Wanted: a new curriculum that is actually useful
I RECENTLY participated in a symposium on education where the following question was asked. “What impact, if any, does schooling have on life in the real world?” There was no shortage of answers, particularly from the many secondary school pupils present. However, two words dominated their responses: “boring” and “irrelevant”.
I was somewhat taken aback by this. What a scathing condemnation of a system costing hundreds of millions of pounds each year and which is supposedly the bedrock on which our society operates.
I began to ask myself whether the national curriculum, the “holy cow” of our educational system, is really fit for purpose today. Is it really meeting the needs of pupils in our schools?
Time and again the finger of blame for the ills in the education system is pointed at teachers, which is unfair. Teachers can only work with the resources, students and physical conditions they are given. It would be like a supermarket blaming its sales staff for a downturn in profits. The onus for providing the right materials, including the curriculum, is surely on the government and its agencies.
While successive education secretaries have tampered with the curriculum, pupil behaviour has deteriorated and professional disillusionment among teachers has never been higher. Surely the real challenge is to offer a curriculum that is of interest to the youngsters of today, a programme that will spark their curiosity, grab their attention and be an attractive alternative to the street.
What is required is a programme which resonates with the challenges pupils will encounter as adults in modern society. Here is my blueprint for a different kind of national curriculum.
1 LITERACY AND NUMERACY
Literacy and numeracy must be at the heart of any curriculum. Without these skills, a child will be handicapped and become an increasing liability to society. However, the English curriculum should focus exclusively on literacy skills. Our youngsters do not see the relevance of studying the literary masters such as Shakespeare. Similarly in maths, the emphasis should be on acquiring basic computation skills, leaving more complex areas as a choice for those who wish to further their knowledge in it.
The technological age in which we live would make it appear essential for every child to become computer literate. As the PC is today’s major channel of communication throughout the world, school leavers are expected to be able to access it and master its intricacies. The Department of Education has already recognised this and a result ICT has become a key study area in most British schools.
3 ROAD SAFETY
Road deaths are now the number one killer of young people in the world between the ages of 10 and 24. In spite of this annual carnage, it is surprising schools do not include in their curriculum a compulsory study of road safety, driving skills and vehicle maintenance. I would like to see senior secondary pupils study all of these as a mandatory subject, including learning to drive in specially designed driving centres.
4 FIRST AID
I would guess almost everyone is faced at some point in life with a situation involving an accident or injury,