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  • III. NEW WAYS TO LEARNAuthor(s): TYRRELL BURGESSSource: Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, Vol. 127, No. 5271 (FEBRUARY 1979), pp. 143-157Published by: Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and CommerceStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41372900 .Accessed: 28/06/2014 17:39

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    by TYRRELL BURGESS Head of the School for Independent Study at the North East London Polytechnic ,

    delivered to the Society on Monday 2jth November 1978, with Sir Toby Weaver , , until recently Professor in Educational Studies

    at the Open University , in the Chair

    The Chairman: In introducing the first of this trilogy of lectures Lord Wilfred Brown (I think I ought to refer to him as 'Capability Brown') gave a short survey of the historical, educational and industrial landscape that you would be invited to traverse with the three speakers. In the first lecture Mr. Correlli Barnett documented with scholarly thorough- ness our inveterate national unwillingness and incapacity to develop an educational system which would include among its aims the develop- ment of capability, which he defined as the ability successfully to tackle the practical situa- tions of life. He illustrated in detail how over the last hundred years and more a succession of prophets had drawn public attention to this disastrous failure and its likely consequences, only to be met by ostrich-like incapacity to grasp the fact that if we were to prosper as a nation and to enjoy the quality of life to which we aspire, our educational system must foster what he called individual and collective cap- ability in the business of being an advanced industrial economy. Education for capability, he concluded, can alone keep Britain an advanced technological society and save her from becoming a Portugal, perhaps even an Egypt. If I may liken Mr. Barnett' s lecture to the first of three movements of a sonata, it might well have been marked andante lacrimoso.

    In the second lecture Professor Charles Handy (this second movement was allegro appassionato) projected us eloquently into the new world for which we should already, he claimed, be design- ing the education of the coming generation and our own. He gave us clues to its shape and

    substance as the communications revolution, the substitution of work don for mere employment, the flight from size to the virtues of small com- munities, and the economies of quality. Professor Handy went on to tilt against the primacy of knowledge, the institutionalization of learning, and what he called the age-bonding of education. But when questioned afterwards he modestly declined to answer the third of his three self-set questions - What? So what? What now? - beyond saying that what we needed now were more conspicuous experiments in processes of learning. Like his predecessor on this rostrum he left it to Mr. Tyrrell Burgess, our lecturer tonight, to tackle the sixty-four dollar question - What now ?

    The first, but only the first, move towards the solution of a problem is to analyse it and under- stand it. The object is to develop the capability to solve it. That is Mr. Burgess's formidable challenge tonight. Mr. Burgess is no theoretician. He is a teacher, a journalist, author of many stimulating books, researcher, publisher, school governor, designer of institutions, and active member of local government bodies. He has spent the last seven years at the North East London Polytechnic. There, as head successively of the Centre for Institutional Studies, the Development Unit for the Diploma in Higher Education, and the School for Independent Study, he has with his colleagues, some of whom are here, designed and successfully launched just such a conspicuous experiment in learning as Professor Handy called for. He is to tell us how he came to do it.

    The following lecture was then delivered. This lecture is an analysis of the weakness of educational theory and practice with

    proposals for its improvement as a service to individuals and to society.

    Education ment. duals and

    It seems society,

    is a permanent to

    the offer,

    hope to both



    improve- indivi-

    Education ment. It seems to offer, to both indivi- duals and society, the hope of improve-

    ment. It is sought as a remedy for personal and social ills. Yet its performance always seems to fall short of what might be expected. Individuals and society are alike dis- illusioned. It comes to be regarded with a mixture of hope, affection and frustration. As a consequence, public respect for educa-

    tion is characterized by booms and slumps. In boom times education is seen as a founda- tion of social and economic life and of its development in order and prosperity. Central and local government is encouraged to increase educational spending. Electoral promises can be summed up in one word - more. Public inquiries on the salaries of teachers unanimously recommend large increases. Almost at once a reaction sets in

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    and people begin to wonder whether we are not spending too much or whether we are getting value for money. It seems evident that education is making little direct contri- bution to the problems of, say, unemploy- ment or urban crime. Individual students and pupils are heard to doubt whether the outcome of their education offers enough compensation for the boredom of the process.

    At present education seems to be in a minor slump. It is under fire from all sides and is on the whole defending itself rather badly. The criticism comes from pupils, students and their parents, from teachers and employers, from friends and enemies of education alike. It is possible here to indi- cate only the range and nature of this criticism. Let us start with pupils at school. There have been a number of serious studies of what pupils think and want, from the Schools Council inquiry ten years ago1 to John Raven's massive research published last year.2 These reveal that pupils have clear and coherent views about what school is for and that they find that the schools themselves have other objects. In particular pupils wanted an education which enabled them to deal with their personal problems, to get and hold a job, to apply their know- ledge and to be the confident masters rather than the slaves of circumstance. Generally speaking parents agreed with their children in this There have been similar surveys3 of the attitudes of students. They too demand 'relevance'. They complain that their courses tend towards the mere accumulation of knowledge, are overcrowded with detail and give little time to think. Many see their educational experience as 'tricks and dodges' and their courses as consisting of anything that could attract a twenty minute question in the final examination. They may find that having knowledge does not at all enable them to apply it: even when theory and practice are integrated students may not be able either to apply the theory or to describe and defend their practice. Many come to fear that their courses are directed to no voca- tional end, and even those on a supposedly vocational course may see its relevance as spurious because they seem to get no nearer to the practice of their specialism. Other students complain of narrowness and stulti- fication. They complain that final examina- tions frequently demand little more than memory, or hanker for more command over their educational experience.



    Many of these criticisms are echoed by teachers. Those in secondary schools, in particular, see themselves as victims of external circumstance. They complain of the tyranny of society which requires them to be not so much educators as selectors, serving the division of labour, and of an examina- tion system which is the expression of this tyranny. As John Raven found, teachers are conscious that they do not concentrate on the objectives they consider to be most important, and he rightly says that the con- sequences of this are insidiously demora- lizing.

    It is often claimed that the perversion of education by selection is supported by employers, who express their demands in terms of certificates, diplomas and degrees. This is true but it conceals the criticism which employers have of the system which offers these certificates.4 What employers typically say is that they take the possession of a certificate or a degree as a very general indication of a level of capacity and applica- tion. They do not see it as indicating the acquisition of any information or skill that can be productively used. They all assert that it is they who have to educate and train the young person who comes to them, whether he has CSE or a degree. Many go further, and claim that the more education a young person has received the less fitted he is for the problems that he has to face as an employee. On this view an employer takes a graduate rather than a non-graduate only because he imagines that the qualification is an indication of capacity : he takes it also as a warning that much will have to be done to eliminate the incompetence systematically induced by the process of graduation.

