By Pieter Cranenbroek, International Politics Blogger Follow @Pinter_13
Living a sheltered life distorts your view of the world.
This is not a scientific fact, just an educated guess based on recent comments by David Cameron and Boris Johnson who seem to be fond of creating their own facts. Despite an abundance of evidence pointing at the flaws of British educational policy, the prime minister and London mayor blame the absence of social mobility on poor people’s lack of ambition and intelligence. The key to improve the educational system is not exactly hidden, though it appears invisible to those not willing to see it.
It may border the cliché to say children are our future, but where better to start tackling social inequality than the young generation? Although the Tories might think that the present education system does not obstruct children from any background from fulfilling their talents, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development disagrees.
Its three-yearly PISA report is a yardstick to assess a country’s educational policies by comparing results from 15-year-olds across 65 countries. The report once again illustrates that the average level of British education is plummeting whereas the gap between public and private school graduates increases.
However, apart from establishing the diagnosis, the PISA report also provides the remedy. Other countries have managed to considerably improve their overall performance by investing in the education of children from less affluent families. Surely it’s time for the UK to do the same.
Focusing on improving the quality of public schools is the way to combat the further deterioration of education standards. At the same time, this would be a step closer to giving youngsters from different backgrounds an equal chance in life. After all, it is naïve to assume that, as Cameron put it, it does not count where you come from but where you are going.
Of course it matters. If one type of schools sends children out into the arena on a horse and fully equipped while children from other schools walk into the battleground with nothing but a stick, then you cannot speak of a fair fight. It is plenty clear where the problem lies and yet somehow Cameron managed to perceive this differently and implied it is not the school system that holds back children from less affluent families but their own ambition. Cameron chooses to rely on faulty logic instead of finding a way to overcome a faulty educational system.
This faulty logic is extended by the Prime Minister’s party member Boris Johnson who has identified a clear connection between IQ levels and inequality. After miserably failing an impromptu IQ test himself, he argued: “No one said IQ is the only measure of ability.”
Of course it’s not. The Tories prefer the bank account method in which a person’s intelligence is calculated by the amount of money a person has. In this respect, Johnson’s claim that the rich are a ‘put-upon minority’ who deserve ‘automatic knighthoods’ and our ‘humble and hearty thanks’ are nowhere near surprising. Bless him, at least he has his priorities straight.
People already feared that the ‘rich minority’ would be bullied after we used tax money to bail out banks and paid millions of sacking bonuses to failing directors. Good to know that if anyone ever falls of a bridge and is about to drown, the London mayor will come to the rescue of the bystanders who got a bit wet from the splash.
Maintaining the status quo
The absurdity of Cameron and Johnson’s arguments is only met by the bigots of the Grand Old Party whose argument against raising the minimum wage is that it would discourage people to pursue their dreams. Considering that for millions of people their dream is merely to survive and provide for their families, earning a living wage would actually get them much closer to fulfilling that dream.
The word ‘conservative’ means ‘tending to oppose change’ and Cameron and Johnson seem to have learnt the conservative handbook with all the answers to prevent change off by heart. The gap between rich and poor is growing? Poor people lack ambition! Huge income discrepancies? Inequality is needed to push the economy forward! Six cyclists die in the streets of London a couple of days apart? Cyclists should pay more attention on the road! Every answer is designed to legitimise maintaining a status quo and keep them from having to do anything about the real problem. But this book is not working for most people.
Cameron and Johnson’s comments read like political satire, but the fact that serious politicians in significant roles say these assertions are just plain sad. As usual, the Conservatives have backward and distorted view of reality. It’s not that poor people lack ambition, it’s that rich people like Cameron and Johnson lack ambition to give poor people a chance in life. After all, how is anyone from a poor background ever going to have a career when people like Cameron, who might be deemed the personification of cronyism, keep handing out powerful positions to their well-off Oxbridge mates?
There is nothing wrong with the intelligence or ambition of people from the underclass. They can and will compete with children from more affluent families. But the least you can do is make it a fair competition.