Category Archives: Education

Edutainment – the infantilisation of education

blockbusters_boardEdutainment is a word I’m claiming to have invented  – It refers to the use of gimmicky techniques such as cross words, blockbusters and other active learning methods that engage students in ‘creative’ ways in the learning process, rather than more traditional, calm and reflective modes of learning – i.e. reading something, summarising it, analysing it, and then using it, in conjunction with other texts, to answer an essay.

There a basically  two schools of thought when it comes to edutaintment- firstly there is the  ‘they love being allowed to be children’ brigade – who think that we should cram lessons full of active learning techniques to cater for student’s short attention spans. This school of thought holds that teachers should adapt their teaching techniques to suit the students – make them feel comfortable by giving them what they want, or what they think they need, fitting into their ‘preferred learning styles’.

Then there is the school of Karl which holds that too much edutainment amounts to patronising twaddle. I believe that instead of teachers adapting lessons to students’ short attention spans, students should adapt to a style of learning that involves concentrating on the material at hand in a calm and reflective manner for extended periods.

Obviously over the course of a term, you would include a range of edutaining and useful teaching techniques – some blockbuster games and some more serious essay planning activities – but I believe the tendency should definitely be towards the later, more serious and concentrated lessons – obviously this may be different for other subjects – I’m just talking about Sociology here.

I write this at the beginning of a new term – when we have another week of revision for the AS and nearly three weeks for the A2s, a time when it is especially important to be making the most of ever minuted of in-lesson revision time.

My own approach to revision is, naturally, to shun edutainment and focus on more serious revision techniques. There is a reason for this – In sociology exams, most of your marks come from essays – and you need to demonstrate a range of conceptual, analytical and evaluative knowledge – so my favourite revision activity – essay writing and planning in class. This assumes that students have been revising previously before the lesson and know most of the knowledge. Essay planning involves selecting and applying this knowledge to specific questions. The lessons are duller than the ‘active lessons’ but they work better for those studious students who have done the work.

But I find myself under increasing pressure to ‘play revision games’ in lessons – because this is what other teachers do. I was horrified to learn in a recent lesson that a certain teacher, who shall remain nameless, apparently played a ‘good half hour’ (in student language that probably means 20 minutes) of blockbusters’. Students seem to think that they learn better from ‘active learning’ techniques, and this is how they justify their demands for ‘more fun’ lessons – by saying this and then juxtaposing the ‘fun active’ lessons to more traditional lessons – claiming that these are boring and make them ‘zone out’

If I allow 17 year olds to lead my lessons, if I ‘listen to the learner voice’ and allow them to be children by playing infantile revision games – then surely I’m failing them? Every adult that has genuinly achieved something in life knows that you have to discpiline yourself and do things you don’t want to do in order to get there – much of what you do is not fun. Furthermore, academic learning invovles pushing yourself through ‘pain barriers’ as you struggle to comprehend new ideas and arguments – this is not fun. Learning to learn means learning to put up with a certain amount of suffering.

Starting off with the assumption that students can’t concentrate and that lessons need to be fun is not only letting down students by encouraging mediocrity, it is letting them down by making them think it is acceptable to exist in a state of extended infantalisation. If we head doen the path of edutainment, we are not preparing students for life in the real world.

Education and ethnicity at Oxford and Cambridge

Matthew Benjamin, 28, who studied geography at Jesus College, Oxford, said: “I was very aware that I was the only black student in my year at my college. I was never made to feel out of place, but it was certainly something I was conscious of.

“When I arrived and they wanted to do a prospectus, and have some students on the cover, they chose me, and one other Asian guy and another guy from Thailand. It was clear they wanted to project this image of somewhere that was quite diverse. The reality was very different – there were three [minority] ethnic students in a year.

“On open days, some black kids would see me and say ‘you’re the only black person we’ve seen here – is it even worth us applying?'”

Old News by now – but worth noting! -from the Guardian in early December 2010

What initially appears to be a bleak portrait of racial and social exclusion at Oxford and Cambridge seems not to be the case on closer inspection of the statistics.

The Guardian recently reported that official data shows that more than 20 Oxbridge colleges made no offers to black candidates for undergraduate courses last year and one Oxford college has not admitted a single black student in five years. The university’s admissions data confirms that only one black Briton of Caribbean descent was accepted for undergraduate study at Oxford last year.

Initially things appear to be quite bleak –

“Of the black Caribbean students getting straight As at A-level, the vast majority apply to Oxbridge…. those who do choose to apply have a much lower success rate [than white applicants]. One in five in comparison with one in three for white students. That doesn’t seem to have shifted for the last 15 years.”

However, the most selective universities argue that poor attainment at school level narrows the pool from which candidates can be drawn. But black candidates are more likely to apply to elite universities. In 2009, more than 29,000 white students got three As or better at A-level (excluding general studies) and about 28.4% applied to Oxford; while 452 black students got three As or better, and nearly half applied to Oxford.