    These criticisms, of pupils, students and their parents, of teachers and employers, are reflected in a long-standing view of educa- tion held by all the lecturers in this series, and by their chairmen. It was elaborated recently in this building by Patrick Nutt- gens.5 Broadly we all believe that there is a serious imbalance in British education and training. The idea of the 'educated man' is that of a scholarly, leisured individual who has not been educated to exercise useful skills. Those who study in secondary schools or higher education increasingly specialize; and normally in a way which means that they can then practise only the skills of scholarship, to research but not to act. Their knowledge of a particular area of study does not include ways of thinking and

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  • FEBRUARY 1979

    working which are apt outside the education system itself. This is damaging both for individuals and for society. An education which concentrates on analysis, criticism and the acquisition of knowledge and neglects the formulation and solution of problems; doing, making and organizing; and con- structive and creative activity in general, inhibits the satisfaction derived from per- sonal capability and denies to society the benefits of competence.

    To these specific criticisms are added more general ones. There are those who regard education as having developed to the point of being an expensive luxury. There are others who seek a solution in accepting it as a selective process and wish to concen- trate on making the selection more 'efficient'. There are many, on all sides, who are con- cerned about the quality of education and ways in which this can be measured. Many reformers are bewildered by the realization that the expansion of education has not itself led to a more rational, egalitarian or viable society. At the extremes there are those who believe that education can be saved only by removing it altogether from its institutional framework: they would de-school education and society.

    The criticisms that I have outlined here are not new. They echo similar criticisms which have accompanied the development of education in England since the beginning of the nineteenth century. Indeed they form part of a debate about education that has been going on at least since the Greeks, a debate between two traditions which rest on quite different assumptions about the pur- pose of education. I have elsewhere6 characterized these as the Autonomous' and 'service' traditions. The first sees education, especially higher education, as an activity with its own values and purposes, affecting the rest of society obliquely and as a kind of bonus. The second explicitly expects educa- tion to serve individuals and society and defends it in these terms.

    I characterize the autonomous tradition as aloof, academic, conservative and exclusive. People and institutions acting in this tradi- tion and with this view of their purpose think it right to hold themselves apart, ready if necessary to resist the demands of society, the whims of government, the fashions of public opinion, the importunities of actual or potential students. Many of us are glad that they do so. In totalitarian countries their stand may be heroic: educational institu-


    tions are often the first to be attacked by tyrannical governments. We can be glad of them in democracies, too. Democratic governments can err. Popular demand may be foolish. Both can be arbitrary, unjust and capricious. A democratic society is a plural society, one in which criticism is welcome and alternatives possible. What is more, democracies recognize that there can be no certainty where human knowledge and understanding will next be advanced. Many of the greatest advances have been made against political oppression, popular indiffer- ence or worse. The creations of the human mind themselves achieve a kind of autonomy, imposing their own disciplines and creating their own problems, and it is right that there should be people devoted to following the disciplines and solving the problems. This is particularly true in areas where most people see little promise: you never know when a discipline may be urgently needed.

    This aloofness is expressed in academic attitudes. Defenders of an autonomous tradition claim to be concerned with the preservation, extension and dissemination of knowledge - for its own sake. They speak of pursuing truth or excellence. They will, they say, follow the truth, wherever it may lead. However described, the activity is self- justifying. At least, it is not justified in terms outside itself, like meeting the needs of society. Academics derive their justification from a discipline or body of knowledge. They typically claim to spend half their academic time on research, because it is only by doing so that they can have anything worth- while to teach. This means that institutions in the autonomous tradition are not directly concerned with professional or vocational education. It is true that many of them have departments of law, for example, or engi- neering. But the vocational nature of a course depends less upon its subject matter than upon its method: the question is, at the end of the course can the student practise ? In most 'autonomous' courses he cannot : he needs further practical experience to make him a competent professional person.

    Autonomous institutions are by their nature conservative. It is true that within them advances may be made at the frontiers of knowledge, though they are by no means the only places where such advances are made. On the whole, however, they are resistant to new disciplines. Science, tech- nology, art have all had their battles for


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    recognition as disciplines. It is hard to get new matter into undergraduate courses or to drop old matter. Interdisciplinary courses always fail. This conservatism is defensible. It derives from the conviction that know- ledge advances painfully by imposing order where previously there was chaos. Intellec- tual order is thus precious and vulnerable. Neglect of this may involve us all simply in attempts to teach chaos.

    There is a very important consequence of all this for students. Autonomous institu- tions have to be exclusive. Given that what they do is self-justifying, they can respon- sibly accept only those who might 'benefit' from what they are doing. This effectively excludes most people. The exclusion may also be defended on the ground of maintain- ing standards, but since entry requirements are variable, this defence often rings hollow. Of course it is now widely recognized that exclusiveness, though ostensibly academic, is effectively social. The processes of selec- tion, which in many countries begin in the schools, ensure that middle-class youngsters are over-represented in higher education, and working-class youngsters under- represented. In many countries the dis- crepancy is gross. It is important to realize that this is an inevitable consequence of the autonomous tradition. And all the charac- teristics I have listed here attract the criticisms I detailed earlier.

    Let us now turn to the service tradition. I characterize this as responsive, vocational, innovating and open. Institutions in this tradition do not think it right to hold them- selves apart from society: rather that they should respond to its needs. They seek to place the knowledge that they have at the service of society. Indeed they believe that human knowledge advances as much through the solution of practical problems as through pure thought. It is important not to under- estimate or vulgarize the service tradition. In seeking to serve it confronts very serious difficulties. In the first place there is the question of service to whom ? Is it the stu- dent who is to be served, society as a whole, the Government ? There are many different interests - which is to be paramount? Can the institution serve more than one? The autonomous tradition settles this by asserting the priority of the discipline. The service tradition lays itself open instead to having serious human and political arguments. Clearly different interests are not always compatible. For example, the interest of an


    employer in further education may be that his workers should do their jobs better; the interest of the employee, by contrast, may be to get a better job. Neither may be very well aware of what society, as interpreted by an elected Government, may require or want.

    Second, it is not merely a paradox to assert that one of the services which educa- tional institutions should render to a society is a serious and direct criticism of it. There are few countries where this is explicitly recognized: the United States is the only place I know where a formally constituted committee (the Carnegie Commission) has actually recognized it. 7 But criticism is vital to a democratic society, and a service institu- tion is failing it if it does not offer it.

    All this raises the question of account- ability. The challenge for service institutions is to work out forms of government which will enable them to do their work, including criticism, while responding to the society around them. I do not think it too much to say that this is one of the most serious problems democratic societies have to face, not only in education, but in all forms of social and political life. If we in education can begin to offer solutions it would be a service indeed.

    Service institutions do not, on the whole, seek to claim that they are pursuing know- ledge for its own sake. They are engaged explicitly in professional and vocational education - often in 'mere' vocational train- ing. They attract resources because there are actual or potential students to be enrolled. Their 'research' is normally directed to some external problem, often in the form of consultancy. Apart from this they are typic- ally teaching institutions, devoted to helping students towards some qualification.

    There are many people who would feel that to call service institutions innovating is to be at best fanciful. But it is in their nature to be so: they must accommodate growth, must accept new kinds of students, offer them new kinds of courses, create new structures of study, pioneer new forms of governance, recruit new kinds of staff, and so on. When my colleague, John Pratt, and I contributed to an OECD symposium on innovation in higher education in Paris,8 it became clear to us that not only in England, but in many diverse systems, where institut- ions were prepared to accept the service view of purpose, they were indeed innovating in all these ways.

