The continuing education of children everywhere is a topic that I find endlessly fascinating, and about which I have written before. I’ve spoken against focusing too much on incorporating web 2.0 trends in syllabi, especially at the cost of what I consider essential learning practices. But for some inexplicable reason, my wisdom has been largely ignored and, according to the Guardian, the UK will soon publish draft plans for a redesigned primary school curriculum.
In all honesty, I can’t fault the changed curriculum too much because I quite like the new holistic approach from Sir Jim Rose (former Ofsted chief) that consists of six core learning areas:
• Understanding English
• Communication and languages
• Mathematical understanding
• Scientific and technological understanding
• Human, social and environmental understanding
• Understanding physical health
• Understanding arts and design
The purpose is to allow schools greater flexibility is what they teach, which is fantastic, especially the environmental and social bits, but very subjective and will, I imagine, make standardised exams rather difficult. I also assume that the secondary school curriculum will have to be modified to accommodate the new skill sets, as well as to accommodate children from different schools with different areas of learning.
The good and the logistical aside, let’s get to my favourite part, the part I disagree with. According to the article in the Guardian, children will become au fait with blogging, podcasts, Wikipedia and Twitter as sources of information and forms of communication. To which I say, ‘excuse me?”
Forms of communication yes, sources of information not so much. I love Wikipedia and I use it a lot but I know the validity of much of its information is, um, questionable. University students have already started using Wikipedia as their sole source of information for research papers and essays, which has led me to develop ulcers as I worry about the integrity of modern education and the capability of the people who will one day lead our world. The thought that children will be taught to rely on Wikipedia from the start of their school careers will probably cause my ulcers to bleed.
The most obvious problem with using Twitter and Wikipedia is that they are subjective. Anyone can provide any information on anything. And with all of the contradictory information available on the net, verifying facts can be a time consuming and frustrating process. Will the 9 and 10 year olds be taught to filter information for truth, to ask relevant questions of the information with which they are presented? Or will they once again be taught to blindly swallow what’s in front of them, which, let’s face it, has been a failing of the education system for ages?
My other issue is that children will apparently be taught how to use a spellchecker, alongside how to spell. That doesn’t give me ulcers, it makes me laugh. I laugh because, seriously, in what world will children take the time to learn how to spell ‘mayonnaise’ when their PCs will do it for them? I know people who use their spellcheckers for everything and their vocabularies are atrocious. My biggest fear is that UK children will suddenly start spelling categorisation with a ‘z’, and colour without the ‘u’ and start talking about ‘hitting people upside the head’. My English elitist snobbery will disintegrate without a solid British foundation to stand on.
By and large, the draft plan has been well accepted by British education experts and professionals. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers says that the new programmes are much more sensible than the previous focus on stand-alone subjects. She adds that children need to be enthused about learning, and the new plan does just that.
Teresa Cremin, president of the UK Literacy Association is also pleased with the new curriculum, but has concerns about the lack of emphasis on reading for pleasure. I hadn’t thought of that, and I would agree with her, but I don’t think that children are taught to get much pleasure from reading these days anyway, so I don’t consider that to be a new problem.
Education is one of those topics that generate a great deal of debate, especially the heated kind, as everyone has ideas on to how to improve it. Like Wikipedia and Twitter, it seems that education is by nature subjective, so perhaps all of my worrying (and bleeding ulcers) is in vain. Perhaps having education leap on the web 2.0 bandwagon is not the potential disaster that I think it will be.
Until web 3.0 comes along.