Primary Education

I’m a fortunate individual. So are you, I suspect. I live in a first world country. I have a family who seem to like me. I went to school between the ages of five and eighteen, and didn’t have to pay a penny for any of it. That education was my gateway to adulthood, and the present day school system is now my son’s gateway into the world.

He loves his primary school; he has friends, a teacher he respects and likes, and a curriculm which is varied and interesting. I see him thriving because of his experiences in school, and it fills me with pride.

Not every child has the same opportunities that my son does; not even in first world countries. Education is a cornerstone for successful, happy children, who can grow into successful, happy adults, and it must be protected at all costs. How we educate our children is often an indicator of our country’s abilities, strength, and aptitudes – how much money can it afford to invest in education, how interested is a country in education from a young age, and how do they approach it; when does a child start, do they wear a uniform, do their parents have to pay?

Primary education the world over will be a child’s first introduction to the world of formal learning; children in Russia are taught ballroom dancing, whilst rural schools in Uraguay will teach their children how to milk a cow. Vietnam schools teach etiquette.

Primary schools often begin with “the basics”; reading, writing, and maths. Indeed, when students at my son’s school went back after 2020’s lockdown (six months), the initial focus was on ensuring that everyone was at the same level on the basics before moving on to more indepth topics throughout the first term – and everything was interwoven throughout those essential subjects.

When I was at school, memorisation as a technique had been phased out for the most part; I never learnt my times tables by rote like my parents had, but my son does now – it has come full circle. But there is a play element too; he has access to online games to help it sink in.

Shockingly, the UN estimates that sixty-one million children are not in primary education; 70% of this total are children in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia. Even some children who do attend a primary school, particularly in those regions, didn’t do anywhere near as well in literacy and numeracy. But the problem is more endemic than that; globally, wealthy areas see higher reading abilities, and children in urban areas fared better than in rural areas. That’s appalling; any country where even one of those statistics is true should be ashamed of itself, no matter where in the world it is. Every child should have access to quality primary education, but we have never been able to achieve it.

Here in the UK, primary schools have changed hugely over the decades. I still live near to my old primary school; a Children’s Centre and a nursery are now on site, and the technology available in my son’s school – only twenty minutes from our front door – is a world away from my own experiences. The internet exists now, for one thing, and a tablet used to mean the vitamin tablet I look every morning with breakfast. Now, the entire world is at my son’s fingertips every time he unlocks his tablet.

What memories do you have of primary school? How did it feel when you went there? I enjoyed learning, but was a socially awkward children – so building friendships was difficult for me, whilst learning was something that felt natural. My son has a more balanced view; he is more comfortable making friends and also loves learning. It helps as well that the school is wide and spacious, with a lot of open space and a forest school, as well as a comfortable classroom. This year, he goes to school under Covid-19 restrictions, and he’s not mentioned any anxieties about the school or how it makes him feel – no news is, perhaps, good news.

The surroundings you learn in will inevitably influence how you learn. During lockdown, my son didn’t have a desk to sit at – although he could use the dining table – and there were no friends to keep him company … or distract him. I also worked during the lockdown, so I couldn’t be a focused teacher for him – and I didn’t fully know what I was doing anyway, although it felt easier as time went on.

Environment matters; you need a building that feels comfortable and safe, and takes stress out of navigation – if you spend twenty minutes looking for the toilets, then you’re not likely to always have your mind on learning. We’re used to schools being actual buildings, with roofs over our heads, central heating, and running water. In some countries, you sit on a dirt floor in the out doors, no matter the weather.

Schools are no longer just educational establishments; they offer “wrap-around” services, in a way that didn’t exist thirty years ago. I can attest to that, because that’s how long ago I went to school – and it was from 9am to 3pm, without any alterations. But now, times have changed, lifestyles have changed, and needs have changed; schools are a huge part of the local community, and we rely on their extended services even more than we had done before – breakfast clubs, after-school clubs, societies, trips … school are not just places of education for the mind, but places where children develop their character and their personality.

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