Knowledge is that which, next to virtue, truly raises one person above another. – Joseph Addison
The TES reports today that “A leading independent school headmaster has warned that the greater focus on facts and knowledge in reformed GCSEs and A-levels may fail to equip pupils for the modern world.”
Well, duh. Anything may fail or succeed in its aims, but this statement sort of assumes that up until now GCSEs and A levels have been doing a bang up job of preparing students for the modern world. I have little doubt that some pupils will continue to be every bit as unprepared as they’ve ever been. But let’s turn the statement around:
A leading independent school headmaster has warned that the decreased focus on facts and knowledge in reformed GCSEs and A-levels may fail to equip pupils for the modern world.
Doesn’t that sound a bit more convincing?
Christopher King, chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference has apparently said the following:
To say that the acquisition of facts should be the overwhelming priority of the education system is to look backwards, not forwards, in my view…There’s a point at which if you don’t liberate [pupils] to be able to explore and undertake individual independent research, you’re not equipping them for the modern world.
The trick is to be like the two-head Roman god Janus and look both backwards and forwards. If we don’t look back at what has already been discovered, mulled over and critiqued then what exactly are we liberating pupils to do? In order to explore or research you have to know a thing or two. So, what’s King suggesting pupils learn? Cue the 21st-century learning slogans: children should be taught to “think laterally, think creatively, take risks and be confident in themselves”. Right, but what are they going to think laterally creatively and confidently about? I’d like to belive that what Mr King actually wanted to say was that we should forget to teach children how to critique the knowledge and facts they learn.
He goes on to point out that “there isn’t an absolute requirement to get the right answer every time, and it’s OK to make mistakes and learn from them”. Well, yes, of course. Nobody would deny that learning from mistakes is important but surely what we want pupils to learn from all the mistakes they make is not to make them again? There may not be an “absolute requirement” to get the right answer every time, but it would be great if they managed to get some correct answers eventually.
It’s certainly true that the “learning of facts for regurgitation in tests” [Yes, he really said that! Using this tired cliché automatically reduces any respect I have for its utterers’ hackneyed opinions!] will not in and of itself help young people succeed in the world, but it’ll be a hell of a lot more use than pupils not having a rich knowledge of their cultural heritage.