    I Thus it is that service institutions have to

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    be open. They cannot exclude students on the grounds that the latter are not properly prepared. Typically they accept 'maturity' or some such idea as an alternative to academic qualification as an entry require- ment. Their students are as a consequence very diverse in themselves; they follow courses at many levels and by many different modes of study. In many countries they are the traditional route to high qualification for working-class people and their children. To sum up, I think it is clear that pupils, stu- dents, parents and employers are demanding education in the service tradition.

    It is important not to assume that these two traditions are found, pure and unmixed, in different kinds of institutions, though in England the universities are self-consciously in the 'autonomous' tradition and poly- technics were explicitly founded in the 'service' tradition. What complicates the issue is a process which my colleagues and I have described as 'academic drift' - which seems to be a world-wide tendency for 'service' institutions to seek to become more and more 'autonomous'. Thus we see that in England the polytechnics (like the colleges of advanced technology before them) have sought to resolve dilemmas of account- ability through reducing public control, have chafed at external academic validation, have emphasized a commitment to research, have established subject departments and faculties, have transferred 'inappropriate' courses elsewhere, have rejected students they would have previously taken. This is academic drift at work. A consequence is that outside education, in politics and administration, people simply fail to see any difference between universities and poly- technics. Disillusionment is expressed that the polytechnics are not doing what they were meant to do, that any distinctiveness they might once have claimed has now dis- appeared. A similar frustration can be seen among those who expected that the abolition of selection at eleven would enable secondary schools more effectively to meet the needs of every kind of adolescent. Instead they find, against all the hopes of the reformers of the 1920s, that most secondary schools have been content to offer to all the narrow range of values, experience and performance which formerly characterized the academic gram- mar schools.

    There are many who explain 'academic drift' in institutional terms. They argue, for example, that it is natural for new or |

    emerging institutions to ape those with established prestige. For a long time it was held that pay and conditions of service in 'autonomous' institutions were better than those in 'service' ones. Even now, the staffing structures favour schools which retain their pupils as long as possible and colleges which concentrate on full-time advanced level work. There is of course also the general institutional point that any insti- tution, however explicit the purpose for which it was founded, soon comes to have purposes of its own and indeed to act in ways which were not foreseen or intended. It is the institutions which are responsible day to day for what happens. Their staffs have their own goals. There may be direc- tives and regulations, there may be a power- ful board of governors or trustees, there may be all manner of devices for implementing the original policy - but these must in the end be powerless against the minute-by- minute, hour-by-hour, day-by-day activity of those actually in the institutions.

    Their chief object (like that of everyone else) is the good life. In unequal systems, the less favoured tend to interpret this (some- times wrongly) in terms of the situation of the fortunate. Universities have status in the eyes of government and of the public. This status is thought to derive from various attributes of external and internal organiza- tion. Technical colleges thus strive to take on these attributes, generally without con- sidering whether or not they are apt to themselves - whether, in other words, ar- rangements which serve one purpose can reasonably be expected to serve another. It is quite common for institutions which have drifted academically to be genuinely aston- ished to find how they have changed: they can be heard asserting, all over the world, that they did not mean it.

    All these pressures towards academic drift have very great force, and I have argued elsewhere that every institutional means possible should be used if there is to be any real attempt to prevent it. But I do not believe that this would ever be enough. We are dealing, after all, not just with any institu- tions but with educational institutions, and I believe that institutional changes will fail unless they are based upon and reflect educational changes. The strength of the autonomous tradition rests upon assump- tions about knowledge, learning and educa- tion which are accepted without question throughout education and society. The


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    prestige of our universities and sixth forms derives from the convention that they know what they are doing. It seems only the plainest common sense that those who have spent a lifetime in the study of a subject, who have become specialist and expert in it, should be those who can say not only what the subject is and what are its characteristic insights and techniques, but can also intro- duce to its mysteries the less educated and less expert. There is a phrase used by academics which is in my experience un- questioned as a statement of what they do - that is the preservation, extension and dis- semination of knowledge. If one talks to teachers of vocational skills one finds that their expressions are different, but their purpose is the same. And for all the accom- panying claims about developing the indivi- dual which are uttered by teachers in both schools and colleges, it is clear that they mostly expect to do so through instruction in various branches of knowledge. If this view of knowledge is right, we are con- demned, I believe, to the dominance of the autonomous tradition and we must reconcile ourselves to the permanence of our frustra- tion and criticism of education.

    Fortunately we do not have to accept this view of knowledge at all. The autonomous tradition in education, so far from being soundly based, rests in my view on assump- tions about knowledge which are quite simply mistaken and on grounds which are intellectually and practically worthless.

    It may be thought that the claim that our universities, colleges and schools rest on intellectually worthless foundations is a bold claim to make. Let us approach the matter more gently by looking first into the activities of teaching and learning. What is done in educational institutions is not only consis- tent from place to place all over the world, but has been so, I am told, since Aristotle. Young people in formal education attend lectures, seminars or tutorials. They read books, write essays for their teachers' judgement, watch demonstrations. They may carry out 'experiments'; that is, they go through prescribed procedures in order to see for themselves some established process at work. They may get to do project work. In relatively rich places, the students may get a lot of individual attention: elsewhere they are dealt with very much in groups. In large institutions there may be a wide choice of subjects and of teachers; in smaller places there may be no choice at all. Usually,



    but not always, the higher the level, the more independence the student may have. Usually, though unnecessarily, arts students have more independence than science stu- dents. Throughout, the object of all these activities is to cover a set amount of know- ledge (the course, curriculum, syllabus) and then convince the examiners that one has done so.

    These are the externals of education, the name we give to the events we arrange. But what is happening ? What takes place when the student learns and when the teacher teaches ? I confess that when I first came to consider this I was shocked at how little was known. For example, most of the current theories are based upon the learning habits of those pigeons, rats and circus apes that have had the misfortune to be captured by learning theorists. The theories are many, and they conflict. There are those who believe, with the 'gestalt' or 'field' psycholo- gists, that learning is a question of imposing order and pattern upon experience. Others accept that learning is a matter of stimulus and response. Yet others explain it in terms of an innate human need to solve problems. (There are other theories, now largely dis- credited among the professionals but impli- citly held by teachers and students, including the development of 'faculties' or Rousseau's idea of 'natural unfoldment'.) It is fair to say that whatever the differences between these theories, they all have one characteristic in common. They hold that learning takes place through the activity of the learner. Educational practice, however, implicitly assumes that learning takes place through the activity of the teacher. Teachers have and control subjects, disciplines and bodies of knowledge, and the taught do not. Teachers present their material and the taught acquire and then reproduce it. Unfortunately this almost universal practice among teachers flies in the face of what is almost universally agreed about learning. Teaching and learning are in our current practice largely disconnected. Indeed there appear to be two kinds of need in the world, the need to learn and the need to teach. These two needs are at war: the one is incompatible with the other. In other words the failure of our educational institutions is at heart an educational failure. It is because they fail in education that they are so disappointing to individuals and to society.

