Shift Happens

We watched this video at a staff training day just before the holidays.

(This is the UK version, click here to see the US version.)

It’s got me thinking about the relevance of the school curriculum and how the way that I teach has changed. Many of the changes are for the better, but there are some that aren’t. For example we used to spend a lot of time working on problem-solving skills in maths, but this seems to have become less and less important, despite being at the core of what the subject is about.

I do find it very depressing that so many students only seem to be interested in passing exams and getting qualifications. I will never forget the dismay I felt a few years ago, when a group of bright, able students didn’t want to take part in a extra-curricular maths challenge, simply because it didn’t get them any GCSE points! Obviously not everyone has that kind of attitude, some students are very keen and enthusiastic, but I’m left feeling that learning something or doing something just because it is interesting or challenging isn’t really valued by a lot of people. I suppose that’s not surprising given that in England we have been delivering a predominantly content-driven curriculum against a background of high stakes testing for many years now. Of course I have to take some responsibility here: if my students aren’t valuing what I am offering, then it’s time for me to reflect on my own practice.

The good news is that there seem to be moves afoot to develop a more flexible and less content-driven curriculum. The bad news is that I suspect schools will still be judged solely on how well they jump through the statistical hoops. Did enough students get the magic number of GCSE A*-C grades? No? Then you’re a failing school!

Qualifications are undoubtedly important, our students need them if they are going to continue in education or training. However other learning is also important, for example developing the skills needed to be able to solve problems, or being able to apply skills and knowledge to unfamiliar situations, or being able to work effectively in a team. Attempts have been made to accredit these types of skill, but assessing skills like teamwork against a fixed set of criteria is inevitably unsatisfactory, when by its very nature good teamwork involves flexibility and individual team members taking on different roles.

So how do we develop and deliver a relevant curriculum to a generation that has been brought up to value qualifications above everything else? That’s going to be a real challenge, but I’m looking forward to it.

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