15 January 2012

Good morning to you all – we’ve had a very pleasant week. The weather has been mainly cooperative – very mild in the first part of the week and then turning frosty and colder at the end of the week but generally clear and bright. It doesn’t really matter if it’s cold as long as it’s not cold with lashings of rain.

An item in the news this week got me to thinking about a possible topic for a doctorate thesis. How long does it take a new Conservative education minister to come up with some wacky proposals whose objectives would seem to be to set education in the UK back twenty to thirty years or, if possible, all the way back to the Victorian age?

As far as the Tories are concerned, the majority of society’s present ills can be traced to the education policies introduced over the last forty or fifty years. Never mind the financial crisis and the deficit, the fundamental cause of today’s problems are the failings of the current education system. Thankfully, Michael Gove, the current Tory education minister, has come to our rescue and has introduced a raft of proposals designed to bring education in this country back to the high mark of British imperial power and status.

For example, there’s an obvious lack of discipline in society so, within a few weeks of taking office, Gove announced a fast-track program to enable former soldiers to step straight in front of classes. That will straighten those kids out!

Then, we all know that the independent education sector is vastly superior to the comprehensive state system where schools provide educational opportunities for all and encourage children to think for themselves. So, Gove is introducing measures to compel state schools to become “Academies”, each of which will have a corporate sponsor and be independent of all control and influence (other than control by the education minister and influence from their corporate sponsor, of course).

And, just this week, he strikes again. Schools are using technology to enable teachers and students to become more creative and innovative? The obvious answer is to get rid of the ICT curriculum with its emphasis on using technology as a tool to enhance learning and teaching and engage students and, instead, insist that all students learn computer programming.

Now, I’ve got absolutely nothing against programming or programmers or indeed of teaching children how to program. I actually believe it’s a really useful skill which can help students develop problem-solving strategies and logical thinking skills which are transferable to other contexts. And, the National Curriculum has such opportunities in its programme of study for ICT. However, Gove’s idea is that the additional aspects of the current ICT curriculum with its emphasis on developing students’ capability to use computers and other technology as a tool, is no good, must be discarded and instead everyone should be learning how to develop an App for the iPhone.

We had this debate about the role of ICT in the National Curriculum thirty years ago and, although it grieves me to admit it, this was one area where the Thatcher government actually got it right – by defining ICT as a capability and by deciding that what was important for students was the ability to interact with technology confidently and comfortably, that we’d all be using technology in the future and if the UK were to succeed its citizens needed to know how to apply their technological skills in an increasingly global economy.

Now, Gove has decided to throw all that away by discarding the capability and insisting on the development of a narrow skill set which only a handful of students will ever need or be able to apply. To use a very obvious analogy, it’s rather like insisting that all students learn how to build an internal combustion engine rather than learning how to drive a car from A to B. Only a handful of us need to know how our motor car actually works; we need to have the capability to drive it safely. Just as a number of students will choose to become motor mechanics (because they have an interest and affinity) only a handful of students will become software developers. The rest of us will be perfectly content in our ignorance, as long as we can use the software successfully to achieve our objectives. That won’t stop us complaining about poor user interfaces and applications which almost do what we want but not quite. But to suggest that we all go off and develop our own web browser is nonsense.

At the very least, it makes headlines and the Daily Mail readers (i.e., the Tory heartland) lap it up. And, it distracts them so they don’t spend too much time thinking about the real issues facing the country like the financial crisis.

There was a status doing the rounds on Facebook (and in other places, I’m sure) soon after the coalition government took power and announced their austerity measures:

Remember when teachers, nurses, doctors, education officers, school and nursery support staff, librarians, social workers, care assistants, bin men and lollipop ladies crashed the stock market, wiped out banks, took billions in bonuses and paid no tax? No, me neither.

Still, dragging education back to the Victorian era will certainly resolve all those issues.

Love to you all,



3 thoughts on “15 January 2012”

  1. Phew! Glad to hear it’s not cold with lashings of rain. It’s snowing here (or trying to at least). I don’t think there will be enough snow to cancel the first day of school tomorrow (where we give them opportunities to practice the real life application of interfacing with the Electronic Health Record and all kinds of technology needed to be successful nurses in the real world). In fact – it’s not even snowing anymore.

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