Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Brits Revamping Their Pre-High School Education System

Yesterday in Great Britain, teachers decided that the present high stakes testing model of their education curricula for students under 16 years of age needs to be scrapped in favor of a more well-rounded curriculum. Rather than just a knowledge-based, fact-filled memorization system to prepare for test after test, teachers will be able to teach the way they want to begin the addition of skills-based learning. This has largely been the American model over the years, as I have written about in the past (for instance, last year's post). Here in the U.S., the education system has begun to look more like the European and Asian systems where testing is the one and only criteria for assessing how students are performing.

It appears as if the Brits are taking an approach that follows the lead of Harvard's Howard Gardner. As stated in the Guardian article,

"We need to give teachers the freedom to inspire youngsters so they want to learn, not just pass tests. We also need pupils to have the space to develop as rounded people, and that includes physically, emotionally, creatively, socially and ethically."

There needs to be a balance between skills and knowledge objectives. In order to be be prepared for life, students need both. As is often the case in any field, fads develop and the system leans almost exclusively towards one side or the other. In physics-speak, we need to find a point of stable equilibrium between skill and knowledge based curricula, where if we begin moving one way or the other we will be forced back to the middle and include both. I am a firm believer that the best life skill we can give a student is for him or her to want to learn and then have the ability to go about actually learning and finding information. It's nice if a person simply knows the answer off the top of their head (knowledge), but in life those who are successful in just about any field have the intellectual training and abilities to take on new problems and devise ways of figuring them out (skills). Again, one needs both to be successful. This is why I argue against the U.S. leaning too much towards an exam meritocracy, as (especially) many Asian nations have done. We should avoid falling into the testing trap at the expense of losing all opportunities for creative thinking, problem solving skills, and higher order critical thinking skills. Many areas of study in the real world are moving into the era of big-picture problems, where complexity and overlapping disciplines become vital for new progress. Students, who are the next generation of workers, must be prepared to think in new ways and not rely on old facts. They also need to be able to recognize and define new knowledge as it is discovered and applied. This requires some amount of skill and experience with how to learn, and, at least for the higher level American student coming out of our education system, is why we have been able to remain the sole superpower. Much of the world, it appears, is beginning to catch on to this and are making changes to their test-dominated systems.

Kudos to Eideneurolearning blog for finding the Guardian article.

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