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Free Radical

National Curricula: mired in the past, or ready for the future?

Tony Sherborne
14:33  |  24 January 2011

These days Governments use their National Curricula as a weapon to fight their economic wars. Their thinking is that higher positions in international achievement comparisons will pay dividends in future GDP. Neo-conservative educational thinking is in the ascendant, and in the UK from 2013 we can expect 'strengthened subjects'. That's government speak for reverting towards the unquestioned science facts and concepts of science, with less emphasis on context and 'how science works' skills.

Sadly, this 'curriculum of the past' is appealing to too many people – including parents and teachers. What's the problem? Lest we forget, it's what so easily turns education into filling students' minds with useless insert knowledge.

To stay economically competitive, the job of the curriculum is to prepare students for life in the 21st Century. Yes, knowledge is crucial. But it has to be made meaningful. And that means not teaching the facts for their own sake. Instead they should be embedded in contexts, controversies and conflicts – so that students become skilled in applying the content, questioning it and making connections.

In other words, in the rush back to basics, one fact is more important than most: that a good curriculum is a 'critical' curriculum.

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