    This conclusion requires some explana- tion. To put it mildly, school and college

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  • FEBRUARY 1979

    teachers are not on the whole stupid. Nor do people go into teaching because they are filled with ill will or loathe their fellow men. Teachers do what they do because they believe it to be right, and many of them show great humanity and ingenuity in miti- gating in practice the worst effects of their implicit theories and beliefs.

    Why is it then that teachers think it right, indeed accept without question, to act in ways that neglect or even oppose what they know about learning ? The answer, I think, is partly that theories of learning are un- satisfactory and unconvincing (and are incompatible with each other) and partly that teachers, like most people, have an implicit view of knowledge on which their practice depends but which chimes ill with theories of learning. What we need in short is a theory which better explains how people learn which is consistent with a theory of knowledge.

    Most people have what one might describe as an accumulative view of know- ledge. It seems obvious that more is known now than was known 100 years ago. Over the centuries bodies of knowledge have been built up through the accumulation of facts. In recent centuries men have come to believe that a particular kind of knowledge, scientific knowledge, is an especially secure and reliable kind. It began with the physical sciences, but other sciences have aspired to the same kind of security. It was and is believed that what gives scientific know- ledge its characteristic quality and security is its method. On this view, scientists base their activity upon observation - carefully controlled and measured observation. They record their findings, publish them and accumulate data. From this they may for- mulate hypotheses which fit the facts and explain the casual relations between them. They then seek evidence to support the hypothesis, and if the latter is thus verified they have established another law or theory. Science, on this view, is the accumulation of certainties based on observation and experi- mental evidence: numberless observations lead to a hypothesis which when verified is established as a law. This method of basing laws on accumulated observations is known as induction, and has for centuries been seen as the hallmark of science.

    Of course the idea of induction has itself caused problems. It was David Hume who first spotted the logical difficulty which gave philosophers a good deal of trouble. The


    difficulty is that numberless confirming ob- servations cannot give us any assurance that the next observation will be the same. Bert- rand Russell in particular was worried that the rationality of science depended on a principle - induction - which could not itself be rationally defended.

    The boldest solution to the problem of induction has been offered by Karl Popper, who says bluntly, '. . . there is no induction, because universal theories are not deducible from singular statements. But they may be refuted by singular statements, since they may clash with descriptions of observable facts.'9 For Popper the logic of scientific discovery is as follows: scientific discus- sions, he says, start with a problem (P^, to which we offer a tentative theory (TT) or solution, hypothesis or conjecture. The theory is then criticized, to try to eliminate error (EE) - whereupon the theory and its critical revision give rise to new problems (P2). As Popper puts it, 'science begins with problems and ends with problems'. But it does not begin and end with the same problems: P2 is always different from Px - which is why we can speak of scientific progress. Popper sets this theory out as a schema or formula the importance of which has been overlooked by people who feel that if something is clear it must be trivial. This is it: PX->TT ->EE-^P2.

    Each step in this formulation, and its place in the sequence, have important con- sequences. It asserts, for example, the pri- macy of problems. The beginning of an inquiry is not the attempt to solve a problem (the tentative theory comes second, not first) : it is the problem itself, and it is important to work as hard as possible on the formulation of problems before searching for solutions. This is because success in the latter often depends upon success in the former. An enormous amount of time and energy is wasted in the world by people who jump straight into solutions, and concentrate upon the difficulties of these - without pausing to consider whether they are apt for the prob- lem formulated or even without formulating a problem at all. It is also misleading to talk of 'identifying' problems, as if the problems were sitting there waiting for us. They are not. Problem-formulation is a creative activity.

    Nor should one be misled by the word 'tentative'. A theory is tentative because it has to be tested : it does not have to be half- hearted. Indeed, the bolder and more definite it is the better it can be tested. What


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    we need are theories with a high informative content, because the more information they contain the more likely they are to be false - but if they survive our best efforts to falsify them, they have enabled us to make a correspondingly large progress in under- standing. The best theories are the most daring leaps of imagination, and science, like art, is an expression of the human spirit.

    Error elimination is the process of express- ing our theories in ways which can be tested. And the object of the test is to falsify the theory. This step is nearly as often neglected as the first - or is widely misunderstood. Neglect resides in the uncritical acceptance of theories, and in the unwillingness to con- sider what would falsify them. Misunder- standing arises because people think that the object of tests (or experiments) is to confirm a theory. But no amount of confirmation can make a theory more secure, and our know- ledge remains as it was. But one falsification can destroy a theory - and our knowledge advances. We are ready to formulate the new problems.

    With the introduction of falsifiability we reach Popper's criterion which demarcates science from non-science. This is itself one of those bold leaps of imagination whose consequences are only now being slowly realized. For example, it means that all knowledge, including scientific knowledge, is provisional, and always will be. We cannot prove that what we know is true, and it may turn out to be false. The best we can do is to justify our preference for one theory rather than another. Disciplines, even scientific disciplines, are not bodies of established fact : they are changing all the time, and not by the accumulation of new certainties. Of course, we assume the truth of our existing knowledge for practical purposes and are quite right to do so; but we must be ready for it to be superseded. What Popper has done is to replace the notion of certainty in science, and in all human knowledge, with the idea of progress. We cannot be sure that we have the truth : we can, however, systematically eliminate error. The way we eliminate error is by testing. In particular, observations are not used as the basis of a theory, but are derived from a theory and are used to test it. He says 'that observa- tions, and even more so observation state- ments and statements of experimental results, are always interpretations of the facts observed; that they are interpretations in the light of theories' . 10


    FEBRUARY 1979

    What is interesting about Popper's theory of knowledge is that it is consistent with his theory of learning: indeed it is the same theory. Learning of any kind, not just dis- covery at the frontiers of knowledge, takes place through the formulation of problems and through trial and error in solving these problems. As a theory of learning, Popper's schema accommodates those of the gestalt psychologists, though in logical rather than psychological terms. If offers in my view a better and fuller statement of the problem- solving theory. It is incompatible with some stimulus-response theory; in particular, as he has said, T came to realize that the theory of conditioned reflex was mistaken'. In other words, Popper's theory accommodates more of the learning process. In particular, it applies from the start to human beings rather than to laboratory and circus animals.

    There have been many eminent scientists who have testified to the insight which Popper's theory gives them into their own scientific activity. I want to claim that it offers an equal insight to educators. In parti- cular it should persuade us to question the basis of what we do. It appears to me that the organization and practice of higher education, both academically and institu- tionally, rests upon an implicit acceptance of induction; in other words upon a fallacy. It is impossible to speak, as academics do, of the preservation, extension and dissemina- tion of knowledge unless one has in mind the gradual accumulation of certainties. The whole idea of the preservation of knowledge is alien to scientific method : what we should be seeking to do is destroy our present theories. The organization of subject depart- ments is defensible if they are small groups working on the problems of the subject, but not if they are (as they are) bureaucracies for the issue of established bodies of fact. It is accepted that one needs to have a first degree before one can do research: as if to say to the students, when you know enough you can start to think. The whole activity of teaching, in lectures, seminars, tutorials or what you will, is explicable only on the basis that knowledge exists and can be imparted. The presence of courses, syllabuses and curricula assumes that knowledge is inde- pendent of problems. Few people ever ask, to what problem is this degree course a solution? If they do, the answer is seldom other than the problem of getting a degree. The examination at the end of these courses test little more than the accumulation and

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  • FEBRUARY 1979

    manipulation of knowledge. The problems they pose are seldom more serious than the problem of passing the examination. Nor does the ideal of a community of scholars survive in practice the division between the teachers and the taught - the one with the duty to know and impart, the other with the duty to accept and to learn.

