Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Dedicated followers of fashion

There's been a fair few people writing about the proposed changes to the primary education curriculum, but I'm going to add my tuppence worth anyway.

First of all, the curriculum does need changing - of that I am certain - but I am not convinced that this government will make it any better any more than the last government did.

The new changes being proposed come from a former senior Ofsted Inspector, Sir Jim Rose. I'll be honest, I don't know who Sir Jim Rose is, but he sounds like one of those professional bureaucrats who have spent their lives pushing paper and ticking boxes in accordance with government targets and has been duly rewarded with a knighthood. In other words, I wouldn't trust him to change a light bulb.

Don't get me wrong - I'm sure Sir Jim would pay meticulous attention to detail and follow every process and procedure scrupulously, but I'm also sure that I'd still be sitting in the dark 6 weeks later.

And I'm equally sure our primary school children will be left in the dark too - along with a good proportion of the teachers charged with imparting knowledge to our children. At the end of the day, that is what their job is - not to indoctrinate them into particular world views - but to teach very young children some basic knowledge.

All we really need to do with primary education is consider what works and what doesn't and then stick to what works. I'm afraid that does mean ditching many of the trendy methods which have utterly failed and going back to what was proven to be effective.

One of the things Sir Jim recommends is adding computer skills to the "three R's" - but Sir Jim ought to recognise that it already is (or was). The basic skill required for computers is mathematics. I'm pretty sure they still teach maths to kids today, although I'm not certain that they still teach binary as part of that.

I remember learning the binary number system when I was around 9 or 10 - but my kids haven't heard of it. Should that not be part of the maths curriculum? There is no point teaching kids computer skills such as how to use a mouse or a keyboard - firstly, because most of them learn it at home anyway and are already adept at the use of both long before they can use a pen or a knife and fork, but also because the technology is so fast moving there is no guarantee that the mouse and keyboard will still be part of the personal computer in 10 years time.

If you add computer skills as a key part of the primary curriculum you will be wasting time and money - and you'll be having to adapt the curriculum every couple of years to cope with new technologies - touch screens, voice control, thought control, new software, new programming techniques and so on.

This is also why the primary curriculum should not be contextual - particularly if the context you use is particularly fluid. For instance, you should not be teaching kids science in the context of global warming or "climate change" as they like to call it now. Climate always changes, the assertion that man-made greenhouse gases are responsible for any warming let alone the vast majority of it is unproven and doesn't even fit to real world observational evidence and by the time a primary school kid who learned about "global warming" yesterday leaves school the whole damn scam is likely to have been consigned to the scientific scrap heap.

What you have to teach kids at primary school are the basics - the fixed, immovable fundamentals that are the building blocks of future learning. How to read properly, how to write intelligibly, how to speak clearly, how to count/add/subtract/multiply and divide and so on.

Teaching kids fashionable hokum in fashionable ways will just leave them confused, undermined and ill-prepared for secondary school and, later on, real life.

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