A spokeswoman for Oxford said: “Black students apply disproportionately for the most oversubscribed subjects, contributing to a lower than average success rate for the group as a whole: 44% of all black applicants apply for Oxford’s three most oversubscribed subjects, compared with just 17% of all white applicants. That means nearly half of black applicants are applying for the same three subjects … the three toughest subjects to get places in. Those subjects are economics and management, medicine, and maths.with 7% of white applicants. This goes a very long way towards explaining the group’s overall lower success rate.”

This is the interesting thing about African Caribbean apsiration in the United Kingdom – despite achieving worse GCSE results as a group compared to white, Indian and Chinese children, African-Caribbean children are actually more likely to stay onto do A levels, and more likely to apply to high end universities than white children – where they then experience discrimination?

Social Class background is a far better predictor of who will do well at school and then go onto university in the UK – despite the fact that our political spin doctors seem to think that class matters – the stats on social mobility suggest that class is pretty entrenched!

Does ‘the apprentice’ need cultural capital?

Joanna - sacked for lack of cultural capital?
Joanna - sacked for lack of cultural capital?

Stuart got fired for being full of s**t, Jamie got fired for being a bit wet, but did Jo get fired because of her lack of cultural capital?

We use this concept of Bourdieu’s in the AS Sociology of education to explain why middle class kids do better in education – Stephen Ball pointed out – middle class parents have better skills when it comes to researching schools; they know how to work the system to their children’s advantage  and are more able to relate to teachers because they share a similar cultural background and world view.

This might be forcing the use of the cocnept a bit – but I think Jo got sacked because of her lack of cultural capital. In this case her previous experience simply meant she didn’t have sufficient formal knowledge of how business worked on a scale above the level of her own relatively small cleaning firm.

Firsly in the interview process she was disadvantaged because she hadn’t researched Alan Sugar’s company – and the idea of doing this in fact seemed totally alien to her her. Secondly, she just looked like a total fish out of water in the formal setting of the interview.

Having started up her own cleaning business from scratch, I imagine Jo had never gone through the whole formal job- interview process – unlike the two winning candidates who would have been very used to the necessary formalities. This was totally unlike Chris who said ‘I was told (thus having the cultural capital) that in an interview you should give calm, measured responses – or something along those lines.

And I may be wrong about this – but she seemed to think that being the apprentice meant being trained up – as in being taught about business – It’s as if she thought she was going to get a crash course in basic degree level business if she won – she seemed to be desperate for an business education. The two that got through had already had that – Chirs with his academic background and Stella would have got that through her 10 years in her previous company.

So despite showing more aptitude in winning more tasks than both of the two finalists, Jo appears to have been sacked because of her lack of cultural capital relative to the other two candidates. Becasue of their educational and business advantage previous to the interview processs, they are going to be more able to fit into Alan Sugar’s business. Basically, unless all the other candidates were clearly worse, and in this case they weren’t, Joanna – a working class woman with no formal business training only used to running a small cleaning business – was doomed to fail from the start.

Clegg argues tuition fees will raise social mobility

Karl argues – Clegg’s full of s**t

Social mobility measures the degree to which people’s social status changes between generations. If social mobility exists it suggests that individuals are not being advantaged or disadvantaged by their class, gender or ethnic background.  

Now for most ordinary people – education is the key to social mobility -it’s not the only way of rising up the social status ladder, obviously – but a good education – GCSEs – A levels – Degree – tends to be equated with going on to getting a good job – as a general rule.

Furthermore most people would argue that the idea of social mobility – the idea that even someone from the poorest background can get a decent education and achieve highly – is good – it is obviously good for the individual rising up, but also good for society as a whole – and good because social mobility equates with fairness and justice – it shows that people can achieve on their own merits rather than people achieving based on who their parents are or how much money their parents have.

Nick Clegg insists the tuition fees package will make universities “more effective engines of social mobility” and that the policy will “stand the test of time”. Some of the measures to help those from disadvantaged backgrounds include –

  • Scholarships of up to two years’ tuition for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and delayed repayment of fees until graduates are earning £21,000.
  • There is a £150m national scholarship fund which would help the poorest applicants, and there are tougher access requirements for institutions charging up to the £9,000 fees cap would open the doors of the best universities to a wider mix.
  • Universities charging more than £6,000 in fees would be required to give a second year free to poorer students.

However, the thinktank Million+ calculated the scholarship scheme mentioned above could fund 8,333 students at £6,000 a year, or 6,944 at £7,200 a year. If fees were £9,000 a year, it would fund 5,555. Yet figures show that of the students graduating last year, there were 10,670 who had been in receipt of free school meals.

