Monday, September 17, 2012

On facts versus skills...

Today's 24 Hours posted a "debate" about the new curriculum proposal by the BC Ministry of Education. Unfortunately, both participants got it wrong (see:

The "facts versus skills" debate is a false dichotomy. Children need to learn some facts and children need to learn some skills. The most important question is not how many facts and how many skills, but rather which facts and which skills.

David Eby correctly points out that learning by rote for the purpose of ranking children using standardized tests in not a good use of our education system. But replacing that with rote repetition of skills for the workplace is equally problematic.

As with any educational change, it has to be considered in context: who is proposing this change and for what reason?

In this case, the change comes as part of the "BC Education Plan" - a plan devised in response to pressures from technology companies who want to take over more of what they view as the "business" of education, in response to funding pressures from a reduced tax base, and in response to an artificial attack on a free, publicly administered, comprehensive education system (otherwise known as "21st century learning").

In this context, the push to reduce the curricular requirements could be problematic. For example, rather than free teachers and students from the artificially narrow constraints of standardized tests, such as the Foundation Skills Assessment and the provincial exams, a lack of curriculum with the tests still in place is likely to encourage more teaching to the test, not less. The tests will replace the curriculum if test outcomes replace adherence to mandated curriculum as a form of "accountability".

In addition, during the tenure of this government, we have seen an attempt to marginalize progressive curriculum, rather than mandate it. In response to concerns about teaching about same sex families, for example, the government agreed to a new course, called Social Justice 12, but this course is optional. Most schools don't even offer it. Similarly, recent statistics on the enrollment in the optional First Nations courses show that only a tiny fraction of our students are choosing these courses. This means we are failing if the goal is to ensure a cultural and political understanding of First Nations among the whole population.

School curriculum functions as a mechanism to let us democratically choose what our children learn in order to be full participants in a democratic society. Thus, any given proposal has a political component to it.

Reducing curriculum while maintaining testing schemes and promoting technology and work skills over the liberal arts is reactionary, not progressive. It is part of a broader scheme to turn schools into workplace training centres rather than incubators for democratic citizens.

1 comment:

  1. As simple as they sound, the answer to questions like "who did it" and "what for" could have a bigger impact than expected. One thing's for sure, if something like this happened over here, I wouldn't be surprised if even plan providers like philippine prudential life were forced to adjust to the changes.