Potiphar12's Blog
An Octogenarian in the modern world


I posted recently abour religious education in schools, and about the same time Michael Gove (UK Education Secretary) got media coverage for his latest thoughts about educational reform. The bits the media picked out concerned the length of school terms and the length of the school day. Opinions are bound to be divided on those issues, but the comments may serve a purpose in keeping the education debate lively. It seems obvious that our schools are not producing enough high quality home-grown talent to meet our needs. Something has got to change. What? One current argument says that teaching should be more fact-based, while its opponents say that facts are immediately available on the internet and therefore need less attention in the curriculum. Another argument concerns the broad purpose of education. Is it to provide the skills needed in industry and commerce, or is it to provide people that can reason for themselves and  think  imaginatively and solve problems?

Many of us use the internet extensively to find information and I wonder if the full benefit is yet realised in schools. Is it possible that the old idea of sitting at the feet of Gamaliel still influences us? It dates from the time when knowledge-owners were few and the spoken word was the primary way of transmitting knowledge. Things are different now. Perhaps some conventional lessons could be replaced by Challenges to Find Out and Report. The PC and IPhone and Tablet might become valued as much for formal learning as for social enjoyment and game-playing. My only conventional period as a teacher was brief and long ago – but I had an enjoyable experience in retirement. It was teaching small-bore rifle shooting to schoolchildren and it was great to give a success experience to children who had no strong aptitude for the major sports. I created on-screen programs for them that simulated the process of preparing and aiming and firing. I wished that I had been a proper teacher and able to experiment with school subjects. Are people working along these lines? Yes. The internet throws up books about the subject, and software firms that offer programs. One of the latter claims that their system “tranforms staid school information systems into an interactive platform”. That may be hyped up a bit, but the concept is surely good. However, it implies a different role for the teacher – previously the principle source of knowledge and endowed with authority. The role would become more that of a guide and evaluator.

Perhaps changing the nature of the educational process might be a better solution than extending the present system by longer days or longer terms. Sadly, Britain also faces an obstacle in the minority of children who see no point in basic education – reading, writing and maths. In some under-developed countries education is valued as a route to a better life. If life without education is seen as satisfactory, there is little motivation to escape it.

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