Do you believe the curriculum needs to be more relevant for a 21st century world? If you had the power to change the school curriculum, what would you change?
Part of the Top Global Teacher Blog Series
Prince Ea’s ‘The People vs the School System’ video nearly says it all!
The curriculum, the assessment system that drives the curriculum and the teacher education that supports the system have all lost their way. They were designed for a particular point in time: the industrial revolution; they are perpetuated by those for whom the system worked. Those for whom the system did not work get no say in its reform because they are labelled failures, of whom society need take no account.
The content of the news in the last few months, and indeed years, provide clear and loud evidence for the fact that our education system is failing. Division, hatred and bigoted fearfulness are fostered seemingly unchallenged, and our education system has not prepared our youngsters to evaluate the veracity of so many claims. We are not serving our young people well. The focus on cramming our heads full of stuff, much of which is immediately forgotten because it is unimportant for life beyond the classroom and the exam hall, needs to be urgently replaced with the skills of critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration. We need to focus on developing the values of integrity, resilience, a good work ethic and most importantly kindness in order to truly prepare our students for life ahead. These are harder to measure, and even harder to provide universally useable standardised tests for, but that does not mean we should stop trying to find ways of prioritising them.
Yes, of course we want well-informed young people. Yes, of course we want youngsters with great literacy and numeracy skills. However, I would argue that we, as educators, have a greater responsibility to ensure deep thought is engaged about how this knowledge is used.
The science is there:
We know that our brains will protect themselves against anything that aggresses our identity and our identification within ‘our group’. This natural instinct towards ‘othering’ people, for whatever reason, is the foundation for so much hatred and division that causes the social instability we see around us. Surely, good education supports habits which address and overcome this natural human weakness. This will require training in empathy, kindness, critical thinking, creative problem solving and learning. We need teach our students how to listen to history, to other groups and provide robust peer-to-peer accountability and self-analysis.
Given a free reign, I would refocus the assessment system so as to appreciate good global and local citizenship skills, and to ensure that all other educational components were assessed against a students’ ability to help develop as strong citizens. At EducAid, we are constrained by a requirement to prepare youngsters for a set of old-fashioned and, sadly, often corrupt assessments that do nothing to prepare them for citizenship. However, we do all that we can to ensure that this occupies only a part of our time and energy. We focus our attention around six values that enable us to contribute to our vision of a dignified, democratic and prosperous Sierra Leone, where poverty is eradicated by educated citizens. These values are:
- Pursuing Excellence
- Building Equality
- Developing Citizenship Values
- Building Community Resilience
- Developing Leadership Thinking & Behaviour
- Ensuring Safety for All
Academic excellence has its part to play. We certainly don’t encourage dilatory attitudes or a waste of opportunity and indeed, we are incredibly proud of our consistent record for excellence (e.g. EducAid Lumley came 2nd in the country in the senior public exams, the WASSCE, for the 2nd year in a row in 2017) but it is not enough for us. If we do not teach our other values, particularly in a context like Sierra Leone, then it is like arming a child. Education can be used for extraordinary good but it can also be used to oppress and manipulate others who lack that education.
We have the responsibility to do whatever is within our power to bring change to the national curriculums we work within; but, if change is not possible on that level, we must do what we can teacher by teacher, classroom by classroom and school by school.
If you are interested in knowing more about EducAid’s work with vulnerable young Sierra Leoneans, please go to www.educaid.org.uk
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