It is a truth universally acknowledged that the most important resource of any nation is not what grows on the ground or lies buried beneath it or fills its surrounding seas, but its people. People are not resources to be traded or bartered but they are resources intrinsically valuable for what they can do for the common weal. Eventually if we were to live for enough years we would accumulate wisdom from our experience and knowledge from our mistakes. These processes inevitably happen but there is a process which can accelerate the individual accumulation of knowledge and wisdom and that process is called education.
Education is not training or instruction; it is something by which people learn to think for themselves and develop their own capabilities and capacities.
If we do not educate our children properly we fail them and the nation in which we live and add poverty to the common weal. It is hard to decide what constitutes a good education for children but a good measure is to look at what happens to children after they have left school.
South Africa is a prosperous nation where there is much poverty. Its best resource is not its gold mines or its diamond field or its coal, but its people, but unlike its physical resources South Africa is not good at developing its human resources. Less than one child in a hundred go to university and of those that go, less than half graduate.
In Illinois, USA, the Mathematics and Science Academy (ISMA) is a public school where students board. It is not a public school in the sense of a British Public school, but a school genuinely open to rich and poor alike, but entry is based on a selection process which requires academic achievement. It has a splendid record since it was established 28 years ago. Virtually every one of its students go to university or college and get degrees. Although every educator at a school is important the head of the school sets the tone and the standards. ISMA was headed by Dr Stephanie Pace Marshall for the first 22 years of its existence.
However, some people disagree with a rigorous selection process. I was educated at what was then called George Green’s Grammar School, in Poplar, where entry was based upon selection in 1960. It was an opportunity for me to get an education which enabled me to obtain the qualifications to go to University, which was very unusual for a Poplar boy or girl. That probably makes me prejudiced in favour of academic selection in circumstances where insufficient resources are being devoted to education of all children. If sufficient resources were devoted and every school was capable of educating able and less able alike, it would be hard to see a justification for academic selection, but for as long as this is not the case selection seems a way for society to get the best out of some of its human resources. Selection does enable poor children to get an education suitable for their latent and patent abilities, but can leave behind those who are not academically gifted, if sufficient resources are not put into educating those who are not academically gifted at other schools.
George Green’s School has been a comprehensive school which does not base entry on selection for many years. Its grammar school status was changed when Mrs Thatcher was Secretary of State for Education. George Green’s School is an “inclusive” school”, which does not select on the basis of academic ability and does not refuse entry to those who would have in previous generations been education in special school. Today the school provides a first class education for its student. Many of them go to University but the best measure of the school’s success is probably the “NEET” measure. Educationalists love acronyms and NEET stands for “Not in Education, Employment or Training” after a pupil has left school. George Green’s School last year achieved the remarkable success of their being only one pupil in “NEET” – which represents less than one per cent of the leavers. Clearly from the point of view of the students and the point of view of the nation, an education at George Green’s School benefits students and society.
For the past 17 years the Head of George Green’s School has been Kenny Fredericks, and her leadership has been critical to its success; of course the other staff all make valuable contributions, but if the head of any organisation or organism is excellent, the organisation or organism is healthy and thrives.
Dr Pace Marshall is no longer the head of ISMA but its success has continued.
At the end of this term Mrs Fredericks retires from George Green’s School; the ethos, character and foundation she has built and inspired will stand the school in good stead for many years to come. Her achievement can be seen in the character and achievements of the students of George Green’s School; every student is to some extent a reflection of those who have taught him or her, and a reflection of the values and philosophy of the schools they have attended. The values and philosophy of Mrs Fredericks are reflected in the faces and minds of tens of thousands of young people. Each reflection is equal, each reflection is different, but each reflection is faithful.