English Solution

From Diane Luc (James Allen's Girls' School East Dulwich)

The word "vessel" suggests the children are like empty containers, and in order to make them full again, they need facts and knowledge. The fact that the two men describe the children as "little vessels" provides insight to their characters - they do not see children as a human being with emotions, but rather, an empty shell that only needs knowledge and nothing else. Perhaps there is also an indication that the teachers feel that the children are inferior to them by calling them "little". For them to compare the children to a lifeless, mechanical storage box is a cold judgement, but also provides a stark contrast between children which are generally perceived to be lively and energetic to an object which is inanimate -- dead. Another meaning of the word "vessels" is a large boat. It suggests that, for the teachers, they are unloading onto the children all their knowledge and teaching and preparing for them to, once loaded with maximum knowledge, set sail. Where they are sailing to is not explicitly told, but one can infer that the children are 'sailing' out towards the wider world and exploring different careers etc. Lastly, the word "vessels" reminded me of blood vessels (although I realise that put into the context of the paragraph given, the connotation to blood vessels does not work as effectively). The children symbolize a network of blood vessels - the teachers have 'pumped', or poured, all their lifetime's energy into helping the children learn and succeed in their education. Metaphorically speaking, if the children were the blood vessels, then the teachers are the heart; the children receive knowledge and it is up to them in which direction they flow/take it to.

Question: How important are facts in education?

Facts are important in education, partially. Facts provide a solid platform for every student to stand on, forming a strong basis of their learning. Yet, despite this, it is much more important for students to understand these facts, and, better yet, to challenge these facts if they disagree. 'Facts' change. We once believed that the planets revolved around Earth; now, we have strong evidence to believe that planets, including the Earth, actually revolve around the Sun. Perhaps, even this 'fact' might change in a few hundred years time when scientists discover something new. It is not just good enough to accept facts as facts evolve all the time; rather, students should be able to question (if they disagree)or discuss what is being taught. In short, although facts is certainly essential to build the foundation of education, it is what student do with these facts which truly matters and will consequently have a greater impact towards society as well as personally satisfying their own learning.

From Sabina Shakhmurzaeva (Harris Academy Purley)

First of all, the reference to students as "little vessels" provokes disapproval amongst the readers, regardless of intention behind this comparison, because a person created by God as a subject of activity is depicted as an object - a tool of manipulation to fulfil one's needs.

In addition, despite how many "gallons of facts" are poured into these vessels, once they are full, they will only contain a small fraction of overall information; thus the one who chooses the facts the students are given will ultimately have the power to shape their understanding.  Therefore Mr Gradgrind implements political outlooks, religious and scientific beliefs, philosophical positions and overall ideology through his choice of facts. This way he actualizes his power over the students. The students, therefore, are viewed as vessels, objects with no personal liberty.

In our modern perception, knowledge and education grant us freedom but in the author's description, we sense enslavement of the students. Perhaps this is because the action of merely pouring in facts until they are "full to the brim” deprives the students of their right to research, examine and explore.

Dickens is implying that Mr Gradgrind's philosophy of education is to ultimately grind the original form of God's individual creations into chips (thus Mr Grad"grind"). These chips will then be graduated to manufacture vessels (thus Mr "Grad"grind). These identical vessels will later be filled with his chosen facts. Through this process, Mr Gradgrind creates products according to his own belief.

Unfortunately, the name of the second character, Mr M'Choukumchild, sounds very similar to "choke a child", creating a sense of the student's new content being permanent, further  oppressing the reader's perception of the characters' attitudes. The name deprives us of hope for the children acquiring their freedom of thought again.

Charles Dickens as a writer astonishes me through his ability to evoke a sense of injustice within the readers and to perhaps even make them reconsider their own perception, without explicitly stating his own opinion.  There is no doubt that the author deeply understood the problem of the education system in England during the 1850th, and battled against this as an artist.

I think through this novel, Charles Dickens played a vital role in the evolution of the system of education. I am satisfied that in our current educational system there is no corporal punishment and the teachers aim to educate students on how to think independently and singly. Therefore in our modern society, for students, facts are nothing but tools for construction of individual images of life. This makes me happy.