Britain’s Education secretary wonders if a more open-source approach to determining what students learn–polling experts and teachers–would actually create a more tailored and useful experience.
A “wiki” approach to designing the curriculum that would allow teachers and experts to collaborate in tailoring lessons for schools is being proposed by the education secretary, Michael Gove.
The new approach to the curriculum for every subject draws inspiration from a US military counterinsurgency strategy outlined in Thomas Friedman’s latest book, That Used to Be Us.
Addressing reporters after a speech at the BETT education trade fair in London on Wednesday, Gove said: “I recently was inspired by a Thomas Friedman book. In it he used an example, funnily enough, from the field of the US military.
“What he explained is that those at the frontline were using their access to the wiki which was responsible for which government troops were deployed, and how hearts and minds could be won, to ensure that in real time they adjusted to the challenges of a life-or-death scenario.
“It struck me then that if we can have a wiki approach of those who have direct experience of the frontline, if we can do it in something as critical as the role of the military, then there is a huge potential to do it in education and other areas as well.”
The wiki approach would be extended to other subjects after being piloted in the government’s new programme of study for computer science, Gove said.
Schools are being given the freedom to use teaching resources in computer science designed by leading employers and academics, in a move aimed at transforming the teaching of information and commmunication technology (ICT).
Gove said: “I believe the dispersed wisdom of the best teachers in this country and globally will be better than any bureaucracy’s attempts to freeze in time and for all time the best way of teaching. I want to see that approach trialled through the development of new and more rigorous computer science curricula, and in due course computer science qualifications, and I then want to consider how we can more widely apply that to other subjects.”
Gove said that while the “essential requirements” of the National Curriculum would need to be specified in law, technology could be used to develop the content – and a wiki approach could be taken to developing new curriculum materials. In computer science, this will allow teachers to cover “innovative, specialist and challenging” topics.
“Teachers will now be allowed to focus more sharply on the subjects they think matter – for example, teaching exactly how computers work, studying the basics of programming and coding and encouraging pupils to have a go themselves.”
Gove said that if new computer science GCSEs are developed that meet “high standards of intellectual depth and practical value”, the government will consider including it in the English baccalaureate – a measure that recognises the achievements of GCSE pupils who complete a broad course of academic study.
In his speech beforehand, he highlighted the “disruptive force” of technology. But the speech also had a traditional flavour. It began with a reference to Plato’s academy “in a shady olive grove in ancient Athens” to make the argument that the fundamental school model has changed little over time.
In a passage referrring to an online library of lessons uploaded by teachers, he singled out “music lessons from Eton”. Gove also noted that the Royal Shakespeare Company was collaborating on an online resource to transform the teaching of the Bard.
Stephen Twigg, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: “It is right to identify that the ICT curriculum needs to be reformed to fit with the times. That’s why Labour said last year that pupils need to understand the mechanisms and coding behind computer programmes – not just learning how to use a word processor, enter data into a worksheet or design a Powerpoint presentation.
“Ofsted found that in two-thirds of secondary schools, ICT teaching is only satisfactory or poor. As well as updating programmes of study, we need better teacher training, higher standards, and continual assessment of what pupils are being taught.
“If the UK is to maintain our competitive edge, this generation of students need to develop their programming skills and an understanding of how maths, computing and science interrelate.
Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said that a move to establish a more creative curriculum should not be undermined by “continuing with the system of league tables and unnecessary floor targets which can lead to teaching to the test, resulting in all creativity being knocked out of schools”.
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