As the Government unveils its new curriculum and as I enter my final week as a teacher (for the forseeable future), it got me thinking what kind of curriculum do I think young people need today. It goes to questions of what is the purpose of education and that takes me back to David Ford's suggestion that education is for gaining wisdom. Our hope must be that young people's education enables them to become wise, which is not the same as gaining knowledge. Julian Stern says if we are asked to value each subject, what value would we give it? If all subjects in school were worth 1,000 units, how much would each subject be worth and why? (Teaching Religious Education, 2006, 89). What I find interesting about the government's proposals are that lots of the new additions such as financial capability and cooking were once (in my view) the task of parents. It seems increasingly that schools are having to become more parental and teachers are expecting to be able to fulfil numerous roles for which time and ability is often lacking. It also reflects how schools are becoming, or they are being asked to become, centres of the community, which raises interesting questions for the place of the church.
Reading the government's proposals as they have been reported, many of them sounds sensible and quite exciting. The idea of moving away from traditional subjects to topics, I think is worth exploring, but schools and teachers need to have time to prepare in order for it to be beneficial. Too many new ideas are given to teachers without any time to make them worthwhile and so become merely a paper-filling exercise. If I think about my own subject RE, this has many links to history, geography, english, science, art (and others) that go unexplored. I like the idea of shorter lessons. I have some classes for whom 1 hour is too long and if they had two 25-30 minutes lessons, a lot more would learning would get done.
Young people need a curriculum that enables them recognise they are both global and local citizens (I use the word 'citizens', but believe it is often an ambiguous word). Too many young are unaware of what is going on in the world or has happened in the world.
Young people need a curriculum where a subject brings its knowledge and skills to bear on everyday and future life. (Admittedly in some subjects I think they are already trying to do this) So a study of the holocaust is not a history exercise, but an exercise that explores moral, ethical, philosophical and theological questions - what is evil? what does it mean to be human? where was God? how to we cope with difference? Or an art lesson becomes as much about drawing and painting, as about how do we read and understand this piece of art - what does it say about the painter? what does it say about us? does it have a point? does it need one?
Young people need a curriculum that is not about keeping young people's options open as long as possible or givng them too many choices. As ultimately some subjects end up getting devalued. Or young people make their choices and then find the school can't fit them into the timetable and have to do something else. I think young people should begin to become subject specialists earlier on.
Young people need a curriculum where teachers have more say in what is taught and where they don't end up teach the same topic year after year. Teachers need to continue to study in the their specialism, to bring new knowledge and reading into the classroom.
Young people need a curriculum where religion, philosophy and ethics is included in every subject, just as teachers have to tick the ICT and literacy boxes. Although hopefully it wouldn't be a tick boxes exercise. A curriculum that has its centre in religious, philosophical and ethical questions is a curriculum interested in wisdom.
Young people need a curriculum where homework is thought about, where its not about the quantity set, but about the quality. Too many homeworks young people are asked to do are (in my opinion) basically pointless.
Young people need a curriculum where they have to think. Too many lessons in too many subjects don't stretch young people to actually think.
Young people need a curriculum where out of school visits are encouraged and part of the norm. Reading about Sikhism in a textbook is a poor substitute to visiting a gurdwara and listening to a Sikh talk about their beliefs and life. Reading a Shakespeare play in class is a poor substitute to seeing it done (well) on a stage. A visit somewhere can have much more impact than any number of lessons on a topic.
Young people need a curriculum which puts ICT in its place.