Friday, March 13, 2015

'Teach philosophy in British primary schools,' says academic

Professor Angie Hobbs believes just one philosophy class a week would benefit children’s intellectual and social development

“If we leave questioning the models children have been taught until later in life, it could be too late," warns Professor Angie Hobbs. "That is why we need to start teaching philosophy in primary school.”

By this the professor means that children should be taught from a young age that there are other ways of seeing the world to the one they are exposed to by their family and social circle.

It's a pertinent and timely point to make, especially considering the current debate around the risk of 'radicalisation' facing young people.

Hobbs is currently the only professor of public understanding of philosophy in the world. She believes that just one philosophy class a week could benefit children’s intellectual and social development.

Her department at the University of Sheffield – along with organisations such as The Philosophy Foundation – are currently pioneering the teaching of ancient Greek philosophy in UK primary schools.

Hobbs has taught Plato and Heraclitus to classes of seven-year-olds and says that "children respond very well to fundamental questions, such as 'What makes me, me? What is time? Does nothing exist?”.

She tells me that, in her experience, children love Zeno's paradox 'the moving arrow is motionless' or the Cretan liar paradox. "I tell them ‘I always lie’, and then ask ‘am I lying now?’” she says.

Learning ancient Greek philosophy at a young age taps into children’s “natural curiosity, their imaginative and intellectual zest”. Hobbs says that the natural ability children have to imagine other worlds and leap through time – the reason for their love of books such as Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings – is the same ability needed to grasp Plato.

Hobbs has taught Plato to classes of seven-year-olds

Hobbs thinks philosophy is “a greatly underused resource in the UK” and is critical of the government’s education policy.

“Some of those in Government – and not just Michael Gove in his former role – have said that primary education should mainly be about the acquisition of facts and knowledge, and that children can ask questions later. I think this is wrong.”

Interest in philosophy is growing, however. Only this month, Hobbs received over 1,000 enquiries from listeners after appearing on Desert Island Discs.

In a country with increasingly diverse classrooms, Hobbs also believes having debates on Greek philosophy in primary schools can help build bridges of understanding between children from different backgrounds:

“Ancient Greek philosophy is a shared cultural resource and it belongs to all of us. It is great to use with primary school kids because, although some Greek philosophers were religious, they were not espousing modern religious ideology, so you can get a class of mixed or no faith kids and tackle these big questions in an inclusive way.

“Studying Greek philosophy will show them from a very early age that it is good to ask questions. It helps protect them from all sorts of indoctrination – from religious and political extremists, from gangs, even from their teachers,” she explains.

Studying these philosophical concepts can also help children cope with the choices and challenges life presents them with, Hobbs argues.

“Studying philosophy can get children to understand that there are lots of different ways of thinking, being, living and seeing the world,” she says.

Hobbs is certain there can even be distinct therapeutic benefits to studying philosophy. For example, exploring the ancient Greek Stoics’ theories on accepting loss of control and change can help young children gain “a robustness” and a sense that it is normal not to be happy all the time.

I ask Hobbs which books make the best springboard for children exploring philosophy at home: "I have to say now that I have a vested interest in The Philosophy Shop as I am a contributor," she laughs, "but it is a great book and is filled with puzzles, stories and activities."


Faith schools 'damaged by British values curriculum', says MP

Sir Edward Leigh, the Conservative MP, will say that the idea that Catholics are being radicalised in state schools is "ridiculous" and "offensive"

The idea that Catholics are being radicalised in state schools is "ridiculous" and "offensive", the Conservative MP for Gainsborough will say today during a parliamentary debate on education, regulation and faith schools.

Sir Edward Leigh, who is also the president of the Catholic Union of Great Britain, will say in a speech that "faith schools should hold their heads up high" and should stand for Christian values, according to fragments of his speech seen by the Telegraph.

"[Faith schools] should not engage in the pre-emptive cringe and kowtow to the latest fashion but should stand by the principles that have made them such a success: love for God and neighbour; pursuit of truth; high-aspiration and discipline," Sir Edward will say.

“The idea that Catholics are being radicalised in state schools is as ridiculous as it is offensive,” he will say.