    Of course there have been many people with this sense of unease about the practice of education. More important, there have been many teachers who have either instinc- tively or after worrying thought tried to organize learning rather than teaching. They have encouraged 'discovery methods', pro- ject work and independent learning. But they have been under attack, partly because these methods still sit uneasily in the rest of the system (how, for instance, does one examine such work?) and partly because they have been unable to give as coherent an intellectual account of themselves as is claimed by traditional academics. This insecurity is no longer justified. It is the traditional academic practice which needs to be defended.

    What we have, in fact, is a continuum of learning, whose logic is the same, from the new-born babe to the research worker on the frontiers of knowledge. Each is engaged in the formulation of problems, in solving them and in testing the solutions. Most people will formulate problems that have been formu- lated many times before. Their proposed solutions will be familiar; their tests commonplace. But they will learn by this activity. They will not learn better or faster if we parcel up received solutions to prob- lems formulated by others : indeed this is an anti-learning process. Moreover it inhibits the possibility of progress, because it is always possible that someone will formulate a common problem differently, will propose a different solution or a more effective test.

    At the other end of the continuum are those people engaged on formulating prob- lems which have remained unformulated in the past, who are leading the attack upon ignorance at its strongest. They may indeed be working in a discipline, upon the problems of the discipline, though it is a commonplace of scientific discovery that the successful formulation of problems may involve breaking through the limits of a discipline. The leap of imagination required of them may be enormous. But the nature of their activity is not arcane. We are all learners : in logic we are equals.


    I hope I have said enough to convince you why it is that education remains disappoint- ing - and why it will continue to disappoint unless we can make an assault on the pre- suppositions which underlie it and the content of courses and syllabuses which grows from these assumptions. If education is to offer any help towards solving the problems of individuals or of society it must do so directly by helping individuals to formulate problems and to propose and test solutions. It cannot do so by its present practice of offering (in Popper's striking phrase) 'unwanted answers to unasked questions'.

    There is, I think, something more to be said about problems and their formulation, if only because in my experience the idea of problems gives people trouble. In Popper's formulation of the logic of discovery he uses, interchangeably and often all together, a number of words for the second term of his schema - theory, solution, hypothesis, con- jecture. This practice presumably derives from his impatience with discussions of meaning, which he regards as trivial. He does not wish understanding to be limited by definitions. What is more, it is part of what he is arguing that theories are solutions to problems, and solutions - even to practical problems - are theories. What is more, it is important to remember that the logic of the process is the same whatever the problems which are being tackled and at whatever level. I believe, however, that it is important to distinguish different kinds of problems. Indeed a failure to make this distinction vitiates much of our social as well as our educational practice. Let me give some examples. There are problems of what is the case, which we can call scientific problems. There are problems of how to get from one state of affairs to another, which we can call engineering problems (to use the examples of one engineer : how to get from one side of a river to another or from bread to toast). There are formal problems - those of mathe- matics, for example, or chess. There are philosophical problems, which include ethi- cal and aesthetic problems.

    I think you will agree that most people are concerned with the second of these kinds of problems, the engineering or practical prob- lems. They need to know how to get from one state of affairs to another. Their prob- lems concern their homes, families, jobs, incomes and leisure. They typically want to change their circumstances. In this they


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    often believe that education will be a help. Unfortunately they find that educators

    are preoccupied with the other kinds of problems and will fill them up with ready made scientific, formal and philosophical solutions. The courses offered presuppose that a grasp of these solutions must precede the tackling of practical problems. There was a very instructive moment in the first programme of Bryan Magee's brilliant tele- vision series on philosophy11 when Sir Isaiah Berlin tried to say what philosophical problems were. He identified three of my four kinds of problems - ignoring entirely the practical or engineering kind. On the other hand his example of a philosophical problem was one which grew directly from a practical one (it concerned the ethical ques- tion of whether an interrogator should lie in order to extract information from a prisoner). It is clear that Sir Isaiah's educational prac- tice was at war with his theories. In seeking to make things clear he used a practical problem, but he did not think practical problems worthy of inclusion in his list of different kinds of problems. I believe most people come to scientific and formal prob- lems, as well as philosophical ones, through their concern with practical or engineering problems. They come to be interested in these other kinds of problems through their desire to solve practical ones. And they learn in the areas of these other kinds of problems so much the better if they come to them through trying to solve a practical problem which concerns them deeply. But they find academics uninterested in this.

    Let me give another example of what I mean. In order to be an engineer in England you have to be certified as such, after a period of practice, by one of the engineering institutions. In order to qualify for such a certificate you have to take an engineering degree in a university or polytechnic. In order to do that degree you usually have to have studied physics at A level. In order to study physics at A level you have to have studied mathematics at level. I do not regard this as a plausible way of producing a decent engineer or of teaching anybody mathematics or physics. It would be pre- ! ferable in my view if aspiring engineers were faced directly with the problems of engineer- ing. They would find no difficulty in recognizing the value of the mathematics and physics they needed and would have the incentive, denied them by the other method, of learning it.


    FEBRUARY 1979

    What, then, are the consequences of the logic of learning and of discovery for the practice of education ? I believe them to be shattering. In the first place, what is impor- tant is not a particular fact of even a particu- lar ordered collection of facts, but method. It is method rather than information which gives mastery, and it is method which must be the chief business of education. Nor is there any need to insist upon a particular field of human interest in which scientific method can be understood : an educator can use any interest of the student as a vehicle.

    Second, it is clear that existing subject disciplines are ways of organizing knowledge from particular points of view. They were so organized to solve the problems of their practitioners. But these problems may no longer actually be those even of existing practitioners, let alone those of students and potential students. The presentation of knowledge as bodies of organized facts is a way of ensuring its unhelpfulness to most people.

    Third, the provisional nature of know- ledge suggests caution in regarding educa- tion as involving the accumulation of it. This is recognized increasingly as educators and their students find that it is possible, indeed normal, for the knowledge painfully acquired to become quickly out of date. Unfortunately the educators' solution is to offer refresher' or 'up-dating' courses, so that the students can have their obsolete knowledge replaced by some more - which will itself become obsolete in turn. There can be no sense in this process.

    Fourth, since criticism is of the essence of the method, education must offer oppor- tunities for students to be critical and to use criticism. It cannot, even (indeed especially) for the sake of instruction, ask the students to accept the greater knowledge, experience, wisdom of the teacher.

    This implies, fifth, that it is the students who must take the initiative in planning their own education. There can be little justification for the prior imposition of curricula and syllabuses. Such curricula must necessarily presuppose purposes which may not be the students'.

