What are we teaching in schools?

Two very interesting comment pieces appeared in today’s Irish Times. The editorial commented on the draft report by the National Economic and Social Forum on the connection between school literacy levels and social exclusion and inside, a piece by Breda O’Brien (link above) on creativity and second level education. It is interesting to connect the two pieces.
As a society we have a responsibility to prepare young people for the future – this is what we expect of our education system – but we cannot possibly know what the future has in store. As the educational philosopher John Dewey put it – the best we can do is to teach children how to experience the present to its maximum extent.
Our children are poorly served by an archaic education system where state exams focus on selective recall and pure luck. Notice that we have the State Exams Commission not the ‘educational assessment’ commission indicating that they are only concerned with ‘exams’ one form of educational assessment. This is like an orchestra that can play any music as long as it is composed by Mozart!
Future oriented skills such as critical thinking, inquiry, creativity and collaboration are largely undervalued in the present school system. Until we reform the pedagogy of schooling and assessment we will continue to suffer the consequences of poor literacy levels. And large numbers of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds will continue to face a future on the margins of society.


  • Ben A.

    I totally agree with you about the importance of preparing students for life, rather than just the next standardized test. It's too easy to slip into "teaching to the test", but I've found some helpful ebooks at http://www.dedicatedteacher.com that have helped me focus on critical thinking/collaborative learning and incorporate these skills into the curriculum. Great post!

  • Anonymous

    I agree with the last comment . Our education system in Ireland is totally left brain oriented although we require right brain skills in the workplace just as much as left brain.We are teaching the next generation to work in positions that we don't know about with technologies that we have never considered to solve problems we don't know we have. How can we do this if all they can do is read off a page, close the book and write it on another page?? We don't have all the answers for them although we could facilitate and empower them to look at situations and come up with thier own solutions.In the workplace we require employees to work together in cross functional teams and share their knowledge. In the education system collaboration is usually known as cheating and sharing knowledge increases competition for high grades.Many people that fail in education early on do well in industry and return to education to find that they are no longer considered "slow". Adults with industry experience tend to be "qualfied by experience" and can link information and relate to what is taught. Children cannot do this and so they need to use the left brain to read, learn things off by heart and pass exams. Many learning disabilities are considered disabilities because they are a different way of learning to the so called "norm" however perhaps the "norm" should be considered the disabled? Ireland may become a knowledge economy although how useful is knowledge if you cannot apply it practically? We all have the services of Sir Google at our finger tips if we require information what we don't all have is the ability to question and apply it.If we all learn the same answers from the same books which become standard answers to get high grades we will never develop subjects in a way that we could. The most successful entrepreneurs are those that think outside the box. Learning off by heart from a text book is the same as the "that is the way we always did it" syndrome in the workplace and we all know how competitive this type of thinking makes a company in the global marketplace where customers demands and markets change constantly!!Perhaps more emphasis should be put on group work, presentations, assignements, reporting, debating etc rather than the standard written exam. How many written exams have you had to perform at work in last few quarters??:0)

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