Tuesday, 4 March 2014
Dear Mr Gove
Dear Mr Gove,
During their half term week, their two days of unauthorised absence and their five days of 'difficult to authorise but ok then we'll do it' absence my three boys have been on a learning curve of a lifetime.
A trip to New Delhi and Kolkata in India has taught them more than they could ever have learnt during a week trapped in the prison of the classroom becoming robots to pass exams.
We've compiled a list for you, just in case you thought that classrooms were the only environment in which children can learn.
1. Science. Having never flown on an aeroplane before (no, we are not in the habit of taking them to exotic places during term time) they were extremely interested in the workings of the aeroplane, the levels of oxygen at different altitudes and the engineering which went into making a heavy metal object fly so high in the air without falling.
2. Maths. Oh yes, maths can be learnt without sitting down! Having fun haggling in the markets in a different currency forced them to think quickly. Mental maths at its finest! And one particular child who struggled with telling the time has learnt how to not only work out different time zones but also can now tell the time at home too.
3. Geography. Well, this goes without saying. Exploring the plants and animals in a completely different country was fascinating. Geckos, chipmunks, parakeets and all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures were discovered.
As soon as we left the airport and they saw the signs that said 'No spitting', the realisation hit them that other people live very different lives to us.
The cultural exposure was life-changing as they helped at a school for street children, caring for their physical needs as well as teaching them Maths and English. The students became the masters and they loved it.
4. Language. There's no substitute for being immersed in a foreign language in order to learn it. All three of them learnt and used Hindi. No boring lists of verbs and adverbs here. It was real, alive and exciting. Body language was also a challenge as they discovered that not everyone nods their heads in order to say 'yes'.
5. PSCHE. This is the biggie, Mr Gove. Children can't learn about personal, social, citizenship and health tied to a chair and a desk. They need to see and serve those around them.
Everyone knows about 'Delhi Belly'. My boys finally (and to my enormous relief) learnt that personal hygeine is vital. Instead of waving at the tap before mealtimes, they actually washed their hands with soap because they knew that if they didn't they'd be sick.
They grew in a confidence I have never witnessed in them before. To quote my nine year old "I'm braver than I thought!" They met new people, tried new foods, embraced change like true Indians and unlocked new capabilities that were hidden beneath the layers of textbooks and spelling tests.
Safety. My three boys are extremely adventurous and safety is not something they usually prize - rather the opposite actually. But visiting a crowded city full of danger, they learnt that being safe is important. Crossing roads with seemingly no traffic rules brought a new meaning to 'road safety' too.
Serving those who live with injustice, poverty and degradation, they learnt to love the supposed 'unlovely'. Society gives no value to the street children, but my boys helped to bathe them, feed them, dress them, teach them and they played with them as though it was the most normal thing in the world. The lessons they learnt on that day with children who live such different lives to themselves will stay treasured in their hearts for the rest of their lives.
6. English. You wouldn't believe it, Mr Gove, but my boys actually hold a passionate hate for writing. They've been put off, you see. Packing notebooks for them to record their adventures, I wasn't convinced they would ever be used. But used they were. I have never seen them write so much! Opening their eyes to a whole wide world inspired them to write, and write, and write! Sometimes I had to force them to stop - a new experience for me.
And so, Mr Gove, I hope I have managed to show you the benefits in the education for children who might be forced to have 'unauthorised absence' on their school record. Education is so important, but if is a choice between sticking like superglue to your narrowly focused rules and stifling classrooms or giving my children the opportunity to have their eyes opened to the world around them and learn lessons of a lifetime, I'll take the latter. Every time.
More than sincerely yours,