    Sixth, in testing the efficacy of the educa- tion provided we shall need to examine what it is the student can do, rather than what he knows. The latter always was a somewhat arbitrary proceeding, since even if the most successful undergraduate were to know all that an undergraduate could know - his

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    knowledge would still be infinitesimal. Since we can know so little (and since what we know is provisional) we can at least learn how to do something - and what we can most sensibly do is tackle our own problems.

    Most important, perhaps, this view of education cannot exclude people, on the ground that they do not know enough, or have not had so many years' previous educa- tion, or do not show an aptitude for a sub- ject. These educational arrogances have a place only in a superseded view of know- ledge.

    We are in short face to face with the chance of a creative revolution in education. For almost all its history and in almost every place education has tended towards the autonomous and the litist. It has done so for what have been thought to be good 'educational' reasons. It is now clear that these reasons are not good : there is nothing to prevent education tending towards service and towards accommodating everyone. It can do so by accepting the logic of learning: by organizing education explicitly round the formulation of problems, the proposal of solutions and the testing of these solutions.

    There remains the question of whether it can be done. As I have hinted earlier there is hope in the practice of educators which often mitigates entrenched theory and organiza- tion. If we are to make progress we must boldly challenge academics and educators on their own ground, make them explain and defend the implicit theory which lies behind their organization and practice. And we must expose that theory where it is false. I also want tentatively to claim that in the School for Independent Study at North East London Polytechnic we have shown that the organization of learning along the lines I have described is a practical possibility. The School offers programmes leading to a dip- loma of higher education and a degree. The method in each case is by independent study. In other words, we ask students themselves to plan their own programmes of higher education, not by choosing as in a cafeteria, from existing courses, modules, units or other packages, but by thinking seriously about themselves, their futures and what an educational programme might do for them. We ask them to consider, when they arrive, what are the qualities, skills, knowledge and ex- perience which they bring to the programme at the beginning. We ask them to say, tenta- tively at first for planning purposes, where they wish to be at the end of the programme

    and we encourage them to consider the prob- lem of getting from where they are to where they want to be. The educational programme they then devise, with our help, is the edu- cational solution to this problem.

    Of course our experience is limited. We have been operating the programme only since 1974 and with an intake of 100 students a year. But we have taken on most of the organizational problems that such a pro- gramme creates. We have, for example, convinced the Council for National Acade- mic Awards that they should validate the diploma and the degree so that the qualifica- tions of our students have the same national standing as those of any other degree or diploma course. We have been able to give our students access to the accumulated knowledge and skills of our colleagues in the Polytechnic through a system of individual tuition and specialist interest. We have begun to see what should be the rle of a personal tutor in such a programme of higher education. And we have managed to incorporate into the students' experience the kind of collaboration with peers which is absent in most other courses.

    There are times when I am encouraged to think that what we have done in the School represents the beginnings of the revolution in education that I believe to be needed. But even in my least euphoric moments I am convinced that what we have done shows that the education service does not have to be trapped in its present impotence and irrelevance. I have no doubt that what we have tried to do could be done better (though it has not been done better yet). I hope that you are convinced that it has to be done better if education is not to remain a permanent disappointment.

    NOTE I am very grateful to the Governors and Director of the North East London Poly- technic for the opportunity to think through and practise the ideas in this lecture and to my colleagues, especially John Pratt, Derek Robbins and John Stephenson, for their consistent creati venes s and criticism.

    REFERENCES i . Young School Leavers , Report of an Enquiry carried out for the Schools Council by the Government Social Sur- vey , Schools Council Enquiry 1. HMSO. 1968. 2. Education Values and Society: The Objectives of Education and the Nature and Development of Com- petence , John Raven. H. K. Lewis. 1977. 3. A good summary of the results of such inquiries is in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education , Ruth Beard, Penguin, 1970. 4. This was the almost unanimous view, for example, of I those employers whom my colleagues and I consulted


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    on our proposal to create a new course leading to a Diploma of Higher Education (see later). 5. 'Learning to Some Purpose', Patrick Nuttgens, Higher Education Review, Summer 1978. 6. Education After School , Tyrrell Burgess, Gollancz and Penguin, 1977. 7. Priorities for Action: Final Report of the Carnegie Commissionion Higher Education , McGraw-Hill, 1973.

    ! 8. Innovation in Higher Education: Technical Education in the United Kingdom , Tyrrell Burgess and John Pratt, I OECD, 1971. I 9. Unended Quest: An Intellectual Autobiography , Karl R. Popper, Fontana, 1976. 10. The Logic of Scientific Discovery , Karl K. Popper, Hutchinson, 1959. I il. Men of Ideas, ed. Bryan Magee, BBC, 1978.

    DISCUSSION The Chairman: Mr. Burgess would like to have several questions posed and he will then try to deal with them together.

    Mr. T. DodDj td, ma (Staff Inspector, ILEA) : I wonder if Mr. Burgess would articulate a little more on the rle of the teacher in such a programme.

    A Member of the Audience: I was once given a practical soldier's problem: how to get completely underfed recruits into fighting trim, able to look after themselves in the North African desert. I followed a very simple process. First, I taught them how to look after them- selves. Lesson number two was how to look after their vehicles, their weapons and all their equipment. Lesson number three was how to use them. The result was considerable confusion in the army, no sickness after the first three months, no accidents, and the test came in the desert: in ten thousand miles, a loss of two vehicles out of 120. There was an inquiry as to why there was so little sickness and so few accidents.

    Mrs. Phyllis Hansford-Miller, blitt: In my early training the first thing we were taught was that the word 'education' derived from a Latin root which meant to bring up a child, to train a child, a way of life. I think that the word 'education' in this country has become the most abused word in the English language; it covers a whole range of things which I am sure it is not meant to. The last speaker made me think that its meaning is the ability to draw out of a person all that can be drawn out of them, the skills that they may have, the ability to apply themselves and this sort of thing, and I think that if we have gone wrong in this country it is that we have given to the word attributes that are not supposed to be there. We need training in technical things, but we first of all need to be able to use our skills and natural ability.

    The Chairman: Perhaps Mr. Burgess would like to add to his debt to us by explaining the difference between educare and educere. As a lapsed Latin scholar I seem to remember that there is no solution to that problem.

    Miss Nancy Foy (Oxford Centre for Management Studies) : At what point in a child's development could he shift to this self-managed learning ?

    Professor Bruce Archer, cbe (Royal College of Art) : The speaker knows that there is a substantial movement in the educational world,


    started mainly by teachers of practical subjects, for precisely the reason which he has described, with precisely the sorts of effects that he has described, except that it is not usually called engineering, it is usually called design. The Design Education movement, which has all the characteristics which he described, has the im- portant quality of having grown spontaneously from the bottom upwards rather than from the top downwards, started by secondary school teachers, and essentially based on practical activity. It would be very interesting to hear how Mr. Burgess sees the connection between them. I think the bottom-upwards movement has not yet made a significant impact at tertiary level.

    The Lecturer: I regard the question about the point in a child's life when I would shift him over to self-managed learning as a rather imper- tinent one. A child is self-managing his learning long before we get to grips with him. We do not need to 'shift' him. The child is normally doing very well, and all we need to do is to make clear the status of what he is doing and give him confidence.

