The Qatar Education Conference

Jun 19, 2011 by

The Qatar Education Conference, London, 7th-8th June.

A report by our British and Foreign Correspondent

Colin Hannaford

Part One

 

Qatar deserves our respect. Qatar also requires our understanding and support.

These were my conclusions after attending a conference last week for the Qatar Foundation, organised in London by European Business Television.

I was not immediately ready to be respectful, understanding, or supportive.

It would have been easy to believe that this conference was yet another cosmetic operation by a rich Arab state to attract Western expertise solely for its own benefit.

It is harder to see it as part of a determined strategy to restore to Arab and Islamic scholars the attention and respect that they once famously enjoyed.

After the final speeches by Professor Sheikha Al-Misnad, the President of Qatar University, and by the Vice-President for Academic Affairs, Dr Sheikha Al Thani, the conference chairman, Mr Adam Lomas, Director of Learning and Research at the Qatar Finance and Business Academy, asked for comments from the audience.

Overcoming, with a struggle, my natural diffidence, I accepted a microphone.

During this conference,” I remarked, “many of us have been surprised to be reminded how small Qatar is: just one hundred miles from top to bottom, never more than 40 miles wide. This country – known to most of you as England – is also a small country. On many maps of the world it is actually hard to find. And yet, because of confidence in its leaders – one of the greatest of whom, incidentally, was a woman – England has had great influence in the world. With similar confidence in itself and in its leaders, I believe that Qatar can have great influence in the world. I wish it well.”
It had been a surprise to me to be invited. In 2009 I had organised a conference for the Qatar Foundation in St George’s House in Windsor Castle called
‘Giving Peace a Voice’. This had taken me two years’ hard and unpaid work to set it up and it was supported by six international university professors. Its aim was to show that children and students can learn, and can also practice, critical, constructive, and, above all, receptive discourse in their mathematics lessons.

This habit of passionate but cheerful exchange of opinions and ideas is, of course, the basis of effective democracy. Known globally, this approach to mathematics education could give many millions of young people a voice of peace.

My colleagues and I believed our efforts to be well-received, and in my final report I therefore proposed that the Foundation announce its creation of a training course for practising and student mathematics teachers, preparing them to teach their subject as democratic education. I suggested that this course could be offered by Qatar to students from anywhere in the world.

Many find the connection between mathematics and democracy very odd: even bizarre. What, they ask, has either to do with the other? To others it may be all too clear, and unwelcome. I once had an important British mathematics professor push his face intimidatingly close to mine to hiss: “You keep your politics out of our mathematics.”

The history behind it is both simple and is rarely known, except by classical historians. They know that the first forms of what we now commonly call mathematical argument were developed by Athenian Greeks over two thousand years ago. In general, these forms consist of selected evidence, its connection, a conclusion: and nothing more. They were developed for people with little time for lengthy perorations. They provided such people: the farmers and shopkeepers; the tradesmen, the merchants, and semi-skilled workers like Socrates, the stone carver, with the confidence and ability to succeed in democratic debate.

In 1999 after New Scientist published an article of mine, its editor commented, with approval: ‘Mathematics teaching can hardly be said to be politically neutral.’

In that same year The Times Educational Supplement commented: ‘Colin Hannaford argues that teaching methods based on Ancient Greece can turn automatons into thinkers and even good citizens’.

And in that same year, the UK National Literacy Trust noted especially that these methods will greatly improve the articulacy and the confidence of young people, especially adolescent boys.

In 2009 my final report was officially accepted by the Foundation.

And, then?

Nada, nothing, nichts, not a dicky bird (Cockney slang: dicky-bird, word). It might have dropped into a black hole.

Swimming against the tide is hard work.

Now, two years later, in part due to the persistence of my revered editor-in-chief, Mr James ‘Jimmy’ Kilpatrick, I am invited to this London conference: not only as EducationNews’ British and Foreign boy reporter; but in the conference literature there is applause my memoir, ‘473959’, as offering a ‘unique practical solution to making peace between religions in our time’.

