about education usually attract lots of comments that are anecdotes about the commenter’s own education.

    So far the responses here have been altogether more intellectual. Well done, class, well done. I declare a half-holiday.

  13. Of some relevance, research on the “summer holiday effect” shows a retrograde due to two months off school. while one month (Christmas, Easter) has no such effect. Hence the calls for shorter summer hols.
    So a year off probably has a significant negative effect.

  14. Interesting question. The trouble is that the remote learning is not optimised, so whatever the case is i expect it to be relatively crap compared to the traditional method. If its not worse then we can abolish teacher training- get the best ones to do online courses and reduce our education budget. And i reckon some kids will have thrived some will have dived, because its still related to how much the kid actually does, participates. I recall i did a few exam GCSE questions on not covered parts of the syllabus thanks to a prediliction for watching open university programs on Geog and Hist late at night. Did all right too.

  15. Any of us could go do a GCSE in a few weeks couple of months and yet this takes 15 year olds 2 years.

    It takes the teachers / system 2 years to teach, not for the 15 year olds to learn. For example, apart from the dillenist of types, most will respond very well and quickly to quality one-on-one tuition.

  16. The most important thing to learn is to learn how to learn. Which is why some things are easier to learn later in life. More experience of learning. Let’s be honest, 95% of the things one learns at school are utter garbage. Who actually needs most of mathematics? The niceties of English grammar? But if you’re going to teach people to learn, you need some raw material to work with. Some things are logical & you could probably work out the whole thing from first principals without being taught. After all, the entirety of science is the result of the process.. And some things are illogical, like languages, and have to be memorised. And some things are a bit of both.
    It’s obvious, some people have never learned to learn. You only have to deal with them to realise they’re incapable of understanding anything outside of what they already know. And some people never stop learning & can learn anything if they put their mind to it.
    So the real question is what damage is this doing to the learning to learn process? And that’s going to depend on how far along with the process they were before Coronapanic. If they were a fair way along, it’ll make little difference because they’ve no doubt been learning something, school or no school. The one’s who weren’t may be fucked for life.

  17. BiS–UK schools seem to do a piss poor job given that the kids are trapped 5-18 (so youth dole figs can be avoided) and seem to soak up more Marxist brainwashing and greenfreak/left-perve shite than a useful education.

    Take them in school at 5 –any decent parent will have at least half taught their kid to read by then–and spend a year teaching them to be reading /basic maths fluent. Then a year off but with what would have been holiday periods as in school refreshers periods. Slightly shifted in time–obv kids wont want Xmas/High Summer in class rooms. But 6 weeks mid year and 2 three week Spring Autumn refreshers. Then another year of school to boost to next level.And then a year off. Let education have a sense of urgency while they are there as if training for a war/urgent task. With that spirit the kids get a good education in half the time without life being all about schools.

    Then most can leave at 14 to seek work and those who want to or might benefit from grant paid for Uni can go on.

    A much happier freer childhood and likely a better standard without the aggro of kids forced to stay longer than they want.

  18. How many of us reckon they could get from zero to a GCSE in Mandarin in “a few weeks couple of months”? I strongly recommend this article by an academic in Chinese studies teaching at a Peking university – Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard:
    there are some here who will have their own informed views on the matter.

  19. The real issue here is the kids at the margins in special programs not just the mainstream. While all will suffer from the lockdown some will suffer more.

  20. @Chris Miller
    Languages are languages. There’s zero logic to them. Grammar is a construct that tries to give the impression there is. The base language is spoken & continually mutates. Trying to impose an examination structure on one only makes sense to educationalists.

  21. Chris Miller

    Total GCSE awards for 2019 for the Pearson and AQA Spoken Mandarin (or Cantonese for Pearson) appears to be a shade under 3,000, where total GCSE awards were over 5 million in all subjects, and 1.6 million for the Languages, Literature and Culture sub group.

    The AQA qualification doesn’t appear to require any prior qualification(s) at GCSE level.

    So the answer’s Shì de.

  22. I learned Chinese to a reasonable conversational level (enough to spend a couple of months solo travelling around China where encounters with English speakers or even people who had ever seen a foreigner before were rare). The writing is fairly challenging, but speaking wasn’t any harder than Russian, maybe easier.

    When I did Russian at university, I’d say the first term covered about as much ground as the whole of my French GCSE.

    The final year of my Latin GCSE we read the Aeneid in the original. French GCSE never got anywhere near that level.

  23. My ten year old boy twins have missed most of this school year. They, and the others, were having crushes on each other, so sweet. A bit of a tragedy to have lost such a school year.

  24. Bloke in North Dorset


    “Any of us could go do a GCSE in a few weeks couple of months and yet this takes 15 year olds 2 ears.”

    It takes the teachers / system 2 years to teach, not for the 15 year olds to learn. For example, apart from the dillenist of types, most will respond very well and quickly to quality one-on-one tuition.

    I’m not normally in the habit of defending teachers but they aren’t teaching 1 GCSE in 2 years. The median is what – 6 or 7 GCSEs per pupil taking them? On top of that they also have to indoctrinate them with whatever the woke fad de jour has to be crammed in plus global warming, PE, and all the rest of the crap that fills up the day.

  25. When my wife decided to go into nursing as a mature student they said they were concerned she hadn’t taken an exam in a decade and wanted her to do a 1 year intro course, so instead she went off and did GCSE Sociology in 3 months and got an A*, admittedly it was sociology so nothing technical or hard.

  26. It’s 30 years this year since I took my GCSEs, so I won’t claim my memory is entirely accurate, but I think we only read the journey to Italy part in class. I have a very clear memory of discussing the unfair treatment of Dido, but I don’t have any memories of discussing the Italian bits. My Latin teacher was an older gentleman who had come into teaching after retiring from his original career, incredibly learned as it seemed to us then, with a genuine talent for inspiring curiosity and interest, and I can remember of a lot our classroom discussions to this day. Out of everything I studied before university, his classes gave me more benefit in life than anything.

    I don’t think we translated much English into Latin, other than tests with ‘give the Latin for XXX’. We didn’t talk Latin either, the approach was really based around reading.

  27. Can’t speak for the UK system, but here’s how education works in the U.S., especially in big cities.

    I used to be married to a New York City public school teacher of 7-to-8-year-olds. Many of these kids were learning English as a second language, and were growing up in working class families.

    Now, one would think that the priority would be placed on getting these kids up to speed on English and maths and such, but instead these obese bureaucratic systems are more concerned with micromanaging the amount of time a teacher spends on things like “active listening” and “common core math skills.” Rather than let teachers use the best tools for their particular group of students, the federal, state and local Department of Education treats these children like lab rats who can learn by a one-size-fits-all approach. The administrators tout their “data-driven models” without any room for skepticism, whilst the kids who don’t quite fit into the narrative fall way, way behind.

    And that’s how you get American college students with a 5th grade reading level. 🙂

  28. @Ducky, I wouldn’t mind a bet that the majority of the 3,000 Mandarin GCSEs go to kids who speak it as a first language. See also Welsh. Further, I note that it’s spoken Mandarin, which is the relatively easy bit.

  29. Chris – My thought exactly – that the candidates effectively pre-selected themselves for an easy pass.

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