The Pit and the Pendulum

18 Nov

The Global Education Conference is currently running online, and I have attended a few sessions, usually by acessing the archived recording of the presentation. Living in South Africa, the timing of the sessions has not been that kind to me. I have found the presentations quite thought-provoking, and they have afforded me some useful information and ideas.

What strikes me most forcefully is the complete dissonance between the tenor of the ideas from the conference and emerging governmental education, what for want of a better word I’ll call policy. As the pendulum swings once more in South Africa from skills-based to content based learning I am really fearful for the future. I know that Outcomes Based Education was a huge flop in South Africa. I also know that those who ignored content ignored it at their peril, but once again the baby is being thrown out with the bath-water!

I have been here before, back in the early 1980s as a young student teacher we were eager to take skills-based ideas out into schools where content was king. Now it seems we have to fight those same battles again, this time with the perception that skills-based learning has failed.

But in the last thirty years the world has changed too. Computers are no longer large mainframe devices in banks and air-conditioned dust-free rooms run by men in white coats, they are ubiquitous now in every way! Knowledge is no longer deposited in libraries on dusty shelves and catalogued on index-cards, re-shelved incorrectly and never found again! Knowledge now is anywhere anytime, just-in-time learning to match a world of fast capitalism. The skills vs content debate is no longer a debate, surely? What is content in an Internet enabled world? Are we to go back to the days of learning dates in History? Not when you have Wikipedia surely?

In many ways the content vs skills debate is a red herring in any case. Always has been. You never could learn historical skills, for example, without knowing the “facts” of history. Try comparing different sources without knowing anything about the events themselves. Good teachers always taught both, and that’s where the pendulum should hover, in that zone where common sense dictates policy, and teachers are allowed to act as professionals. Sadly this is not the way policy has been framed, or teachers have been treated.

It’s maddening to see our government so out of touch, and our teachers so gatvol of the current system they are pleased to see the pendulum swing back. But it is swinging back to a world that no longer exists! And that makes me very, very worried about our future.

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Posted by on November 18, 2010 in 21st Century Skills


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