The comments will follow accusations against Ofsted, the education watchdog, of making unfair claims against a small number of faith schools. Last year, St Benedict's Catholic School in Suffolk was downgraded from “good” to “requires improvement”, as part of a string of inspections last term.

The Catholic comprehensive was part of a list of 11 schools that were accused of “failing to prepare pupils for life in Britain”. It was ruled that St Benedict’s was among those not able to fulfil new British values requirements introduced last September.

Separately, Durham Free School is set to be closed down after it was declared inadequate for – among other issues – failing the Government’s new British values tests, introduced following the so-called Trojan Horse scandal, in which radical Muslim groups tried to infiltrate schools in Birmingham.

Sir Edward will say “the Education Minister must make clear to Ofsted that having a religion ethos is not a negative thing. There are no Anglican or Catholic jihadists. Christian assemblies do not encourage extremism.”

A Department of Education spokesperson said: “It is not true to suggest that schools would ever be penalised for having a faith ethos.

“School are neither discriminated against nor given special treatment based on any religious belief. All schools are treated equally and inspected in the same way – any suggestion otherwise is wrong.

“We want every school to promote the basic British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs so that all children are prepared for life in modern Britain. Ofsted play a key part in ensuring this takes place.”

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector and a former head teacher of a Catholic secondary school, has previously laughed off suggestions that he’s presiding over “some sort of state-sponsored anti-faith school ‘witch hunt’”. He’s also said most faith schools “have nothing to fear either from Ofsted or from the recent guidance issued by the Department for Education on promoting British values as part of the curriculum.”

However, Sir Edward will say: “So-called “British values” is a classic bureaucratic response to a problem and it is damaging Christian schools.

“The truth is that real British values are Christian values. It is the influence of Christianity that made us one of the most tolerant and successful nations on earth. Not this artificial nonsense dreamed up by officials.”



Technology leader invests to train 100,000 Australian students in 21st century skills

Cisco Systems Australia Pty Ltd today announced a five-year investment program expanding to train over 100,000 Australian tertiary and school students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills.

AUSTEM 2020 is a new program, which builds on Cisco Australia’s long-term commitment to tackle the STEM skills shortage and help create an innovation economy, boost productivity and boost jobs growth.

Cisco Australia and New Zealand Vice President, Ken Boal made the announcement: “The Australian economy is in transition, and there has never been a more important time to invest in the programs that will equip students with the skills they need to secure the jobs of the future.”

Cisco’s AUSTEM 2020 consists of:

    A $21 million projected investment in the Cisco Networking Academy® program over five years to train some 100,000 students via public-partnerships with not-for-profit higher education providers and schools in industry relevant, job-ready technology skills.

    5,000 students connected to STEM career and job opportunities by 2020 through the Find Yourself in the Future program to be offered to Cisco® Networking Academy students, who are coming up to the final stages of studies and making plans for entry into the job market.

    500 students to participate in the Cisco Live Melbourne 2015 Student Summit engaging existing and new STEM students in how technology will shape the future.

    AUS2020 mentoring commitment that will see 20 per cent of Cisco Australia staff providing 20 hours of mentoring to existing and prospective tertiary education and school STEM students, totalling some 5,000 mentoring hours per year.

In addition, Cisco will be delivering opportunities that specially target young women such as the Cisco Women Rock-IT program, where some 1,000 girls per year in Australia will participate in quarterly webinars to learn more about how IT skills can open up interesting and rewarding careers. 

Since 1998, Cisco Australia has invested more than $50 million in the Networking Academy program in Australia, which has trained more than 130,000 students on ICT skills. Cisco Australia collaborates with over 120 higher education institutions and works with 490 instructors for its Networking Academy.

Recently appointed to the Commonwealth Science Council and as President of the Business/Higher Education Roundtable, Mr Boal said that STEM skills were identified by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb, as the cornerstone of our modern economy.

“Science and innovation are recognised internationally as key for boosting productivity, creating more and better jobs, enhancing competitiveness and growing our economy,” Mr Boal said. 

Cisco’s commitment is to collaborate with government, business, education and the wider community to help build Australia’s STEM capabilities.


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