Educating the institution

With government attention focussed on education once more, Janice Kirkpatrick recommends that colleges should arm students with more than just certificates.

Thankfully, future medical students may not be allowed to graduate without a compassionate bedside manner and mature social skills. Sadly, in a recent survey of art school graduates, social skills were also found to be in short supply. Are our art schools really producing a generation of socially underdeveloped graduates? Do we really care and how can we help? Does it matter?

As Tony Blair continues to reinforce his government’s commitment to education with plans like the National Learning Grid, I’m sure he’ll measure the success of his project in terms of academic certificates. Educators don’t normally evaluate a student’s ability to hold a conversation or to contribute to society. Politicians don’t sponsor projects that can’t be marked out of ten. Such is the nature of democracy, or , at least, party politics. So, if politicians don’t play for love of the jersey, who does?

Teachers always did, and many still do. Any job worth doing is worth doing well, but that’s hard if you have an inflexible, ever-growing and changing curriculum which places vocational training above educational breadth and depth. Teachers must be allowed to teach creatively, and not be reduced to the role of the machine operators in exam factories. Teachers have valuable personal contributions to make which no longer seem to be valued. This seems a terrible shame as I fondly remember my own education and those who really helped me grow and learn. What possible use is there in streaming children according to their parents’ preferred professions before they’ve even heard of train drivers or bar work?

Who cares if graduates don’t know all of the shortcuts in Quark? It’s time software companies tried harder to make intuitive interfaces instead of asking us to waste valuable time learning the obtuse notation which enables us to use their imperfect creations. Creativity is about process not prod-uction. Creativity is enhanced by experiences, not found through sitting in front of a computer terminal. If the Millennium is about anything, it’s about moving into a brave, new future where we gather together over 1000 years of knowledge and examine it from new angles in a new time. The Millennium should be transcendental, creatively analytical and synthetic. The Millennium is not about returning to the bad old days when only the rich could afford to read philosophy.

It’s alarming that understanding and education are now only occasional bedfellows. It’s even more alarming that no one seems to care. Designers are often wheeled into colleges to help students understand what’s expected of them in the real world. All too often designers discover that the gap between educational expectation and design consultancy reality is a vast and unchartered territory. No matter how often professional organisations construct well-meaning educational liaisons they will have little impact unless they breach the virtually impenetrable inner proscenium of academic council and get their hands dirty in curriculum development.

If the design industry does fail to get involved in education at the same core level as the architectural, legal and medical professions, then it will be even harder for us to recruit productive, creative staff. Good teachers are submerged in paperwork, short-term goals and tactical teaching. Educational institutions are now businesses and their clients are inexperienced students who don’t know better than to value certificates and software skills.

The business of education is the business of taking candy from babies; students are a captive and uncritical market armed with debt and fear.

Things really are desperate – how many good CVs have you read recently? I now skim over the academic bits and look at hobbies or anything that leads me to believe there’s a fully fledged, creative human being behind the words and numbers.

Whatever happened to “educating the whole person” and “education for its own sake”? Education is for life not just for marks on bits of paper, CV fodder. Man is more than marks. Wars have been fought so we can understand, communicate and build a better world. What’s the point of freedom of speech if we’ve go nothing to say?

I really hope our professional organisations get it together, not only to continue liaising with education, but also to influence course structure. It’s time that the exam factories manufactured the Millennium model of design graduate.

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