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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Treasure Hunt Learning

Prompted by George's response to my post last week, it occurred to me that I have never blogged about how we can and should be shaping the learners of the future.

Whilst the philosophical shift in many governments' attitudes to education which moved in the 1990s towards a more interventionist and "evidence based" approach was needed (in the UK at least the average quality of teaching had declined), I am hoping that Ed Balls's recent scrapping of SATs for 14 year olds is recognition that the pendulum has swung too far towards a culture of measurement.

As business has known for years and governments should have learned by now, people respond to the figures that they know that management are looking at. If Doctors can earn more for giving flu jabs to asthma sufferers, they will; if teachers are rewarded for delivering students with 5 A-C grade GCSEs including English and Maths, that is what they will do.

The trouble is that so much time is taken preparing students for the tests that young people are no longer taught to learn. By spoonfeeding our children we risk making them mentally obese.

But it is not as simple as returning to a false memory of the halcyon days of education where all learning was a joyful treasure hunt without end. Whilst is is true that, "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it" it is equally true that there are "Lies, damned lies and statistics" and you will get the answer to the question you ask, not the question that you think you have asked.

"In large states public education will always be mediocre, for the same reason that in large kitchens the cooking is usually bad." Friedrich Nietzsche

Whilst I agree with Nietzsche that too many cooks often spoil the broth, I don't share his miserablist sentiment entirely. I still believe that it is still possible to retain the joyful spirit of discovery in learning present in a treasure hunt but at the same time have accountability through assessment that is both light in touch but also useful and relevant.

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