Should have EMA just gone away?

After reading columnist, Alison Pearson’s misguided article about her personal opinions on the “New Labour introduced, EMA, to pay up to £30 a week to 16- to 19-year-olds from low-income households to spend on drink, recreational drugs and gym membership.” She depicted our youth population as slanderous, drug induced lay-abouts with nothing better to do on the weekends but be “recreational”, well please tell me, what’s wrong with that?! Everyone has the right to unwind with their earnings after a hard weeks work and drink a beer or smoke something, that’s what our society is about; providing comfort and security from a stress full, usually minimally paid workplace be it school or whatever. Mrs Pearson simply wrote this off as not providing incentive towards education but simply supporting “youthful binge drinking”, I, being rather youthful and the occasional drinker myself resent this representation of younger people’s consumption of alcohol. Who can afford to have a decent binge on less than £30 a week anyway?

Student protestors: young people campaiging against the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance.

Pearson, however has somehow managed to highlight the problem and miraculously, miss the point entirely. She quickly moved on instead to what it was like ‘back in the day’, when she brings up her ‘friends’ Saturday jobs which included “one friend who worked in a sausage factory” and another who “scrubbed pub toilets” (although she surreptitiously managed to avoid expanding on her array of various jobs she “held down from the age of fifteen”). Now I think it’s slightly different these days Alison, sure you can wonder into a pub and honourably scrub their toilets, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to get any money for it!

So were experiencing a recession where the job pickings are slim and dwelling in a society where aesthetic incentive is vital to keeping us thinking, ‘yeah, I’m getting somewhere with this’. The simple joys of learning to learn and Saturday jobs which made up Alison’s prosperous past have been swallowed by our children’s warped views on what is important in the world, money, not boring old education. The poor kids in Zimbabwe, used in Pearson’s article as an immediate guilt trip (it even tripped me into donating to my school bake sale for Amnesty International, crazy). These poor guys don’t have EMA or job’s only raw incentive, created by dire surroundings, sweating with poverty which they will go by any means to clamber out of. These kids hear of the mythical ‘First Word’ and its fabled  existence of easy living and human rights, all right next door. The only way to have it is either education, or joining the FRF and getting a brand new AK-47 for your tenth birthday!

Comparing this situation to the situations of working class students in Britain is completely pointless. All working class pupils at my college dropped out of education, these being all of my friends (I’m pretty lonely now), due to a lack of financial and maternal incentive. The middle class University students-to be are content, they have a comfortable home to study in, receive pocket money to spend on free time drinking or whatever and are constantly egged on by their parents, who attend parent teacher meetings religiously, to keep up and try hard. If you asked my middle class mother whether I was going to get the grades to attend Uni or not she wold retort “Why of course! It’s vital to be able to pursue higher education” whereas my working class friend’s mum would reply “If he wants to then sure”. This obligation to better yourself only seems to be passed down to the kids from ‘well off’ families while the rest are only left with the offer of £30 a week or the enlightening advice to “get a Saturday job”, thanks Alison Pearson, would you give my friend a Saturday job? Didn’t think so.

What’s gone wrong is that the shining beacon of hope, EMA has prevented our less culturally provided, but perfectly capable working class students from wanting to gain anything from education but the money. This results in being able to ‘cheat the system’ by going to school, defying teachers and getting paid for it, which I can imagine, when you’re a working class teenager can feel pretty righteous. The attitude, therefore, expressed by whoever designed this ridiculous scheme, is that you can get what you want for doing very little by means of developing your skills. Surely then, rather than being discarded like a mucky hanky, EMA should be adjusted as to turn disadvantaged pupils from non-committing money grabbers to directed students with attainable target grades, fuelled by financial incentive. If they don’t work to get their grade, they don’t get their cash. Simple. The noble perusal of good grades and more opportunities for the lower classes however, doesn’t seem to be on the governments short list of important issues; it’s all about the attendance and the pragmatic policy of EMA was simply to boost numbers in attendance while the improvement on actual teaching was completely neglected.

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