Just a few years ago, the government of Qatar was clearly also swimming against the tide. It was attracting hard stares from its neighbours. Its creation of Al Jazeera, with a brief to “give voice to untold stories, promote debate, and challenge established perceptions” even attracted the ire of then government of the United States.

But the Arab Spring has shown that that the tide has truly turned. The question now is how to help millions struggling to make sense of a world in which freedom, replacing tyranny, makes them responsible for their present and their future?

As one of the richest nations in the world, Qatar aims to become ‘one of the world’s most effective knowledge-driven societies’ whilst it also continues to assert its Islamic identity. Those hundreds of millions also require its example.

My book suggests that obedience to the will of God means offering friendship through peaceful, honest, sincere discourse. If understood in this way, Islam is global already. Its new name is Science; and we can teach children everywhere the peaceful, honest, sincere discourse that science requires: through their mathematics lessons.

In her speech Professor Sheikha Al-Misnad asked that we all be prepared to address our education problems fairly. I had noticed the headline of a major London newspaper, the Evening Standard, on the previous evening and I brought a copy of it to the conference. When I was invited to speak, I held the paper up for the audience to see. “It is no longer possible,” I explained, “to expect other countries to learn from us, when we are failing to teach our own children to read and write. This paper is asking adult Londoners to enter London schools to help children learn to read.”

I read from its pages: “‘In London one in four children aged 11 cannot read or write properly.’ ‘One in three children starts secondary school with a reading age between seven and nine.’ ‘One in five leaves school unable to read and write confidently.’ ‘One in six adults in London cannot read.’ ‘Four in 10 London firms say that their employees have poor literacy skills, with a negative impact on their business.’ “1

Then I put it aside. “These are the problems that our British schools have: and which they clearly do not know how solve.”

Notable amongst many remarkable presentations, the most sobering assessment of the problems confronted both by Qatar and its neighbours was given by Dr Wes Harry, of Oxford Strategic Consulting. In a careful and undramatic manner, Dr Harry explained the magnitude of the challenge: the Gulf States have a combined population of around 30 million; this population is increasing by 6 million per year; the World Bank estimates that 40 percent are less than 14 years of age. Four years previously, in a lengthy analysis for his own Institute, Dr Harry wrote:

For the region to move from dependence on fluctuating oil and gas markets, the decline in labour productivity must be reversed. Citizens must be educated to work with technical resources and modern management systems. There must be a systematic reduction in reliance on low skilled foreign workers, whose role is to aid consumption and leisure time for citizens, even if this means that families must do without their domestic helpers and drivers and for office workers to make their own tea. After all, Islam encourages productive work by each individual, rather than reliance upon others.2

Towards the end of the first afternoon I was invited to take part in a panel discussion on ‘Proven Assessment Techniques’. Chaired by Jason Gregory, of Pearson Learning Solutions, my co-panellists were David Lock, Director of the Leadership Foundation, and Aaron Fright, of Smart Technology.

I have never had much faith in any of the known ‘proven assessment techniques’. By this time our audience was tired. The time available to our panel had also been eroded: from twenty to ten minutes each. I needed to wake everyone up.

From the kind lady at the McGraw-Hill display I borrowed an advanced maths textbook, dashed into the main hotel’s business centre and made thirty copies. I gave these to thirty members of the audience, and asked them to play the part of a class of twelve year-olds.

This text,” I bawled at the audience as a whole, “explains a notoriously difficult part of mathematics called Al-Gebra. Al-Gebra was the invention of a famous Arab mathematician called Al-Korizmi. It means ‘the general way’. This text explains how it works. Will you, madam,’ pointing to an apprehensive lady in the front row, ‘please read – aloud – the first line.”

The lady begins: “An algebraic expression …”

Stop!” She looked up, startled.

Thank you,” I congratulate hereffusively, “Well done!”

Then I address the others in her class, who had all just begun to relax. “Will someone explain what does ‘an algebraic expression’ mean?”

Consternation. Another lady holds up a hand: ‘Don’t ask me!’

Well, come on! I have just told you that Al-Gebra was invented by a gentleman called Al-Korizmi, and that it means the general way. Will you, sir, please read that line again.” He does so, but goes further: “An algebraic expression contains symbols in place of numbers.”

