How do we compensate for the interruptions to children’s education caused by Covid? How will gaps created in children’s knowledge be filled?
Looking back on my own school days, I wonder about the usefulness of many of the topics I studied. So much knowledge turned out to be superfluous to my needs as an adult: rubber farming in Ghana, the construction of a gingham apron, the periodic table, logarithms, and the French pluperfect.
I have retained information about the different sports we played, along with a mass of historical, geographical, biological and religious facts; although a significant proportion of this knowledge was probably accrued after leaving school out of personal interest. I retain little from Chemistry, Physics, Music or German lessons, although I can appreciate for a lot of people, the reverse might be true.
The modern curriculum is content heavy and could easily be pruned to reduce the amount of topic knowledge that someone, somewhere has deemed essential. No harm would come to pupils if they studied fewer topics within subjects, rather than rattling through an overloaded curriculum at such a pace that there is little time for re-visiting information or delving deeper into areas of specific interest.
One of the many claims made for our exam-focused curriculum is that it assists in the development of transferable skills: the ability to retain facts, organise information, follow a reasoned argument, answer questions in an appropriate style, write a structured essay, and work under time constraints. Even in practical subjects, such as GCSE P.E, the exam assesses these skills rather than the physical talent one would assume to be vital for success. Presumably the grasp of such transferable skills is thought to prepare the individual for the world of work, in addition to any vocational / professional qualifications they may be required to study in the future.
Perhaps the Covid challenges of the last 18 months present an opportunity to re-balance the curriculum. For starters, I would suggest an alternative range of transferable skills: skills that might prove to be more useful to the individual in the long run: –
- To develop of a sense of humour. We are all insignificant in the greater scheme of things: we should not get too bogged down with our own importance.
- To maintain a sense of healthy cynicism towards all things educational. No need for ostentatious shows of rebellion, just a drift towards challenging the educational status quo. School is not the be all and end all of life. School is compulsory for 11 years: the average life span of an adult in the UK is 81 years.
- To be willing to voice personal opinions and question established norms. When you believe you have a legitimate point, you have a responsibility to challenge accepted wisdom.
- To adopt a reasonable work / life balance. Over-work is not a badge of honour, but an unhealthy way to live. We need to put in the required effort, but not to be afraid to go home early or to take all of our holiday entitlement when we need it.
- To understand that our self-perception holds us back. When we appreciate that no-one is as critical of ourselves as ourselves, and that no-one cares about our embarrassing moments and trivial failures as much as we do, we are more likely to be motivated to extend the limits of what we believe we can achieve.