    This leads us directly to the rle of the teacher. The teacher- and this includes parents- has a number of rles. The first is to give con- fidence. It is immensely important to give people confidence, to stop them thinking of themselves as having failed or as being in some way described by their four 'O' Levels, with not very good grades, or their not getting any 'O' Levels at all. These are not descriptions of individuals : they are vulgar classification. So the creation of confidence is, I am sure, an essential task of the teacher. Take something very simple, like riding a bicycle : nobody has ever been taught to ride a bicycle. The only thing you need is the con- fidence to do it.

    The second rle for a parent or a teacher is to try to give the young and inexperienced, who cannot possibly know all the things that there are, access to what there is. It may be very simple, like access to a bicycle, but it may be rather complicated, like access to the history of the human race. The important point, however, is not to insist on giving access before it is required, on presenting cut and dried solutions. That is too frequently done. What we have tried to do in our programmes is to make a way by which our students can have access to every member of staff of the Polytechnic untrammelled by the academic bureaucracy. That is quite hard and we fail quite frequently, but the attempt is made and it can be done.

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  • FEBRUARY 1979

    The third rle is to offer serious criticism of what is done. If your relationship with students is right that will not demolish confidence. A student's confidence is sapped, rather, by being assured that all is well and then gradually getting the feeling that all is really not well, that you are being kind, that you are letting him off.

    The last point that I think I need to take up here is that of design education 'from the bottom upwards'. The trouble with bottom-up move- ments is that they are vulnerable to vulgar imposition from above. I think, for example, of all the moves towards national assessment of performance, national tests, national determina- tion of the curriculum, the rationalization of 'O' Level and CSE, all of which will help to destroy the kinds of things that Professor Archer has described. They are the reverse of educative. No hope is possible with a national determination of standards.

    Mr. Harry Barrington (Lever Brothers Limited) : I am a bit worried about the bicycle- riding example. It seems to me that a process of learning which involves mapping out the route from A to B, or indeed engineering a solution to a problem, usually involves more than one person. It is usually a group activity ; that is the significant point. It also seems to me that inherent in the solutions that are posed there is usually something to do with commitment from other people. I wonder really whether the logic of what you are saying is that at the higher levels, and perhaps not only at the higher levels, more and more one should be trying to generate group learning as opposed to individual learning - or at least aim at ensuring that some part of the formal programme demands participating in a group learning event.

    The Lecturer: I agree. We insist on two things in our DipHE programme. One of them is that the student should demonstrate that he is competent as an individual and the other that he is competent as a member of a group. I did not mention that earlier because it is not essential to the logic of what I was talking about. But I agree with you that it is essential to the improve- ment of education. Exactly the opposite takes place now: students are encouraged throughout their school and university lives to regard education as not only individual but competitive, to think that the important thing is to beat other people individually.

    Dr. Frank Hansford-Miller, msc: May I begin by saying that I agree with one of the earlier statements of the speaker as to our lack-lustre performance as a nation. I think we ought to consider this point because education cannot be considered in isolation from our national economic decline.

    I should like to get Mr. Burgess's views if possible on the place of mathematics in the educational spectrum. If you go back to 1959,


    the Southampton Mathematics Conference, Professor Thwaites and others at that time stressed the importance of mathematics and the shortage of mathematics teachers, but nothing was done. I was head of a mathematics depart- ment at a comprehensive school for many years, and recall how about 1964-65, when we had excellent courses in mechanics and applied mathematics, the Schools Council out of the blue abolished the GCE 'O' Level courses in these subjects, which I had found very success- ful, and so did the boys and girls.

    The Government has set up a committee of inquiry into the teaching of mathematics in schools and there is not a single teacher from a comprehensive school nor from an infant school on that committee. I protested about this and The Times published my letter. The people on the committee seem to be completely out of touch with the situation in schools.

    Joyce Trotman: I run what I call, humorously, a casualty department in a compre- hensive school. The children arrive not knowing how to read. The speaker has told of his students arriving at the polytechnic. Where do all these students come from? How do they get there? What examinations do they pass? And when they have got to polytechnics and to universities, what happens to all the others who are left behind who have no polytechnics to go to, no universities to go to ? I am going to the careers officer every day this week. My class of twenty- five has now dwindled to ten, because I say 'Where have you been?' and they say I have been to look for a job, Miss, I want a part-time job and I don't know what to do'. These are the ones I want somebody to listen to and to talk about, because they also have to make their contribution to the economics of this country. Who thinks of those without certificates ?

    The Lecturer: Let me answer your point about our students in the School for Independent Study. We managed to persuade the Council for National Academic Awards that their regula- tions did allow a qualification called 'maturity' as a normal entry qualification. We also managed to persuade them that mature meant 'twenty- one'. So something like two thirds of the students on our diploma programme are people who do not have the 'A' Level entry requirements for universities or polytechnics. What they have is age. When they come to us as applicants, we try very hard, although I do not think we always succeed, to get them to interview us rather than vice-versa. And we try to get them to say why it is that they think this particular course might offer some solution to their problem. If they have definite goals for which another solution would be apt, we suggest they look elsewhere. But we do not insist upon the usual 'A' level university entry requirements.

    The experience suggests that some people who have been out of education for a long time


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    are more vulnerable in terms of staying the course than those who are used to education. But of those who reach the end of the course there is no difference between those who have and those who do not have the normal university entry requirements. So I think we are trying to do the kind of thing Miss Trotman wants of us. I believe that this sort of thing ought to be done in schools. I see no difficulty: the current staff/ student ratios in schools are not insufficient. If any group of teachers were to start in any school to produce a programme - not our programme - based on the principles that I have been discuss- ing, I do not believe that it could fail. The trouble would be dragging down the external recognition from an external board as we did with the CNAA, so that you were not fobbing the students off with less than the available qualifications. That is the problem, and it will be made more difficult if there are the new joint GCE-CSE Boards.

    On mathematics I fear that mathematicians on the whole have been content to see the subject as a formal system, and teach it in terms of its being a closed formal system. It is not offered to most children, and is not offered in most uni- versities, as being part of a solution to practical problems. I believe that the professional mathe- maticians of this country have a very large responsibility for that.

    Professor John Heath: I understand the background to this series is Britain's relative position compared with some other countries, in which we seem not to have done as well as many people thought we ought to have done. Is it being said, therefore, that this approach is what the other countries have really been doing all the time, and that if we now adopt it we shall catch up with them ? Or is what is being said that we should now adopt this approach to education, no matter what other countries are doing or have done - that this is right for us ?

    The Lecturer: I think the latter. There were all kinds of questions, after the two previous lectures, about why the British were so jolly bad at everything. My own answer is that it is because of our virtues. One's problems always stem from one's virtues; one's vices very rarely create problems. The virtues of this country are a certain individualism and a disrespect for cen- tralized solutions. We say that the way to com- petence as a society is through the competence of individuals. And there is no way of making individuals competent by teaching, particularly by central direction. I think that in British education at the moment we are at something of a crossroads. There are growing pressures to give us a kind of third-rate Napoleonic educa- tion system, by centralizing examinations, by centralizing assessment of performance, by centralizing initiative. It will not work because nobody is actually going to accept it. We have a law even now that every single school must



    begin every single day with a collective act of worship and that it must give religious instruc- tion according to an agreed syllabus. There is scarcely a school in the country where that law is obeyed, because it offends against our con- victions, just like all the other centralizing tendencies. I think that we should take our virtues for granted and act upon them.

