Tuesday 16th April is rapidly approaching and we would strongly recommend that readers, if they haven’t done so already, respond to the governments call for comments on the proposed National Curriculum for England. Non-response suggests compliance, and it is really important for the state of education and the future of our children and young people to make your own significant and worthy comments. There’s strong opposition to Mr Gove’s proposals and he needs to know the strength of this in no uncertain terms.
Even if you can only complete a few questions, it’s vital that the understanding, views and feelings of parents, carers, teachers, academics and indeed young people themselves are reflected through this important opportunity to have your say.
In order to complete the consultation document, follow the link below.
(A slight word of warning: The government haven’t made this document entirely user friendly. There is an option to complete this on line but the usual format with dedicated boxes for response is not within the consultation document in word or pdf).
Whilst doing our own response, we have been reviewing the proposed curriculum and would like to make some further comments below.
Here are a few quotes from the National Curriculum document.
“Education for the purpose of improving knowledge, values and skills of the entire population with education being directed towards the full development of the human personality.”
“The principles described in this document are derived from the philosophical orientation, psychological principles and socio cultural perspectives and have the child as the focus.”
“This curriculum also focuses on the development of life skills that enable the individuals to translate their knowledge, skills and values into actual abilities.”
“The curricular focus is on making the learning meaningful and relevant to students and providing the scope for students constructing their knowledge and not just acquiring information.”
“Schools provide a diversity of experiences that develop the individual holistically.”
“We want to move from a system which is focused mainly on providing and monitoring inputs to schooling to a system in which…. local efforts play an active role in monitoring school performance and developing alternative structures for the delivery of schooling.”
“Qualitative improvement initiatives will focus on improving the policies which make possible the learning gains for the individual learner and the creation of a climate of achievement and creativity.”
By now, of course, the reader will have recognised that the National Curriculum that we are quoting from is not the one proposed by Mr Gove.
The quotes are actually from a small country to the north of India called Bhutan. Some might have heard about this country because of their emerging democracy that values human development above economic success. The incoming King in the 1970s allowed a truly democratic election process for the first time in its history, and decided that the worth and value of his nation should be measured not in Gross Domestic Product or Income but Gross National Happiness.
In 2009, a new National Curriculum was developed, but it’s extremely important to note the wording for the title of this document. It’s not a “National Curriculum” for all schools other than those who have the privilege to opt out if they change the governance to academy status or become a free school. This is a “National Education Framework: Curricular Perspective”.
Whilst it remains a statutory document, the tone of the title sets a completely different discourse – one of inclusion rather than edict, of flexibility rather than total adherence. This is a document that persuades not pressgangs, enables rather than insists, guides as opposed to dicates.
It has the backing and involvement of educationalists, parents, young people and leaders. The King himself finds a need to explain his views on education and its fundamental place in the development of a nation and its citizens.
“If there is one word that will stand out above all other words when we describe our country’s amazing journey of modernisation over the last few decades – it is education. Our institutions, our leaders of today – all of us, including me – are the proud products of the Bhutanese education system.”
“Our education system built and nurtured with your hard work and dedication has served us well. But we must understand that times have changed here in Bhutan and all around us in the world. We cannot face new challenges with the same tools.”
And he continues further.
“We must build an education system that nurtures people with the right skills, knowledge and training to fulfil this Vision.”
“Our nation’s Vision can only be fulfilled if the scope of our dreams and aspirations are matched by the reality of our commitment to nurturing our future citizens.”
“A nation’s future will mirror the quality of its youth – a nation cannot fool herself into thinking of a bright future when she has not invested wisely in her children.”
Stirring words, and if it were just rhetoric, then in itself that would be promising – with the constant use of words like “nurturing” “fulfilment” “vision” and “dreams”. But this document isn’t just rhetoric.
Just look at how “Vision” is at the epicentre of educational development in this country.
From start to finish there is constant reference to the “individual” – not, please note, the student, the pupil, the client or the customer. The entire document outlines the purpose of education, its aims, its values, and its insistence that skills and values carry the same weight as knowledge. It specifically states that the acquisition of knowledge is meaningless without experience. It rightly suggests that early year’s education should focus on the immediate environment of the child and broaden out as their minds mature and flourish. (Please note, therefore, that it’s not suggesting that Key Stage One Children learn about historical periods thousands of years ago before their brains can function that sort of surreal and unrelated information).
The National Education Framework for Bhutan outlines the core values of its society, gives an excellent summary of child development to contextualise its work and then provides fifteen pages of a curriculum framework that provides workable and meaningful learning outcomes – none of which have a specific statement of factual learning attached to it such as knowing who Clive of India is.
It focuses on key areas of learning. It focuses on learning more than teaching.
Before it even talks about the curriculum, it mentions developmental appropriateness, learner and learning, teaching for constructive knowledge, effective pedagogy, learning language, culture and values and the role of the community in learning.
It considers ethics and aesthetics in the same breath as mathematics and science. It talks of individual self-discipline, individual relationships with others. It aspires for its young people to be “creative, industrious, communicator, knowledgeable, caring, mindful, reflective, disciplined, productive and skillful”. It talks of multiple intelligences and the need to nurture all of the individuals intelligences.
Here is the document in full, which is far more readable than the 221 pages of the National Curriculum for England (inclusive of appendices).
(The choice of artwork for its front cover says it all).
Over the course of the next few weeks, we shall be summarising some of the key points from this document in line with previous posts we have written about education systems in other countries, but we do think this document is incredibly important and should be considered as part of a response to the proposed curriculum for England.
What do we want from our education system? Is it possible to redesign rather than reform? Isn’t what Bhutan have done in keeping with the whole notion of “slow” where serious and thought-provoking discussions and research has occurred in order to develop a system that reflect the need of the individual as much (more so) than society at large?
For those who will go on to say that this is an extremely small nation and hardly comparable to our own, then we accept that there are fundamental differences. The country has as many schools as two large local authorities put together but if they can facilitate change with their vastly limited resources compared to our own, then what is preventing us from working on a local level to meet the needs of our children rather than following a Govegrind diktat that simply doesn’t connect with young people or the society in which they live?
Like us, read this document and weep, for it offers an opportunity that may not be afforded to our own children. There’s no loss of accountability or stringency of learning in this document.
Of course, it’s all based on what is valued, what is important and what we actually think would benefit our children and our society, now and in the future.
Related articles and research
Speeches and letters from the Minister for Education in Bhutan
National Curriculum by 3Di Associates
Other related 3Di Associates posts