Pen line drawing

Written by Aini Butt

‘If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.’


John Dewey wrote this distress signal over 100 years ago. Although it is more relevant now than it has ever been, once again it is being ignored.


As media brands students ‘The Lost Generation’ who will be ‘scarred for life’, The Sun’s leader column adds how ongoing school closures are a ‘scandal’, which ‘shames this nation’ because children continue to be deprived of an education while left to ‘flounder at home’. As refreshing it may be that The Sun has taken it upon itself to fight our students’ corner, fighting for a return to education as we know it, may not be in their best interest.


Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, announced on 3rd July 2020 that schools have been asked ‘to resume a broad and ambitious curriculum’, which was followed up in the same sentence with the expectation that exams are to go ahead as ‘normal’ in the summer of 2021. Furthermore, formal OFSTED inspections are to resume from January 2021 with no clarity regarding performance tables. How are schools to facilitate a ‘broad and ambitious curriculum’ when there is an unrealistic expectation to return to normal; whatever this ‘normal’ might mean in a (post-)pandemic educational context. To add to the irony, new government advice published on 2nd July states that schools should be using ‘existing flexibilities’ and ‘cover the most important missed content’ while advising that it may be ‘appropriate to suspend some subjects’ if students can ‘achieve significantly better in their remaining subjects…especially in GCSE English and mathematics.’ This was interpreted by the media as ‘Schools can ditch art and drama’ and ‘focus on Maths & English’, which isn’t far from what Dewey described as reducing ‘the material of education so largely to a diet of predigested materials.’ 


Once again, we are being directed towards an ‘industrial model of education’ to ensure that students are prepared for their exams in 2021 and the values reinforced through these decisions display a total disregard for the students’ needs regarding their long-term education. If Covid-19 has taught us anything at all, it is the fact that we do not know what the future holds; therefore, this relentless emphasis on academic achievements and Intelligence Quotient (IQ) should be shifted towards the development of Emotional Quotient (EQ) and resilience to equip students with the skills to recognise emotions and use this knowledge to tackle daily challenges. 


In society, and particularly educational and professional settings, IQ has been extensively researched and used in reference to mathematical and verbal ability to reproduce the deep-rooted belief that IQ determines academic success. However, Daniel Goleman brought the term Emotional Intelligence (EI) to educators’ attention and argued that IQ only contributes 20% to an individual’s success, while the remaining 80% is down to self-management and interpersonal skills, which are key components of EI. Although the term ‘Emotional Intelligence’ has not been exempt from criticism, it cannot be denied that developing its key facets is beneficial for all students.

Goleman argues that the five components of EI (self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy and motivation) are all capabilities that can be developed. Self-awareness and self-regulation are two components that go hand in hand with each other. Recognising and understanding one’s emotions and those of others while regulating them in an appropriate manner enables students to manage conflict and prevent the ‘emotional hijacking’ of the brain, which is our body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. It is these emotional reactions that are drawn upon to argue that the term EI is a dichotomous variable in terms of intellectual capacity. However, schools can and should actively teach students how to recognise their emotions and those of others and support the development of their appropriate expression. 

As students return to schools, it is crucial that we foster an empathetic environment to allow expression of and reflection upon their lived experiences – their realities- of lockdown. Such an environment can be facilitated through a philosophical approach.

Philosophy is a tool to reflect and analyse various perspectives; therefore, engaging students in a philosophical inquiry will promote a classroom culture where individuals’ diversity of thought is acknowledged and reflected upon. Philosophy for Children (P4C) was founded in 1960s by Professor Matthew Lipman to facilitate opportunities for independent thinking and reflection as he believed that the educational system was not teaching students how to think.


Jana Mohr Lone- director and founder of the University of Washington’s Center for Philosophy for Children also found that children as young as four were able to hold philosophical thoughts but their ability to think was being underestimated and their natural curiosity was not drawn upon to extend their questioning.


Philosophy for Children (P4C) creates opportunities for students to understand that things can be perceived in various ways while also exploring the values, thought and beliefs underpinning these views through questioning and reasoning. Students are encouraged to assess their perspectives and reaffirm or alter their views upon critical self-reflection. Educators need to equip themselves with the tools to facilitate safe spaces for students to share their lived realities. P4C is one of the many evidence-based pedagogical strategies to promote EI in the classroom as the teacher becomes the facilitator and allows critical thinking and individuality to flourish through tension-filled learning dialogues. Research published by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) in 2015 found that P4C has a positive impact on pupils’ confidence to speak, their listening skills, self-esteem and attainment of 7 to 11year olds, particularly those of disadvantaged backgrounds. 


In the latest ‘Guidance for full opening: schools’, the words ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘vulnerable’ (in context of pupils rather than medical) have been used up to twenty times. 


If the government has a desire to address the ever-widening attainment gap, it needs to promote ‘an education system that enables them to thrive, a democracy that gives them voice, an economic system that rewards their skills and talents and a welfare system that supports them during a time of need (Khan, S.,2020). We need to ensure that our students are equipped with the right balance between academic skills and emotional intelligence, which will not be attained by reverting to a narrow curriculum where core subjects are prioritised. Therefore, as Sir Ken Robinson says, ‘The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it,’ and ‘recognize that human flourishing is not a mechanical process; it’s an organic process.’


As we try to envision what a post-Covid19 future may look like, we need to pay heed to Dewey’s words and question the emphasis we put on IQ while downplaying the role of EQ. This notion of ‘preparing our students for the future’ fails to recognise their emotional state in response to their daily lived experiences of harsh realities, such as: poverty, abuse, racism, sexism, bullying etc. Oxfam’s Teaching Controversial Issues’ guide for teachers recommends the use of P4C as it provides ‘an ideal framework for teaching controversial issues.’ Through P4C, we need to create safe spaces within our classrooms to ensure that we allow students to articulate these difficult truths and support the development of self-awareness, self-regulation and empathy to enable them to respond appropriately to a competitive and harsh society. 


We need to ‘cease conceiving of education as mere preparation for later life, and make it the full meaning of the present life.’