Academic or Mechanic?
The old smell of oil, diesel and grease fills the nose. The hunched over worker looks sideways from under the hood of a new Mercedes Benz and sighs with disappointment at the new arrival to his workshop. As I get out from behind the wheel of my pride and joy, my very first car, he wipes off his hands on a rag and comes over, somewhat disapprovingly. My light yellow, 1980 Daihatsu Charade coughs to a stop as the ignition switches off. The mechanic folds his arms.
“It’s not quite up to standard.” I begin. “It needs a few new bits and pieces. I have the original owners manual, it’s in the back. The spare tire is inflated enough, and there air freshener inside has just been replaced.”
“So what’s wrong with it?” muttered the mechanic, not at all impressed that I’d chosen his workshop to drop into. Usually cars like this go down to the wreckers.
“Well, the Ministry of Environmental improvements have release New Standards for all cars, and this one seems to fail in most areas. It runs rich, costing lots more when I go to the pump. The emissions are through the roof evidently, and the steam coming from the bonnet after I run it flat out is a bit concerning. Also, I can’t remember the last time I changed the oil. I haven’t had time to get it serviced on any regular basis. The standards suggest that all cars need to be tuned to the optimal running speed of the Ferrari 458 Italia, which I assume won’t be too much to ask for?”.
“Of course. The good ol MoE and their NS BS.” the mechanic replies in some sort of mixed up code.
“So can you help me?” I ask, almost pleadingly.
“Well, I’ll give it my best shot. But it’s going to take me quite a bit of time, effort, and of course, money.”
“How about, if you just get paid your standard hourly rate. You can pay for some of the materials yourself, and after 5pm, you’ll be able to keep on working on it in your own time, I’m sure. I will need it back for the MoE by the end of the week.”
“You’ve got to be joking?” laughed the mechanic, though obviously not in response to anything that would be considered humourous.
“Well, that’s what the New Standards say customers should expect.” I reply. I’d done my research.
“Like I say. I’ll give it my best shot.” retorted the mechanic, resigned to the fact that all he could do was try his hardest, knowing full well that getting the best out of this machine was one thing, getting it up to these New Standards was another.
The mechanic returned to work on the Merc. It wasn’t far off the standard. It was new, and had obviously been looked after. The records showed regular servicing, and the fresh leather seat smell still lingered in the air. It was well fed too, with 98 octane premium fuel, and the best of synthetic oils. The engine ticked over into a gentle purr. It didn’t need much work to meet these new standards.
Needless to say the Daihatsu never made it anywhere close to the speed of the 458. Not for lack of trying though. The mechanic worked night and day, and every working hour he had was poured into it and the other 29 cars in his workshop that week.
In fact, the mechanic worked on it for a year, each and every day.
By the end of that year, he had the little Charade up and running smoothly. The steam had gone, as had the oil leak. It got up to speed of around 100km/hr with little more than a sigh, and the coughing and spluttering that happened when ignition ceased was a thing of the past.
Unfortunately, the mechanic was labeled a failure by the MoE because the 1980 Charade did not meet the expected level that they had set for all cars.
Why is a short story about a mechanic and cars featuring on my education website?
Well, as I’m sure you’ve worked out by now, this is a very simple analogy using comparison. In this particular example, the mechanic is a teacher, the selection of cars; students. Each and every year, teachers are expected to work miracles with some students, who face a range of challenges to meeting the standard, none of which are their fault. Some have had good support and upbringing, and others have had to face poverty, hunger, anger, and violence. Some have the essentials required to learn in a efficient way, others lack the basics to face the day.
There is little doubt that the current Ministry of Education (MoE) and their National Standards (NS) seem ridiculous when applied to cars. But on many levels, the correlation in this analogy rings true, and holds firm.
Maybe, just maybe, we should be educating students differently. Rather than getting each and every child up to a somewhat unattainable level, maybe we should focus on just getting from A to B, just like a good car should.