Building an education system around ‘meritocracy’ as it is commonly used post-Thatcher may be a function of those in power being so privileged that they are not in a position to see their own privilege. Those who have never witnessed people having to work three jobs to keep their family afloat may not understand why parents can’t do more to coach their children through an entrance examination.
Given that we’re unlikely to recapture the original meaning of the word, I’d like to see meritocracy consigned to the dustbin of history as an outdated approach to society. At a time in history when we seek to be inclusive, to recognise and celebrate diversity, the use of meritocratic practices seems reactionary and regressive. Meritocracy applies a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter approach that – no surprises here – just happens to privilege those already in positions of power.
We’re now at a stage where meritocratic approaches to society are baked into our education systems. And they’re not working, even on their own terms. Even if you approach education on instrumentalist terms – for example, as being all about life skills or ensuring young people end up in employment – it’s not working. Employers are increasingly turning to alternative methods of hiring and away from formal academic credentials. They recognise that there is a direct connection between affluence and performance in school.
A simplistic meritocratic approach to society and our education systems has failed. It’s time to stop ‘doubling-down’ on narrow education targets and results that privilege the few and, instead, embrace more holistic, open approach such as Connected Learning and microcredentialing.
As a parent with an embarrassment of almost-worthless degree certificates to my name, I owe it to my children, and those everywhere, to help build a better, non-meritocratic system. Let’s raise all the boats in the harbour, rather than focus on those that are already shiny and seaworthy.