    Mr. G. M. Richardson (ICFC NUMAS): We are talking about education for capability, and I must say I like the proposition put forward by Mr. Tyrrell, that if one can encourage people to learn how to move from A to that in itself is an aid to capability. Could Mr. Burgess give us some indication of what the students so far feel they need from this experience; whether there is any pattern emerging in the particular things that they have asked to deal with in their move from A to ?

    The Lecturer: The fairest answer is no: they all have individual goals. In terms of the traditional divisions of knowledge, they fit rather more into the arts and social sciences than into, say, engineering. People have individual goals and their roots are astonishingly diverse.

    Mr. S. L. Bragg (Brunei University): When we have a system in which everybody is choosing their own goals (and I think that this is an excellent idea) what are we going to do about accreditation ?

    The Lecturer: You do it by negotiation. Certainly society has an interest in seeing that brain surgeons, for example, are competent. This means that what you have to have is an accredit- ing body which is able to cope with individual proposals. When we in the School went to the CNAA we had to say to them 'We are not going to give you what everybody else gives you - a syllabus and a list of staff available, apart from the polytechnic as a whole, and a reading list and all these kinds of things that people usually have when they go to the Council for validation - and you will want to have some assurance that what we are doing is reasonable. What we propose to you is an external validating board, that is a body of people external to the polytechnic who will have access to every student programme and who will validate that programme.' That was a bit of an expedient when we first thought of it, as a way of satisfying the Council. It turned out to be much more than an expedient. It is clear now that it makes an immense difference to students to know that after six weeks they are going to have their programme validated by an external board, whose chairman, incidentally, is Sir Toby Weaver. It makes a great difference to a student to discover that he has been able to defend himself and his programme of study in front of a group of people of that kind, external to the polytechnic, noted and notable in their own fields, bringing with them the right kind of authority. It utterly changes the way in which

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  • FEBRUARY 1979

    the students regard their proposals. It has turned out to be one of the most creative expedients that we dreamed up.

    The general point is not that any student can do anything: he has to convince independent people that his programme is worthwhile and that he is not just 'doing his own thing'. There is nothing of 'doing your own thing', I assure you, in the School for Independent Study : that illusion is shattered within a day.

    Mrs. Eira Norris: There is a point I should like to make on the problem of criticism. Mr. Burgess said that when a child learns to ride a bicycle someone should be around to give confidence, criticize and show the correct way of doing this thing. I suggest that your structure depends on the underlying structure of the poly- technic, where you have already got disciplines in set areas as an addition to the polytechnic. I do not see how the whole of education could run into that scheme if everyone then undid the disciplines that now exist.

    The Lecturer: Who is talking about un- doing a discipline? What would that entail, undoing a discipline ? Physics does not disappear just because there is not an academic bureaucracy.

    You need an institution because the students need somewhere to come to, and they have to sign on so that they can get grants. Well, we offer that. But the question is, what else is it for ? What you need are people - students and staff. If there is an individual student who wants to pursue an interest of his own which happens to match that of an existing member of staff, the thing works regardless of the fact that no specific course is offered. You do not depend on the bureaucracy for doing it. In fact many of the most fruitful relationships that our students have with other people in the polytechnics arise because staff find that they have talents and interests not used by their departments. Our students give them a chance to pursue those other interests which they are prevented from doing by the academic bureaucracy.

    The Chairman: I think you have only half-answered the question I believe the ques- tion was, however legitimate it is to organize knowledge by reference to subject disciplines (and that is the way not only scholarly institu- tions but also educational institutions are now organized), how does one conceive a reorganiza- tion of knowledge, because you have not tonight entirely demolished knowledge? How do you organize, say, a complete polytechnic where you have a thousand teachers, competence givers, access makers and criticizers, how do you organize them into groups so that the students know who to go to for what? Is that the question ?

    Mrs Eira Norris: Yes.

    education for capability - III

    The Lecturer: I think that the question is trapped in the existing position. Let us, instead, think from the beginning - what have we got? Bunches of students, who are at the moment sitting particular courses. Now I have failed in a long lifetime in academic circles to understand why there needs to be any organiza- tion apart from the organization of the course. I do not understand what a head of department does, or a dean of faculty, or an assistant director. I do not see what the organization is for. What you have are people pursuing interests, the staff in their disciplines, the students in courses. I think it would be better if they were not organized like that. But if there are courses, they do not need to be grouped. One does not need to say 'all this is physics' or 'all this is - '. Once these groups get big enough you have to keep changing them about because things shift. Where is civil engineering ? Is it environmental studies along with architecture or is it engineer- ing along with electrical engineering ? And does it matter? One does not have to organize an institution like that and one had far better not.

    Mrs. Eira Norris: How do you become an authority and criticize ?

    The Lecturer: You do not need authority to criticize. Any one of us can criticize and it is right that we should. If you are a teacher your right to criticize a student derives from your right as a human being, not from any authority.

    Mrs. Eira Norris: You do not accept that subjects should be transferred to children ?

    The Lecturer: I do not regard learning as being the transfer of anything to children. No.

    Joyce Trotman: How does a child learn to read then ?

    The Lecturer: By opening a book.

    Joyce Trotman: I have got the casualties who have 'learned' by opening a book. They go right up to sixteen.

    The Lecturer: They come to you after a lifetime of teaching. That is what is wrong. They are taught. There is no school in the country which does what I am advocating. They come to you taught up to the eyebrows and illiterate to boot.

    The Chairman: Now may I on your behalf thank Tyrrell Burgess for what, to judge from your eyes and faces, you have found to be an extraordinarily challenging lecture. This move- ment must be called scherzo animato con amore.

    The meeting concluded with the usual demon- strations of appreciation.


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    Article Contentsp. 143p. 144p. 145p. 146p. 147p. 148p. 149p. 150p. 151p. 152p. 153p. 154p. 155p. 156p. 157

    Issue Table of ContentsJournal of the Royal Society of Arts, Vol. 127, No. 5271 (FEBRUARY 1979), pp. 111-184NOTICES OF THE SOCIETY [pp. 111-116]EDUCATION FOR CAPABILITYI. TECHNOLOGY, EDUCATION AND INDUSTRIAL AND ECONOMIC STRENGTH [pp. 117-130]II. THE CHALLENGE OF INDUSTRIAL SOCIETY [pp. 131-142]III. NEW WAYS TO LEARN [pp. 143-157]

    DISEASE IN WILD ANIMALS AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE FOR MAN AND HIS ENVIRONMENT [pp. 158-172]GENERAL NOTES [pp. 173-179]OBITUARY [pp. 180-180]NOTES ON BOOKSReview: untitled [pp. 181-181]Review: untitled [pp. 181-182]Review: untitled [pp. 182-182]

    FROM THE JOURNAL OF 1879 [pp. 183-183]Back Matter