Going back to teaching facts is like getting us all to memorise phone numbers again!

I was rather disturbed by the announcements from Michael Gove last week about changes to the school curriculum:

Education Secretary Michael Gove has said he wants more “facts” in England’s national curriculum, as he launches a review of what children are taught.

Mr Gove told the BBC there was currently too much focus on teaching methods and not enough on content. – BBC news

The first thing it made me think of was Sugata Mitra‘s experiments at a school in Gateshead, where he left a group of 11 year olds with 6 GCSE questions to answer armed only with an internet connection. The group that were the slowest to get all 6 answers right took only 45 minutes! Professor Mitra’s point is, if a group of four 11 year olds can get the answers to GCSE questions right in 45 minutes – what should we be teaching our children?

Any of us can find out facts at the click of a button. If I can’t remember when Anne Boleyn was beheaded, a quick Google search will tell me in seconds. So why is Michael Gove saying that teachers should focus more on imparting facts?

When I was younger, I used to know everyone’s phone numbers by heart. This was in the days before caller ID and mobile phones. Funnily enough, I can still remember a lot of the numbers of my school friends. Nowadays, of course, I don’t need to know anyone’s number by heart as they are all stored in my mobile phone. It could be a slight inconvenience if my phone battery ran out and I couldn’t ring someone but this very rarely happens.

What Michael Gove is proposing is like saying we should all go back to memorising everyone’s phone numbers! There’s no point! What a waste of a teacher’s energy and a child’s for that matter.

One of the last things I did in my role at Lifelong Learning UK was commission a literature review into the pedagogic uses of technology in lifelong learning. The authors of this review stated:

learning content is not as important as knowing where or who to connect to to find it

With a world of information at our fingertips, what we need to be teaching children are the skills of enquiry, research and the ability to distinguish a good source of information from a poor one: what Howard Rheingold calls ‘crap detection‘!

I think Michael Gove should watch this video and think again:

And if he’s thinking about what kind of curriculum we might need in the 21st century, he’d do well to watch this talk from a primary school teacher based in Birmingham about the creative ways he lets children own their learning:

Or this excellent talk from the RSA on changing educational paradigms:


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