Excellent. Good. And can you, sir, tell us what you think this means?”

My new victim is clearly a man of some importance, as, indeed, is everyone here. He shakes his head. I point him out to the others. “You see, he doesn’t know – and he’s very intelligent!” The others offered him a ripple of sympathy. “I don’t mind if you don’t know. In fact, I expect you not to know all at once. But this is just a sentence in plain English. It must mean something. If we think about it together, we must be able to work out what it means. What, for example, are ‘symbols?

Several rows from the front a very relaxed gentleman volunteered: “Cymbals are those big metal discs rock band use to make loud noise.”

Every class has a smart-aleck. Here is mine.

Very clever,” I thank him. I must remember to ask him a question next. “But in this case: wrong. A symbol is just a sign. A smiley-face is a symbol. It stands for being happy. In algebra what do the symbols stand for?”

Already I have used over half my allotted time. I press on at breakneck pace to explain how this practice in their classroom enlists the same competitiveness that children usually use aggressively against each other: this time it is being used instead to find the best explanation to benefit them all. This was why I had insisted a few weeks previously at a conference in Lisbon for the EU Joint Research Centre that mathematics education should be understood to be a social activity.

I was now risking my fellow panellists’ impatience. We were expected to speak about proven assessment techniques. An equally remarkable consequence of this practice, I explained, is that after a few months, and if asked, the students will provide private assessments of their own performance almost exactly the same – although often less generous – as their teacher’s. Once the need for pretence is removed, children are perfectly able, and willing, to judge their progress for themselves.

Concluding, I urged my audience to take a copy of my book to read of the damage done to our Western societies by the attempt to stuff children’s minds like the crops of geese being force-fed to produce foie de gras: the result – I mean, of course, for the geese – being that they can waddle, never fly. As I bow to their applause, there appears at the back of my mind the private thought, never to be uttered: ‘Jimmy really should pay me for this.’

The two-day conference was organised superbly by the ETV team. The majority of the speeches and exhibitions were perfectly paced, and were invariably fascinating. One of the most memorable was that by ASPIRE, Qatar’s world-class institution of educational sports. It was described by its Directors, Mr Wayde Clews and Dr Dennis Hatcher.

They explained that their academy is giving wings to hundreds of young Qataris. There is no lack of volunteers. Many of these youngsters obviously see themselves as achieving world fame as team players or individual athletes. Of course, on the way to achieving their ambitions, they will also become proficient in teaching competitive sports themselves.

Other presentations of interest were by publishers of classroom textbooks, and also by manufacturers of educational computer hardware and programmes.

Throughout all these lectures and presentations, however, I found myself constantly reminded – as by the rumble of a not-so distant storm – of those terrifying statistics in Dr Harry’s report. There is also this from his paper:

[T]he focus of education in the GCC has not been on producing needed skills and attitudes, while the wealth brought from oil and gas has not encouraged a productive work ethic of the type claimed by the Asian ‘tiger’ economies. In Arab countries … the raised expectations and consequent frustration of highly educated but unemployable young people is a threat to social stability.3

In his final paragraph he concludes:

The solutions will involve building a capable indigenous workforce through education and changing expectations, as well as creating new worthwhile jobs for citizens.

A major advantage of military training is not only that it teaches how to polish boots to satisfy the sergeant-major. It also teaches one to examine one’s weaknesses, to see how they may be turned to strengths.

To demonstrate this, I will describe some British weaknesses. This will be as unpopular with British loyalists, who will think such admissions unpatriotic, as it will with those who believe that the future will sort itself out. Since I believe in action, rather than sentiment, I also believe that ruthlessness in observation is essential if action is to succeed. I shall try not to exaggerate unduly.

There was a time when every year British schools supplied what the British Empire and industries required: thousands of obedient new managers, hundreds of thousands of obedient new workers. They supported millions of families.

It was considered shameful not to be employed. The workless were sent to the workhouse. Having abandoned his family, my father’s father died there.

