Cambridge Essays on Education eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 229 pages of information about Cambridge Essays on Education.

The largest of those problems, viz., how to provide elementary instruction for the whole population, is far less urgent now than it was fifty years ago.  The Act of 1870, followed by the Act which made school-attendance compulsory, has done its work.  What is wanted now is Quality rather than Quantity.  Quantity is doubtless needed in one respect.  Children ought to stay longer at school and ought to have more encouragement to continue education after they leave the elementary school.  But it is chiefly an improvement in the teaching that is wanted, and that of course means the securing of higher competence in the teacher by raising the remuneration and the status of the teaching profession[1].

The next problem is how to find the finest minds among the children of the country and bring them by adequate training to the highest efficiency.  The sifting out of these best minds is a matter of educational organisation and machinery; and the process will become the easier when the elementary teachers, who ought to bear a part in selecting those who are most fitted to be sent on to secondary schools, have themselves become better qualified for the task of discrimination.  The question how to train these best minds when sifted out would lead me into the tangled controversy as to the respective educational values of various subjects of instruction, a topic which I must not deal with here.  What I do wish to dwell upon is the supreme importance to the progress of a nation of the best talent it possesses.  In every country there is a certain percentage of the population who are fitted by their superior intelligence, industry, and force of character to be the leaders in every branch of action and thought.  It is a small percentage, but it may be increased by discovering ability in places where the conditions do not favour its development, and setting it where it will have a better chance of growth, just as a seedling tree brought out of the dry shade may shoot up when planted where sun and rain can reach it freely.  I am not thinking of those exceptionally great and powerful minds, of whom there may not be more than four or five in a generation, who make brilliant discoveries or change the currents of thought, but rather of persons of a capacity high, if not quite first rate, which enables them, granted fair chances, to rise quickly into positions where they can effectively serve the community.  These men, whatever occupation they follow, be it that of abstract thinking, or literary production, or scientific research, or the conduct of affairs, whether commercial or political or administrative, are the dynamic strength of the country when they enter manhood, and its realised wealth when they are in their fullest vigour thirty years later.  We need more of them, and more of them may be found by taking pains.

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