In 2017, I wrote a post about Scotland’s disastrous ‘Curriculum for Excellence’. Soon afterwards I was contacted by a number of Welsh teachers who asked me whether I was aware of what was happening in Wales. I was not aware and so I looked into it.
Britain is currently involved in a grimly fascinating natural experiment. While England has taken steps to boost early reading instruction and generally enhance the quality of knowledge taught in the curriculum, Scotland and Wales have sought a trendier approach, typified by the advice of people like Andreas Schleicher, head of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
To Schleicher, education for the future is very different to education of the past, as he explains:
“Today, the world no longer rewards us just for what we know – Google knows everything – but for what we can do with what we know.“
This argument leads to a reduced emphasis on teaching actual content in favour of nonexistent generic skills such as creativity and critical thinking. Subject disciplines are dismantled as a thousand cross-curricular projects bloom. Assessment becomes more vague, subjective and complex as teachers disappear under rubrics and debate the meaning of ‘substantial’.
None of this can end well. Knowledge is not something the mind pulls out of a filing cabinet to manipulate. If it were, then the availability of knowledge via the internet would support the Schleicher argument. In fact, knowledge is what you think with. It’s what your thoughts are made of. If you want to think deeply, critically or creatively then you better make sure you have the right tools for the job and these are schema built up from interconnected webs of knowledge.
It is therefore unsurprising that Welsh teachers are raising the concern that the new curriculum will equip students with less knowledge than before. This is a worrying prospect.
Interestingly, Welsh education academics seem to be in something of an antediluvian state when it comes to the education debate. Some have deliberately chosen to interpret criticism of the new Welsh curriculum as an attack on Welsh teachers.
It is not an attack on teachers. It is a criticism of the people who dream up these schemes.