Monday, 4 November 2013

Educating Gove by David Thorpe

Another year, another shakeup of the examination system in England.

Michael Gove (I don't know about you, but he always reminds me of Archie Andrews from Educating Archie. That's Archie on the right below) has announced that young teenagers will have to study more spelling, grammar, Shakespeare and boring stuff like that.

I studied stuff like that, and look where it got me.

At least I live in Wales, which is not affected by such madness.

Make them learn Latin, that's what I say. I learnt Latin and I'm sure that helped me become a better writer. Nothing to do with imagination.

Shakespeare is so relevant to today, isn't it?

Joking aside, I don't care exactly what children learn. It's the way they are taught and by whom that matters. Qualified, enthusiastic teachers.

Learning must be fun if it isn't to alienate children from the system, from their inate eternal curiosity about the world, from an enthusiasm and thirst for new experiences.

And most importantly school must encourage critical thinking.

I read today that in a certain country textbooks and curriculum in schools "not only discourage critical thinking, but foster intolerance and hatred".

So said speakers at a panel discussion at a Children’s Literature Festival. In which country? Read on.

“When emotional and sentimental content, as opposed to objective fact, is added to the curriculum it adds a sense of intolerance, bias and even hatred. That is how our curriculum is designed”. That's what one of the delegates said in a discussion on ‘Curriculum and textbooks: do they promote critical thinking?’

Okay, the country's Pakistan and the speaker was Pakistan Minorities Teachers’ Association Chairman Professor Anjum James Paul.

Now I know Michael Gove gets all starry eyed, emotional and sentimental when he talks about making children in all those parts of England which are no longer full of white Anglo-Saxons learn to speak the Queen's English, recite all the kings and queens of England and their dates and learn Shakespeare and Tennyson by rote.

But does he realise that he is emulating Pakistan's education policy?

Anyway, you don't need to hear this from me. Just listen to some of the delegates at this children's literature festival:

Raheela Akram, principal at the Sanjan Nagar School, said that both teachers and-students were confused about textbooks and curriculum. “Our books are knowledge-based but they fail to address critical thinking”.

Ameena Saiyid, managing director at the Oxford University Press, said that examinations were based on textbooks and not the curriculum. “Students are merely required to reproduce content verbatim. How is that going to promote critical thinking?”

Tanveer Jahan, executive director at the Democratic Commission for Human Development, said unless the textbooks were based on truth, they would fail to encourage critical thinking. “Is the purpose of our curriculum to produce good Muslims or good citizens?”

Sound familiar? Okay, Mr Gove, “Is the purpose of our curriculum to produce good patriots or good citizens?”


Penny Dolan said...

Critical thinking is an important aspect of education, and not something that fits easily with marking techniques.

The Gove approach worries me in many many ways from an educational point of view. In addition, I see no evidence that he and his team have thought through the social impact of creating a large percentage of young people who fail exams in an exam-led school culture and who will not or cannot go on to take a degree when that is one of the league table "drives" of secondary schooling. The eleven-plus only worked (and works) for those who passed it.

Andrew said...

Neither, in my opinion.

I did Latin at school. I've had few urges to repeat translation of 'Caesar's Gallic Wars'.

What it did do was spark an interest in recognisisng the roots of words...

The first word taught in Latin is/was.. 'amo'.. meaning 'I love'.
Brings.. amicable, amorous ... In French... mon ami - my friend.

The Latin verb.. 'educio', at root means, as I recall .. to bring out from within.

Anonymous said...

I think you have created what is called a "false dichotomy" there, David.

Also, it is a bit simplistic to create a comparison with Pakistan and imagine that this clinches your argument against Gove.

The argument deserves greater depth of thought.

John Dougherty said...

I don't think David's imagining that he's "clinched" anything, Anonymous. But he has provided food for thought. Critical thinking does seem to be low on Mr Gove's list of priorities in education.

I may well post more on this when it's my turn on the blog in a couple of weeks!

Anonymous said...

I would totally agree. I am absolutely fed up with the government constantly changing my education, with no regard to how hard I am already working.
A great post, that I fully support.


P.S. I love Latin!

Stroppy Author said...

David, would you prefer a world in which children were not taught any Shakespeare? Isn't that return to the elilist 'good literature's not for the likes of you' attitude? Ditto Latin. They have to be taught well - not in a Govian learning by rote way. But I wouldn't want an education system that shut some children out of our cultural heritage because won't help them work as plumbers or accountants or whatever. That's not what education is about. I write and think better because I read Aristotle. We need to teach children to think rigorously - that's a core skill that will help them in any future endeavour - and there's no need to rule out any particular ways of teaching that skill. Actually, I think if kids thought about the issues of kingship and tyranny that Shakespeare addresses, they might come to their own conclusions about government, and Gove might not like them.