So what do you think – will increasing tuition fees increase social mobility? Personally this arguement makes no sense to me whatsover! But then again Clegg is a desperate politician – I can smell the desperation.. and something else too…..

Raising tuition fees – bad for democracy and meritocracy

You would expect this survey by the NUS to report that adults are against the increase in tuition fees, but the findings are back up by the results of two other surveys I found –

According to this online survey of a representative sample of 2,001 British adults, 70 per cent of respondents oppose the increase in the level of fees which Universities can charge students to take their courses. Only 23 per cent of Britons support the change.

Seven-in-ten respondents (71%) think the maximum cap of £9,000 per year is too high, and 57 per cent believe that the change in tuition fees will ultimately discourage students from economically poorer backgrounds from attending University.

According to this Ipsos MORI survey published by the Sutton Trust eight in ten (80%) of the pupils aged 11-16 at schools in England and Wales said they were either ‘very likely’ (39%) or ‘fairly likely’ (41%) to go into higher education.

The 2,700 survey respondents were asked for the first time this year to rate their likelihood of attending university if tuition fees were raised. More than two-thirds (68%) said they would still be likely to go on to higher education if fees were increased to £5,000. But only 45% would be likely to continue to university if fees were raised to £7,000 – and this percentage falls to 26% with a major hike up to £10,000.

So all in all Thursday was a bleak day for democracy – especially keeping in mind that the only party that was orginally for raising tuiution fees so drastically was the Conservative Party – and they only got one third of the popular vote in the last election.

No wonder people are angry!

Oh I’ll blog on the meritocracy thing later – lots of evidence to pull together on that little number!

Latest stats on class inequality in oxbridge admissions

Of 80,000 15-year-olds who’d been on free school meals in 2002, only 45 had made it to Oxbridge- compared to the high-end private Westminster school which averages 82 successful applicants every year.

Talk of class is not exactly guaranteed to put Oxford and Cambridge’s admissions people at their ease. For 2008-9, their government target for state-schools intake was almost 70%. Oxford came in at 54.7%, while Cambridge managed 59.4%.


Education still riddled with class inequalities

A couple of quotes from another excellent article by George Monbiot reminding us of the persistence of class inequality in the education system in Modern Britain –

‘A new report by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA) shows that intelligent children from the 20% of richest homes in England are seven times more likely to attend a high-ranking university than intelligent children from the poorest 40%’

‘People from upper middle class, public school backgrounds dominate every economic sector except those – such as sport and hard science – in which only raw ability counts. Through networking, confidence, unpaid internships, most importantly through our attendance at the top universities, we run the media, politics, the civil service, the arts, the City, law, medicine, big business, the armed forces, even, in many cases, the protest movements challenging these powers. The Milburn report, published last year, shows that 45% of top civil servants, 53% of top journalists, 32% of MPs, 70% of finance directors and 75% of judges come from the 7% of the population who went to private schools(6). Even the beneficiaries should be able to see that this system is grotesque, invidious and socially destructive.’

KT’s comment –

One of the most important lessons a Sociology student can learn about Modern Britain is that the wealthier someone’s parents are, the more opportunity they have to get a decent education and succeed in life.

As Monbiot reminds us, this is simply the statistical truth and it distresses me when students deny the truth and come back at me with pitiful examples of people who have come from a poor background and succeeded (Alan Sugar is an often cited example) or, worse, just straight forwardly deny that the inequality of opportunity has any kind of bearing on their own lives.

Let me make this very clear – if you are from a poor background you have less chance of getting decent grades, going to university and getting a decent job than someone from a richer background, even if you are as intelligent as that richer child. If you are 16/17 then they have already benefitted from thousands of pounds, maybe tens of thousands of pounds of extra investment because of their wealth.

If you are from a poor background and do manage to get into one of the better universities, you are a statistical anomaly and should be congratulated – but you should still feel aggrieved, even if you do succeed, because you have had an uphill struggle compared to those from wealthier backgrounds who you have been competing against – even once you are in university the wealthy are less likely to need to get a part time job, and more likely to have their parents paying at least part of their fees.

If are one of the poor losers in our education system – remember this – you do not owe the successful anything – their success is at least as much to do with money and luck as it is with their ability. 

Incidentally, now the Tories are in power, and we have a millionaire prime minister, deputy prime-minister and chancellor, this inequality is set to get worse.

Where to go next

  • Please read this! This is an interesting blog post from a Sociology teacher who works in an American community college. This is a review a book about the ‘myth of meritocracy’ followed by som interesting comments on how her students find it difficult to accept the fact that we do not live in a fair society.


  • You might also like to read Monbiot’s post on private schools – bear in mind that he himself went to a private boarding school!


  • Also look out for my future blog on the Conservative policy of ‘free schools’

An interesting question for you to think about is this – why is it so hard for us to accept that social class background has a profound impact on life chances?