Our industrial base in Britain has shrunk to such a degree that the majority of new jobs are now in the financial services, the government, and other ‘soft’ industries. Many senior managers award grotesque salaries to themselves: as do our bankers.

The attempts of successive governments to make school education appear more successful have had the consequence that British undergraduates are now expected to undertake science courses without learning sufficient mathematics.

The social ideology now common in many British primary schools demands that teachers suppress ‘elitism’. I have heard an enthusiastic primary teacher explain that she allows no child in her class ‘to show that he or she is cleverer than the others’. Conversely: the general ethos in British secondary schools is still to reward the pretence of obedient understanding that I describe in my book as producing the deep social and moral divisions distorting most major Western societies.

Seeing that intellectuals in France produced a revolution, then a terror; then fomented yet another revolution in America, intellectuals in England have always been treated with serious suspicion. This may explain why many lecturers in our world-class universities still earn less than they might as shop-managers.

And since physical skills are clearly rewarded far more than thinking, the ambition of many boys is to earn millions at football; or, failing that, to become a pop star. For girls it is to become any other kind of ‘celebrity’. Thinking is so past.

The workhouses have closed. Successive British governments have created in their place a welfare system that is so supportive that many no longer want work.4Other recent governments have bought too many inessential workers for their expected political support. The value of average incomes is falling.

The British no longer believe that the future will sort itself out. Their confidence has been further eroded by the presence of large numbers of invited immigrants: often prepared to work for low wages; often with very different loyalties.

Once an unashamedly xenophobic, fiercely proud society, Britain is now divided, unhappy, and uncertain.

In my next article, I shall explain how some of these weaknesses may be turned into strengths.

Colin Hannaford,

Oxford, 16th June 2011.
(ed:dav.)

1 Evening Standard, Monday 6th June.

2 Journal of Human Resource Management, Jan 2007, Harry, W, also Tayeb, 2005. (edited)

3 Landes, 1998; Al-Dosary and Rahman, 2005.

4 There are currently 352,000 British households in which no one has ever worked. Office for National Statistics survey, reported June 2011

,

London, 7th-8th June.

A report by our British and Foreign Correspondent

Colin Hannaford

Part One

 

Qatar deserves our respect. Qatar also requires our understanding and support.

These were my conclusions after attending a conference last week for the Qatar Foundation, organised in London by European Business Television.

I was not immediately ready to be respectful, understanding, or supportive.

It would have been easy to believe that this conference was yet another cosmetic operation by a rich Arab state to attract Western expertise solely for its own benefit.

It is harder to see it as part of a determined strategy to restore to Arab and Islamic scholars the attention and respect that they once famously enjoyed.

After the final speeches by Professor Sheikha Al-Misnad, the President of Qatar University, and by the Vice-President for Academic Affairs, Dr Sheikha Al Thani, the conference chairman, Mr Adam Lomas, Director of Learning and Research at the Qatar Finance and Business Academy, asked for comments from the audience.

Overcoming, with a struggle, my natural diffidence, I accepted a microphone.

During this conference,” I remarked, “many of us have been surprised to be reminded how small Qatar is: just one hundred miles from top to bottom, never more than 40 miles wide. This country – known to most of you as England – is also a small country. On many maps of the world it is actually hard to find. And yet, because of confidence in its leaders – one of the greatest of whom, incidentally, was a woman – England has had great influence in the world. With similar confidence in itself and in its leaders, I believe that Qatar can have great influence in the world. I wish it well.”
It had been a surprise to me to be invited. In 2009 I had organised a conference for the Qatar Foundation in St George’s House in Windsor Castle called
‘Giving Peace a Voice’. This had taken me two years’ hard and unpaid work to set it up and it was supported by six international university professors. Its aim was to show that children and students can learn, and can also practice, critical, constructive, and, above all, receptive discourse in their mathematics lessons.

This habit of passionate but cheerful exchange of opinions and ideas is, of course, the basis of effective democracy. Known globally, this approach to mathematics education could give many millions of young people a voice of peace.

