Dave Snowden – A lot could be done at the level of education

There’s a lot that could be done at the level of education, but I think part of it is we try to go universal on the particular. When I went to university, only 5% of the population went, and we were fully funded, no fees, nothing. But you had to be bright. And then we had a very good polytechnic sector under that, which handled people who were bright but more vocational, and that system actually produced some of the most brilliant innovations in the history of the world.

Now we got a sort of coming down with 45% going. There isn’t the money to fund that properly so people have to pay for themselves, so they’re only going to do things which allow them to repay their debts quickly. Lecture is the measure of everything so they mark to marking scheme rather than to originality. So coming back to your question, I think actually we may see education move out of the public sector and I think that will be a disaster, but I can see it happening.

Public sector just got itself wrapped up in the measurement system which rewards people who complete learning plans and write five, five inconsequential papers, and they write journals every year, rather than people who inspire kids and actually do original research.

I mean, my generation, I did Science in university, but in my generation we were expected to have read History in English, whereas my son now is doing Chemistry. He doesn’t regard it his any responsibility. So this sort of generalist stuff is therefore problematic. It goes by something I said at the start, certainly in British education, and the East Coast American education during the 40s, 50s and 60s, and 70s, we created a generation of polymaths, but from the 80s onwards, we haven’t been replenishing, that stopped. We started to get extremely anti-intellectual in the last couple of decades. Managers don’t want to talk about a concept. They just want to be told what’s the formula, what do we get, and you know that that’s going to damage them as well.

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