When You Were Young
Generally speaking, I avoid talking about politics — I respect everyone’s right to think and speak what they wish, as long as they don’t expect me to agree with them all the time. But sometimes, a politician will say something so completely wrong, that I have to speak out… the shadow schools spokesman, Nick Gibb, is such a politician.
Monday’s Guardian carries a report with the headline: Tories pledge return to rote learning and sets in schools. I’m sorry, but which world are they trying to prepare our children for… because it certainly isn’t the one we’re moving into. According to the report:
Gibb said that young people ought to be able to automatically recite the times tables, and “you have to know the map of Europe. It’s the routine bits of knowledge that set you up for later life.”
He went on: “I believe very strongly that children are of different abilities and need tailored education. Some children can’t cope with academic lessons and flounder and misbehave. Other children become bored.
Quite apart from the irony of the Tories stating that “…you have to know the map of Europe“, they are obviously not too sure of the abilities of our young people. I can guarantee that my oldest boy does not know his times tables ‘automatically’, but he does know how to use a calculator… and he routinely carries at least two with him… and one of those can make phone-calls as well… and can access the internet to look up the countries of Europe… In addition, he is a dab hand at Scratch and is currently teaching himself Japanese so he can read and see Manga/Animé in the original Japanese…. I wonder if that will be a skill that will serve him well in the future? Not the speaking Japanese bit, but the willingness and ability to go out and find the learning he needs for himself?
As to pupils being bored, I would hazard a guess that bored pupils are the result of boring lessons… Strange, my memories of boredom at school all involve some kind of rote learning…
Actually, I do agree with Nick Gibb when he says that children are of different abilities, but that is the very reason that rote lessons, and hankering for the past in a “well-it-never-did-me-any-harm” [Though, he is a Tory — Q.E.D.?] sort of way is so wrong. Jeff Utecht has the right idea as he points out in his latest blog post: 1500 Students, 1500 Ways of being intelligent. Jeff is reflecting on his time at the International School of Brussels (ISB), and is thinking about the benefits of 1:1 computers, and the reasoning behind choosing the right tech at the right time — and sometimes the right tech is a pencil! For me, one of the key points that Jeff makes is that:
At some point we need to stop trying to learn it all and learn how to learn what we need when we need it.
Rote learning had its place, but the ability to go out and find things out for yourself is a much more valuable skill. To paraphrase the old “Teach a man to fish…” saying:
“Teach a child by rote and (s)he can pass a test, teach a child how to find information and (s)he can pass through life…”
BACK TO POST: Actually, why is it that the Conservatives keep hankering back to the 50s as some sort of Golden age? According to my dad, who lived through them, they were pretty dire in many ways. Actually, they were 50 – 60 years ago… when I was growing up, that would have meant hankering after the 1900-1910 era… ie: pre- TV, biros, sliced bread, the Somme… er…