My colleagues and I believed our efforts to be well-received, and in my final report I therefore proposed that the Foundation announce its creation of a training course for practising and student mathematics teachers, preparing them to teach their subject as democratic education. I suggested that this course could be offered by Qatar to students from anywhere in the world.

Many find the connection between mathematics and democracy very odd: even bizarre. What, they ask, has either to do with the other? To others it may be all too clear, and unwelcome. I once had an important British mathematics professor push his face intimidatingly close to mine to hiss: “You keep your politics out of our mathematics.”

The history behind it is both simple and is rarely known, except by classical historians. They know that the first forms of what we now commonly call mathematical argument were developed by Athenian Greeks over two thousand years ago. In general, these forms consist of selected evidence, its connection, a conclusion: and nothing more. They were developed for people with little time for lengthy perorations. They provided such people: the farmers and shopkeepers; the tradesmen, the merchants, and semi-skilled workers like Socrates, the stone carver, with the confidence and ability to succeed in democratic debate.

In 1999 after New Scientist published an article of mine, its editor commented, with approval: ‘Mathematics teaching can hardly be said to be politically neutral.’

In that same year The Times Educational Supplement commented: ‘Colin Hannaford argues that teaching methods based on Ancient Greece can turn automatons into thinkers and even good citizens’.

And in that same year, the UK National Literacy Trust noted especially that these methods will greatly improve the articulacy and the confidence of young people, especially adolescent boys.

In 2009 my final report was officially accepted by the Foundation.

And, then?

Nada, nothing, nichts, not a dicky bird (Cockney slang: dicky-bird, word). It might have dropped into a black hole.

Swimming against the tide is hard work.

Now, two years later, in part due to the persistence of my revered editor-in-chief, Mr James ‘Jimmy’ Kilpatrick, I am invited to this London conference: not only as EducationNews’ British and Foreign boy reporter; but in the conference literature there is applause my memoir, ‘473959’, as offering a ‘unique practical solution to making peace between religions in our time’.

Just a few years ago, the government of Qatar was clearly also swimming against the tide. It was attracting hard stares from its neighbours. Its creation of Al Jazeera, with a brief to “give voice to untold stories, promote debate, and challenge established perceptions” even attracted the ire of then government of the United States.

But the Arab Spring has shown that that the tide has truly turned. The question now is how to help millions struggling to make sense of a world in which freedom, replacing tyranny, makes them responsible for their present and their future?

As one of the richest nations in the world, Qatar aims to become ‘one of the world’s most effective knowledge-driven societies’ whilst it also continues to assert its Islamic identity. Those hundreds of millions also require its example.

My book suggests that obedience to the will of God means offering friendship through peaceful, honest, sincere discourse. If understood in this way, Islam is global already. Its new name is Science; and we can teach children everywhere the peaceful, honest, sincere discourse that science requires: through their mathematics lessons.

In her speech Professor Sheikha Al-Misnad asked that we all be prepared to address our education problems fairly. I had noticed the headline of a major London newspaper, the Evening Standard, on the previous evening and I brought a copy of it to the conference. When I was invited to speak, I held the paper up for the audience to see. “It is no longer possible,” I explained, “to expect other countries to learn from us, when we are failing to teach our own children to read and write. This paper is asking adult Londoners to enter London schools to help children learn to read.”

I read from its pages: “‘In London one in four children aged 11 cannot read or write properly.’ ‘One in three children starts secondary school with a reading age between seven and nine.’ ‘One in five leaves school unable to read and write confidently.’ ‘One in six adults in London cannot read.’ ‘Four in 10 London firms say that their employees have poor literacy skills, with a negative impact on their business.’ “1

Then I put it aside. “These are the problems that our British schools have: and which they clearly do not know how solve.”

