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Keeping education shipshape

It is said that about 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by water, so it is no surprise that especially in the early years of worldwide travel, ships played a huge part, whether it was in pursuit of adventure, conquest, discovery or profit. Now there are numerous types of different ships and it is obviously important to make use of the right ship for the right occasion. After all, there is no point using a luxury yacht to carry cargo containers; there is no purpose in using a tanker to act as a life boat.

It might be an interesting diversion to consider what type of ship would serve as the best analogy for education. Does a liner convey the right meaning, carrying many people to far-off exciting, pleasing destinations? Is an aircraft carrier in fact better, where those aboard are prepared for anything, attack or defence; air, land or sea; strong and resilient? Or are schools actually lifeboats, sent out to save the struggling youngsters from the dangers of the environment and bring them home safely?

There is, however, a particular ship that has special significance for education – scholarship. Such investment is in individuals and we do well to understand and accept that scholarships are valuable, not purely in monetary terms. They can be an enormous help to youngsters and their families; they can help a child go places they could not normally have considered.

Historically, scholarships were awarded for academic pupils. Only a certain amount of scholarships would be awarded, based on how pupils performed in a special scholarship examination. Many independent schools offer scholarships to children from less-advantaged homes who have strong academic potential. Increasingly, however, schools are also offering scholarships to pupils who have great potential in sport and music, as great careers can also follow from such areas of expertise.

It may be argued that scholarships are not awarded appropriately, are given to the wrong people. In the first instance, if the child is already at the school and the parents of the pupil can afford the school’s fees, why should they be given financial assistance? Could the scholarship not be used to spread opportunities to others? Many would benefit then, not simply those who are already advantaged. Secondly, it might be argued that if the child is indeed very talented, then he has less need for such specialised input; such children will flourish in whatever school they go to but the weaker children are in much more need of the individual assistance and attention that schools which offer scholarships can provide – so why do we not give scholarships to the weak? If we gave scholarships to the weak (but willing) pupils then we will double the results.

It could also be argued that scholarships are given for the wrong reasons. Many scholarships are perhaps awarded for the kudos that the school will gain from having a talented youngster at the school rather than for the opportunity that the child will receive; people will think the school is great but actually it has not necessarily been a result of the teaching or coaching. Furthermore, if a school awards sporting scholarships (so that school can win matches), they are perhaps not helping the child develop (because now she will be playing against weaker opposition and therefore will not have to work hard to win and develop) and at the same time they are not helping the country as for a sport to flourish it needs lots of strong teams competing all the time, not just a small number. Thus, scholarships may well not be for the individual’s good or the country’s welfare.

Then too we might note that scholarships may be given for the wrong school. A school might offer a child a scholarship but that school may not be the best one for that child. However, few parents will turn down the opportunity of paying less (or nothing), even though it may not be for the good of their child. Once again it is not about the child; it is about finance, reputation.

We must not rock the boat but we do well to reflect on how C-worthy our school ships are. Are we showing consideration, clarity, consistency, conviction when we launch the good ship ‘Scholar’? Or are we sinking below the surface and showing contrariness, controversy and contradiction? Are we using the ship for the right purpose on the seas of education? Scholarship ahoy! Friend or foe?

  • Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS. Email: ceo@atschisz.co.zw, website: www.atschisz

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