Friday, January 9, 2009

Education, education, education...

When you work for a political party, you spend the majority of your time reacting to things and rarely get a chance to sit down, plan and think about your own views about different issues. I've been trying to make time recently to really think about the future of devolution in Wales, and how it can be taken forward. Indeed, I've even been asking myself if it's practical for us to ask for an extension in power at this point in time. Questions like these are important I think. It's very easy for an individual to form an opinion, and stick slavishly to it but if you don't question yourself and your beliefs, and take stock of them from time to time, then how can they ever develop? Closing your mind to other viewpoints, even those from different political parties, is a dangerous thing and unfortunately, far too many politicians are guilty of it. They like to claim that they represent 'the views of the people' but how many of them actually listen to the electorate? How many patronise their constituents by telling them what they need, rather than simply asking them?

I also think that there's far too much pressure within political parties on members to follow party lines, and not break rank. I've complained about this before, and would like to see far more backbenchers vote against the Government on issues that they are opposed to rather than striking deals behind closed doors and then voting with the Government so they don't lose face. They're not elected to be yes men or women. They are there to represent their constituency, and that should be foremost in their minds. Of course, you do need discipline within a party. But that doesn't mean that you can't speak out against your party if you disagree. It takes courage or great stupidity to do that in the current political climate, and you're seen as a rebel if you dare agree with someone from a different party or dare criticize one of your own. That shouldn't be the case. Politics should be all about doing the best that you can for the people you represent. I wish that truly was the case...

My personal passions when it comes to politics is education and culture, though I'm also interested in economics and rural affairs issues as well. Of course, there are other important topics such as health, the environment and justice but I'm talking here about my own interests.

I've come to believe that the only way devolution can truly work is if the Assembly is given actual powers, and that we have politicians who can actually do something of worth with those powers. There needs to be a clear vision for Wales, based on realistic and ambitious policies. Without them there is a danger that it will be just a talking shop, making minor changes but not really making a difference. And what's the point of that? We need far-reaching and long terms plans, not ones which are modified with the latest buzzwords in order to win an election every four years. A four year manifesto won't be able to change Wales, and political parties have a responsibility to think about the development of the nation. Something is lacking at the moment, and that something, I believe is forward thinking and planning.

The first area I'd tackle if I was First Minister would be education. It's the key to the future, and also the key to boosting our economy. I believe there needs to be a complete overhaul of the whole education sector. It's not working in its current form. Basic skills and general knowledge are lacking, and standards are definitely dropping. Teachers aren't to blame for this. They are working harder than ever, and are under a huge amount of strain in terms of paper work and so on. They aren't given adequate time to actually teach children properly because of curriculum constraints. No wonder, therefore, that some children are leaving school without the most basic skills.

And don't get me started on University education. I'm horrified at how Universities are turned into businesses, to the detriment of standards. Instead of at looking at the quality of education offered, they are lowering standards and getting rid of what are seen as unprofitable courses, particularly those in the arts, and creating populist and pointless ones. This is dangerous to the development of our country. Culture needs to be protected, and if it's not protected even within Universities, then it is in grave danger.

Governments in every country tend to take a bit by bit approach to education. They look at the university sector and try and reform it. They look at 16-19 education, then maybe 7-11 year olds. That's why there are so many holes in the current system. I think we need to change the way we fundamentally think about education. It needs to be far more fluid, and there should be more emphasis on individuals rather than targets. Nobody has thought about taking the time and effort to look at it as a whole, from beginning to end. Education should be a life-long experience, and we therefore should have a radical approach to reforming a system which is currently letting everybody down.

If we were to re-write the rules when it comes to education and take some bold steps, the benefits to the country within twenty years would be immense. Our economy would flourish, and so would the health and intellect of our population. Culture would not be for the privileged, but just a natural part of life. Most importantly of all, we'd have enough capable politicians to take the country forward.

Obviously, this is just a blog post and a brief overview of what I think needs to happen. I'd be interested in hearing your views about the education system. What would you change if you had your way? What's working, and what isn't? And what are your views about free fees in higher education? This is something we should all be thinking about, and if devolution is to ever work properly and be extended, I believe that education should be at the very heart of it. It would make us better equipped as nation to deal with global economic crashes such as the one we are experiencing now.

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