Notable amongst many remarkable presentations, the most sobering assessment of the problems confronted both by Qatar and its neighbours was given by Dr Wes Harry, of Oxford Strategic Consulting. In a careful and undramatic manner, Dr Harry explained the magnitude of the challenge: the Gulf States have a combined population of around 30 million; this population is increasing by 6 million per year; the World Bank estimates that 40 percent are less than 14 years of age. Four years previously, in a lengthy analysis for his own Institute, Dr Harry wrote:

For the region to move from dependence on fluctuating oil and gas markets, the decline in labour productivity must be reversed. Citizens must be educated to work with technical resources and modern management systems. There must be a systematic reduction in reliance on low skilled foreign workers, whose role is to aid consumption and leisure time for citizens, even if this means that families must do without their domestic helpers and drivers and for office workers to make their own tea. After all, Islam encourages productive work by each individual, rather than reliance upon others.2

Towards the end of the first afternoon I was invited to take part in a panel discussion on ‘Proven Assessment Techniques’. Chaired by Jason Gregory, of Pearson Learning Solutions, my co-panellists were David Lock, Director of the Leadership Foundation, and Aaron Fright, of Smart Technology.

I have never had much faith in any of the known ‘proven assessment techniques’. By this time our audience was tired. The time available to our panel had also been eroded: from twenty to ten minutes each. I needed to wake everyone up.

From the kind lady at the McGraw-Hill display I borrowed an advanced maths textbook, dashed into the main hotel’s business centre and made thirty copies. I gave these to thirty members of the audience, and asked them to play the part of a class of twelve year-olds.

This text,” I bawled at the audience as a whole, “explains a notoriously difficult part of mathematics called Al-Gebra. Al-Gebra was the invention of a famous Arab mathematician called Al-Korizmi. It means ‘the general way’. This text explains how it works. Will you, madam,’ pointing to an apprehensive lady in the front row, ‘please read – aloud – the first line.”

The lady begins: “An algebraic expression …”

Stop!” She looked up, startled.

Thank you,” I congratulate hereffusively, “Well done!”

Then I address the others in her class, who had all just begun to relax. “Will someone explain what does ‘an algebraic expression’ mean?”

Consternation. Another lady holds up a hand: ‘Don’t ask me!’

Well, come on! I have just told you that Al-Gebra was invented by a gentleman called Al-Korizmi, and that it means the general way. Will you, sir, please read that line again.” He does so, but goes further: “An algebraic expression contains symbols in place of numbers.”

Excellent. Good. And can you, sir, tell us what you think this means?”

My new victim is clearly a man of some importance, as, indeed, is everyone here. He shakes his head. I point him out to the others. “You see, he doesn’t know – and he’s very intelligent!” The others offered him a ripple of sympathy. “I don’t mind if you don’t know. In fact, I expect you not to know all at once. But this is just a sentence in plain English. It must mean something. If we think about it together, we must be able to work out what it means. What, for example, are ‘symbols?

Several rows from the front a very relaxed gentleman volunteered: “Cymbals are those big metal discs rock band use to make loud noise.”

Every class has a smart-aleck. Here is mine.

Very clever,” I thank him. I must remember to ask him a question next. “But in this case: wrong. A symbol is just a sign. A smiley-face is a symbol. It stands for being happy. In algebra what do the symbols stand for?”

Already I have used over half my allotted time. I press on at breakneck pace to explain how this practice in their classroom enlists the same competitiveness that children usually use aggressively against each other: this time it is being used instead to find the best explanation to benefit them all. This was why I had insisted a few weeks previously at a conference in Lisbon for the EU Joint Research Centre that mathematics education should be understood to be a social activity.

I was now risking my fellow panellists’ impatience. We were expected to speak about proven assessment techniques. An equally remarkable consequence of this practice, I explained, is that after a few months, and if asked, the students will provide private assessments of their own performance almost exactly the same – although often less generous – as their teacher’s. Once the need for pretence is removed, children are perfectly able, and willing, to judge their progress for themselves.

Concluding, I urged my audience to take a copy of my book to read of the damage done to our Western societies by the attempt to stuff children’s minds like the crops of geese being force-fed to produce foie de gras: the result – I mean, of course, for the geese – being that they can waddle, never fly. As I bow to their applause, there appears at the back of my mind the private thought, never to be uttered: ‘Jimmy really should pay me for this.’

