FT : Technology-Focussed Primary School Curriculum Is A Disastrous Idea
Monday, March 30, 2009
It looks like a battle between Twitter and history. Leaked government plans for the primary school curriculum require children to be familiar with blogging and Wikipedia, while consigning the Victorians and second world war to optional status within “human, social and environmental understanding”. The reality is more complex, but still shows a dismaying preference for the trendy over the traditional. The draft report envisages six learning areas, within which teachers would have much more freedom to decide where the focus of classes should be. These broader categories replace dozens of detailed directions about what pupils should know by the age of 11. Some familiar aspects of learning remain, but the new emphasis on technology goes well beyond what is needed for children to enter secondary school equipped with computer and web-based skills. The idea that primary schools should teach how to tweet would be a nonsense. First, anyone of primary school age is instinctively at home with technology. Where some adults take time to master e-mail or social networking sites, children just dive in. Pity the teacher trying to instruct a class of Facebook-savvy 10-year-olds. Second, because technology moves so fast, a curriculum that focuses too much on particular applications would be obsolete before it hits the classroom. Not so much Twitter versus history, but Twitter as history. Third, children will pick up the social networking IT skills they need in their own time, since the immediate attraction of such applications is apparent – perhaps all too apparent. Classrooms are busy places: there is no time in the school week for lessons in advanced Club Penguin or Bebo for beginners.
The web-based skills that children really need to be taught are the social and critical abilities that apply in the real as well as the virtual world: how to decide what language is right for a particular medium and how to assess information. Those are the qualities that will help them not to send e-mails they regret or be taken in by a Wikipedia contributor with a taste for hoaxing. Real learning is not about teaching children what they are interested in anyway. It includes broadening their horizons, giving them the ability to learn, and – sometimes – insisting that they absorb information, even when they do not find it instantly appealing. The draft plan would be the most far-reaching change to the primary curriculum for years. Yet, in its current form, it does not suggest that the government is serious enough about how to ensure that more primary pupils achieve reasonable standards in basic subjects so that they are not held back at secondary school. The final plans, to be published next month, need to demonstrate a much clearer, stronger sense of purpose.