Friday, March 27, 2009


Two reports below:

Exit Winston Churchill, enter Twitter ... Yes, it's the new British primary school curriculum

Primary schools could ditch traditional lessons in favour of teaching children how to use social networking sites such as Twitter, it emerged yesterday. The usual Leftist fear of knowledge at work

In the biggest education shake-up for 20 years, pupils would no longer have to learn about the Romans, Vikings, Tudors, Victorians or the Second World War. Instead, under the blueprint for a new primary curriculum – which was drawn up by former Ofsted chief Sir Jim Rose following a request from Children's Secretary Ed Balls – they would have to be able to master websites such as Wikipedia, as well as blogging and podcasting. Compulsory sex education will start from five and children as young as nine will be taught to make 'informed decisions' about taking drugs and drinking alcohol.

As swathes of prescribed knowledge in science, history and geography are stripped back, schools will be encouraged to put a big emphasis on internet skills, environmental education, healthy eating and well-being. 'English will cover 'media texts' and 'social and collaborative forms of communication' alongside traditional works of literature.

These should include 'emails, messaging, wikis and twitters'. Wikis, as in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, are information databases that rely on being edited by the public, regardless of whether they have any specialist knowledge in the subject being discussed. Twitter is the latest phenomenon in social networking that entails writing short messages of just 140 characters to update other users of one's activities, feelings or thoughts.

Sir Jim's proposals are the biggest shakeup of primary schooling since the Tories introduced a national curriculum in 1988. But the final draft, which was leaked yesterday, was last night branded 'dangerous' and an assault on knowledge, while critics said children were accustomed to using modern media at home and needed no encouragement at school.

Robert Whelan, deputy director of the Civitas think-tank, which published a damning critique on the curriculum two years ago, said: 'This is yet another step on the journey to drain all academic content from the school curriculum and to replace discrete bodies of knowledge, which have been organised under subject headings for hundreds of years, with a lot of social engineering and flabby attempts at feelgood philosophy. 'These proposals will only serve to increase the educational apartheid between the state and independent sector, because the latter will retain traditional subjects.'

Pointing out the need for greater historical education, not less, he said he had recently asked a group of pupils in their late years at primary school when Shakespeare lived, and the answer came back as '50 years ago'.

Sean Lang, senior lecturer in History at Anglia Ruskin University and secretary of the Historical Association, said: 'This is part and parcel of a general trend both at primary and secondary level to downgrade knowledge, as if all you need is techniques, and knowledge is just stuff you get from the web.'

The Conservatives' education spokesman, Michael Gove, said: 'Sir Jim Rose's review of the primary curriculum has already promised to teach our children less. Now it proposes to replace solid knowledge with nods towards all the latest technological fashions.'

Under the proposed curriculum, children must also gain 'fluency' in keyboard skills as well as handwriting, and learn to use a spellchecker as well as learning to spell. Meanwhile a physical development, health and wellbeing programme will make sex education compulsory in primaries for the first time. From around the age of five, pupils will be taught about gender differences while at nine, they will learn about 'the physical changes that take place in the human body as they grow and how these relate to human reproduction'. They will also be told 'how new relationships may develop'. Under this section, schools will be required to cover healthy diets but will able to offer less variety of competitive sport.

Schools Minister Jim Knight said: 'Sir Jim Rose's report has not been completed let alone published yet – but we are already getting stories about dropping this or removing that from the curriculum. The bottom line is that we are working with experts to free up the curriculum in a way that teachers have asked us to do but British history has, and always will be, a core part of education in this country. 'Of course pupils in primary schools will learn about major periods including the Romans, the Tudors and the Victorians and will be taught to understand a broad chronology of major events in this country and the wider world.'


British grade-schools will teach seven-year-olds to speak properly

Primary school pupils will be taught to speak properly and recognise how to use standard English in formal settings, under proposals to overhaul of the curriculum for seven to 11-year-olds. The proposals will place strict emphasis on teaching children to “adjust what they say according to the formality of the context and the needs of their audience”. The reforms, to be finalised in April, follow similar changes to the secondary curriculum, which aimed to banish expressions such as “I ain’t” from pupils’ presentations.

They will also be taught how to create multimedia products, such as blogs, using moving images, text and sounds and to “share information with people and audiences within and beyond the school”. Crucially, they will also be taught to “make judgements about the reliability” of information gleaned on the internet, so they understand that cutting and pasting someone else’s work from the the internet does not constitute independent research.

The reforms aim to declutter the curriculum and to give teachers more control. The 13 traditional subjects would be merged into six learning areas and cross curricular learning would be the order of the day. These are: understanding English, communication and languages; mathematical understanding; scientific and technological understanding; human, social and environmental understanding; understanding physical health and well-being; and understanding arts and design.

In history children will no longer have to study both the Victorians and World War Two, as there will be greater flexibility over content. But they will still have to learn about “two key periods of history” significant to the UK and will study “a broad chronology of major events in the UK and the wider world”.

Flora Wilson, education manager of the Historical Association, which represents historians history teachers, said she believed that many teachers would welcome the more flexible approach of the reforms. Cross curricular teaching could enable more history teaching to take place than at present. An example may be a course on ‘the role of women in World War 2’, which would combine teaching about the war with lessons on food production and nutrition, she said.

John Bercow, Conservative MP, and author of a government backed review of communication skills, welcomed the report’s emphasis on oracy. “In a world where the job for life has disappeared, there is a premium on communications skills - speaking and listening, which in turn promote social mobility,” he said.

But Michael Gove, the Shadow Education Secretary, expressed scepticism about Sir Jim’s emphasis on technology. “Information technology is hugely important, but it should be a means, not an end in itself,” he said.


Australia: Christian school rejects Muslim teacher

A CHRISTIAN school in Werribee has been forced to defend its refusal to offer a training placement to a Muslim teaching student on the grounds of her religion. Victoria University student Rachida Dahlal has reportedly lodged a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission against Heathdale Christian College, accusing it of discrimination and prejudice.

But the faith-based private school stood by its decision last night. It said it would have been "inappropriate" to offer the student a placement because of the school's Christian ethos. Principal Reynald Tibben said Mrs Dahlal - who wears a head scarf and is a devout Muslim - may have found it difficult to work at a school where the teachers' morning staff briefing includes prayer devotion and Bible reading. "The way we practise our education is not just nominal, it's actually what parents want for their kids, and it would have been confusing for the kids. It's not that we have anything against her or her beliefs, we just felt it was an inappropriate placement," Mr Tibben said. "There's obviously a difference between being a Muslim and a Christian - so it was a religious issue from that perspective - but it was as much about supporting her as it was the college."

Mrs Dahlal could not be contacted by The Age last night.

According to the Wyndham Leader, the 35-year-old mother had chosen Heathdale because it was the closest school to her home, and one of few offering her specialty subjects of mathematics and French.

Mr Tibben said his school, which takes about 12 university students for training each year, offered to support Mrs Dahlal in finding another school and questioned why Victoria University hadn't given "a little more thought" in guiding her into a school-based placement. The university's acting Vice-Chancellor, Professor John McCallum, said Mrs Dahlal had been counselled about Heathdale's policy of taking those whose values aligned to its own.


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