Thursday, May 28, 2009

Education, Education, Education!

It seemed more than appropriate that, as I began my third University level course of education, I should be sitting in front of my laptop waiting for an on-line tutorial to begin. The tutorial, part of a PGCE teacher training course, was about "Professional Studies". This part of the course looks at the history of education, and amongst other things the role and evolution of the National Curriculum. Dennis Almeida of Exeter University showed the YouTube video "Shift Happens" to set the scene for our discussions; it is an interesting collation of various statistics which reflect our fast changing and technological world, and should certainly inform our approach to education.
Having reflected on this I have settled on three threads of thinking; invariants, vocational training, multi-culturalism.
For me, mathematics and basic science, and literacy and good literature will always be the core of education. Understanding the ways to reason rigorously and natural language skills are the gateways to new learning. Good literature is the route to understanding the human condition beyond the world or worlds that we can experience directly [I like Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and even Jane Austen who has to be admired for having written the same book so many times!] These things are the invariants for me.
The second thread is vocational training. This one is always difficult. For one, it is very expensive to set up good vocational training facilities (compared to the chalk and blackboard needed to teach mathematics), and secondly everything in this arena is going out of date so quickly. When I left school they were still training printers to typeset with lead typeblocks. Later, I witnessed armies of Cobol programmers being trained. As the video so clearly noted, many of the jobs of the future do not exist today. So what is the solution? I think the main job to be done is to try to reveal a seam of passion within the individual, and to then encourage that individual to nurture and exploit that passion. This may seem vague, but its vagueness is what will allow it to adapt to the inevitable change.
For me the multi-cultural UK is missing out on a trick if it does not embrace and exploit its multi-cultural nature. If I were able to change the curriculum in some way it would be to include more of the history of civilisations, how humanity arose from Africa, the early civilisations in Mesopotania, the Arabs, Indians and Chinese and so forth. I have been delighted to see that the increasing number of programmes on science and mathematics give due credit to the various cultures responsible for the development of these subjects. I would also like to see some different languages taught in schools not just the French and German, how about Polish, Arabic, or Punjabi?
As a final observation, we need to be able to teach our children the benefits of perseverence. From my experience it takes about 10 years to become good at anything; a sport, musical instrument, foreign language, technology or whatever. I have been most fortunate to witness the perseverence of my own children in the fields of mathematics, languages, music and drama. I hope in my future role as a teacher I will be able to help others too.

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