The two-day conference was organised superbly by the ETV team. The majority of the speeches and exhibitions were perfectly paced, and were invariably fascinating. One of the most memorable was that by ASPIRE, Qatar’s world-class institution of educational sports. It was described by its Directors, Mr Wayde Clews and Dr Dennis Hatcher.

They explained that their academy is giving wings to hundreds of young Qataris. There is no lack of volunteers. Many of these youngsters obviously see themselves as achieving world fame as team players or individual athletes. Of course, on the way to achieving their ambitions, they will also become proficient in teaching competitive sports themselves.

Other presentations of interest were by publishers of classroom textbooks, and also by manufacturers of educational computer hardware and programmes.

Throughout all these lectures and presentations, however, I found myself constantly reminded – as by the rumble of a not-so distant storm – of those terrifying statistics in Dr Harry’s report. There is also this from his paper:

[T]he focus of education in the GCC has not been on producing needed skills and attitudes, while the wealth brought from oil and gas has not encouraged a productive work ethic of the type claimed by the Asian ‘tiger’ economies. In Arab countries … the raised expectations and consequent frustration of highly educated but unemployable young people is a threat to social stability.3

In his final paragraph he concludes:

The solutions will involve building a capable indigenous workforce through education and changing expectations, as well as creating new worthwhile jobs for citizens.

A major advantage of military training is not only that it teaches how to polish boots to satisfy the sergeant-major. It also teaches one to examine one’s weaknesses, to see how they may be turned to strengths.

To demonstrate this, I will describe some British weaknesses. This will be as unpopular with British loyalists, who will think such admissions unpatriotic, as it will with those who believe that the future will sort itself out. Since I believe in action, rather than sentiment, I also believe that ruthlessness in observation is essential if action is to succeed. I shall try not to exaggerate unduly.

There was a time when every year British schools supplied what the British Empire and industries required: thousands of obedient new managers, hundreds of thousands of obedient new workers. They supported millions of families.

It was considered shameful not to be employed. The workless were sent to the workhouse. Having abandoned his family, my father’s father died there.

Our industrial base in Britain has shrunk to such a degree that the majority of new jobs are now in the financial services, the government, and other ‘soft’ industries. Many senior managers award grotesque salaries to themselves: as do our bankers.

The attempts of successive governments to make school education appear more successful have had the consequence that British undergraduates are now expected to undertake science courses without learning sufficient mathematics.

The social ideology now common in many British primary schools demands that teachers suppress ‘elitism’. I have heard an enthusiastic primary teacher explain that she allows no child in her class ‘to show that he or she is cleverer than the others’. Conversely: the general ethos in British secondary schools is still to reward the pretence of obedient understanding that I describe in my book as producing the deep social and moral divisions distorting most major Western societies.

Seeing that intellectuals in France produced a revolution, then a terror; then fomented yet another revolution in America, intellectuals in England have always been treated with serious suspicion. This may explain why many lecturers in our world-class universities still earn less than they might as shop-managers.

And since physical skills are clearly rewarded far more than thinking, the ambition of many boys is to earn millions at football; or, failing that, to become a pop star. For girls it is to become any other kind of ‘celebrity’. Thinking is so past.

The workhouses have closed. Successive British governments have created in their place a welfare system that is so supportive that many no longer want work.4Other recent governments have bought too many inessential workers for their expected political support. The value of average incomes is falling.

The British no longer believe that the future will sort itself out. Their confidence has been further eroded by the presence of large numbers of invited immigrants: often prepared to work for low wages; often with very different loyalties.

Once an unashamedly xenophobic, fiercely proud society, Britain is now divided, unhappy, and uncertain.

In my next article, I shall explain how some of these weaknesses may be turned into strengths.

Colin Hannaford,

Oxford, 16th June 2011.
(ed:dav.)

1 Evening Standard, Monday 6th June.

2 Journal of Human Resource Management, Jan 2007, Harry, W, also Tayeb, 2005. (edited)

3 Landes, 1998; Al-Dosary and Rahman, 2005.

4 There are currently 352,000 British households in which no one has ever worked. Office for National Statistics survey, reported June 2011

The Qatar Education Conference, London 2nd Report

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