Come on Jess thought Mr Evans come on. He watched the large clock on the wall tick closer to 8:40am. Come on girl.
In two minutes he had to submit the class attendance report and with Jess having already been late once that term it’d mean an automatic visit from the Truancy Taskforce. That could lead to benefit payments being cut, or worst case Jess being taken to a camp.
Come on Jess. He’d have cheated for her if he could, he knew why she might be running late. But he couldn’t. Every child was checked with face recognition software as they entered and exited the class.
With only seconds to go Jess ran in red faced, paused at the doorway until there was a small beep, and then collapsed into her chair panting. You cut it pretty fine that time Jess smiled Mr Evans glad you joined us. Jess plugged her headphones in as Maths started.
Each child received their own targeted lesson to guide them toward passing the test. Strictly speaking Mr Evans didn’t need to listen to any of the lessons, he just needed to complete the paperwork. The actual teaching was handled by an AI bot that could answer most student questions. There was an online expert available for harder questions, but many teachers correctly assumed it was simply a more specialised bot.
The module Jess was listening to was part of Maths for Small Business Owners. The voice asked - if David is paid $50 per hour, his rent is $2,000 per week, and his other expenses total $1,000 per week, what percentage pay rise does David need?
Mr Evans frowned, he hated these questions. They weren’t maths at all, they were indoctrination. Many students calculated that based on a 40 hour week David would need a 50% pay rise to cover his living expenses. Mr Evans remembered when that had been the correct answer. But it wasn’t now.
After the government had removed all employment laws, which they said had distorted the perfection of the market, answers had begun changing. The answer was now Zero percent, David should increase his hours by 50%, or get a second job.
Some kids were only in his class a few weeks. As soon as they passed the exam they moved next door for the next level. Other kids had been in his class for years and he held out little hope that they would ever pass. He’d love to have tutored them one on one but it was now forbidden for teachers to direct a student’s learning.
He looked up at the wall, at the giant image of the Prime Minister’s head grinning down at them. Underneath was written the permanent message Prosperity through Productivity. Beneath that was the weekly inspirational from the Minister of Education - Greater Engagement for Greater Happiness.
Jess wouldn’t be with him long, he thought. She shouldn’t even be in the class, she ought to be doing a proper maths course. Jess’ parents were union leaders though so as tended to happen she was assigned to this pseudo course. It taught kids just enough maths to understand running a small business without troubling them with unnecessary knowledge.
Mr Evans thought about the gifted children he’d taught down the years. In the past he would’ve been encouraging Jess to try new things. Lending her interesting books, telling her about great movies. He’d lose his job for that now.
He leaned back in his chair remembering the school plays he’d directed. They’d been terrible but so much fun. Some kids would remember freezing and losing a line on the night of the big show. Others would remember Mr Evans telling the same jokes at the end of every rehearsal. One of two might even have had a furtive first kiss backstage.
For some of the kids it may have been the only time they’d ever be on stage. For others, kids like Jess, it could have been the start of a passion that would change their life. One that would see them abandoning thoughts of accountancy or law for dreams of the arts and performing, or perhaps even of being a teacher.
Mr Evans had considered going to one of the Private schools, he’d been told as a high performer that he was eligible. They still taught the arts there, future leaders needed to have an all round education. But there was no value in providing one to the rest of the population, it only encouraged non-productive thoughts.
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Public schools now though were no fun, no laughter, no creativity, no drama, just the required knowledge to be a future productive unit.
There were children who struggled with the stultifying monotony of the training system, formerly known as the education system. For them there were boot camps, a real growth industry. Or charter schools, which were essentially the same as boot camps in their objectives, just with lighter security and a poorer rate of return.
Now that AI did a lot of the jobs which required brain power there was a push from the government for more people to be small business owners. They weren’t really needed by the economy for production, their role was to be good consumers. The emphasis in the training system was on conformity and competition, not on asking bigger questions.
Mr Evans missed the bigger questions which students like Jess used to ask about. Equality and fairness, and what was the point of it all.
Still, at least they were still teaching reading, writing, and maths. Some schools had chosen not to teach even these core subjects beyond the basics, what was the point? The boot camps and charter schools didn’t teach to any curriculum as their students were considered most economically valuable remaining incarcerated.
The party in power had always disliked the education sector but things had come to a head in 2023, five years earlier. The party had already played off farmers against city folk, Māori vs non-Māori, they had even made sweeping attacks against civil servants. But it hadn’t been enough to gain the momentum they wanted. So they’d pitted the educated against the less-educated.
It helped that they’d had the Covid period when they had quietly manoeuvred public opinion away from scientists and health experts towards the views of business leaders and sports people. There was already distrust in education.
There were plenty of people who knew that Universities were hotbeds for woke, socialist, indoctrination - despite never having set foot in one. Others who were angry at teachers striking, what sort of example was that setting for the children? Young people were out of control, clearly the education system was failing.
The spokesperson for Education, now the Minister, stood in front of the nation and told people that teachers had no plan for next week, or even today. Their teaching was based on a finger in the air. Hard working Kiwis were horrified, they knew you had to have a plan.
When the first polls had come out after that that the party was well in the lead. They swept to power on a promise of shaking up the Education system to better meet the needs of the economy.
Mr Evans looked at Jess, she looked happy. He turned his audio back on to pick up what was going through her headphones. It wasn’t the maths lesson, she was listening to a comedy podcast. A parody of the Prime Minister saying meaningless phrases like “going forward” and “fundamentally” over canned laughter.
Then someone pretending to be the Minister of Education started speaking on the podcast, and Mr Evans realised it was Jess’ voice. And he smiled.
The dystopian future! Love your irony Nick. You make a very good point. I'm sure National would advocate for AI if they could. I suppose teachers become used to being a political football. Let's just let them teach and knowing their students well. Our memories of teachers are about the inspiration they gave for lifelong careers, rather than passing a test. Pointed out today on The Nation by Mike Williams, that the results of students today are due to National's policies!
Brave new world indeed. Exactly possible. A couple of years ago I wrote this https://theconversation.com/test-or-invest-nzs-sliding-international-student-assessment-rankings-are-all-about-choices-154729