Education and Society - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:13 pm on 8th December 2017.

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My Lords, having been recycled in your Lordships’ House, this is in the nature of a second maiden speech and perhaps, with two maiden speeches, I might be described as extra virgin, double pressed. It is an extraordinarily timely debate, most eloquently introduced by the most reverend Primate, and we have heard why from a number of other noble Lords. The sense of urgency of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, particularly resonated with me, as did the words of the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, about real dangers for democracy, which I take very seriously indeed.

Aristotle has already been invoked on a number of occasions in this debate. He has been put in his place, of course, by the earlier sages of the Indian subcontinent, but Aristotle warned that there was a recurring pattern of democracy disintegrating because the demos ceased to have any shared moral compass or shared narrative. They became a crowd of atomised individuals. When that happens, democracy fades and you have some kind of administrative tyranny. Therefore, the comment about the real danger to democracy in our time is one we all ought to heed.

Having heard other contributions to this debate, I feel somewhat like Ruth gleaning after a combine harvester, but it is clear that we are all agreed that places of education are where we incubate a better future. It is true historically that educational strategies have been at the heart of the various economic and social shifts and have been involved in the Industrial Revolution and the growth of a knowledge-based economy. However, we are now well into a century of challenge for humanity as a whole, most eloquently described by the noble Lord, Lord Rees, in his book, Our Final Century. I note that the title, worryingly, is not supplied with a question mark.

In this time of huge challenge for humanity from various sources, we need to complement the Tree of Knowledge with the tree of wisdom, which sets knowledge in the context of human flourishing. In a society dominated by technology, which has opened up new possibilities, we need to rediscover our heart. If we want to avoid moving into an ice age of humanity, we must give more weight to reasons of the heart. People have been working to develop computers that can think. The Japanese are experimenting with care robots to assist in the care of the elderly. As far as I am aware, no one has suggested developing a computer that can love. Our fulfilment and enjoyment in life, or the misery we suffer, do not in the end depend on what we know or do not know but on whether we love and are loved. Skills help us to land the job; character is what people talk about when you die, when what you did in design and technology at GCSE matters very little.

As the father of a Teach First graduate teaching in a state school in Tower Hamlets, I very much resonated with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, about the huge gap between the aspirations described by noble Lords around the House and what is actually happening on the ground. I hope the Minister can offer us all the assurance that serious consideration will be given to widening the scope of the EBacc.

In conclusion, I draw attention to a skill which has not been explicitly mentioned so far in this debate, but which I believe is crucial if we are to cultivate a future in which we substantiate our claim that, even if we leave the EU we are not leaving Europe—namely, the provision of better language training early in life. One of my last acts as Bishop of London was to open the new Saint Jérôme School on Harrow high street, a state-funded Church primary school. It does not merely offer language teaching; the whole curriculum is delivered in French and English. It is virtually a trilingual school, because the language of most of the pupils is Gujarati. It seems that facility in another language is an important contribution to building the wisdom economy we need and to securing the best possible and most flourishing future if we leave the EU.