We need a new paradigm for education and a new curriculum to inhabit it.
For many years I had a website called lighting the fire, from the apocryphal quotation by W B Yeats, that education was not ‘the filling of the pail, but the lighting of the fire.’ It has become a cliché in recent years, used by educationalists and schools to try and sell their schools while only paying lip service to what the quote actually means. While the attribution of quote may be unclear, it was not the first to divide education into a passive and an active voice.
Socrates had aptly described education as ‘the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel” while several centuries later, Plutarch wrote that “the mind is not a vessel that needs filling, but wood that needs igniting”. Then silence, as the dark ages held sway. From the quote we can tease out two strands – those keen on filling of the pale within the framework of the current curriculum by pursuing a knowledge rich curriculum and those wanting to focus on the fire and change as a means of improving what we teach our children.
We have been locked in a debate for many years now about whether our curriculum is obsolete and whether it is time for a major change, to make it more relevant and purposeful for ALL our children. For too long we’ve had had the match in our hand, but have not struck it for fear of the conflagration that might follow. Now is the time to light the fire.
After all, as Leonard Cohen said ‘That’s how the light gets in’.
'You can't start a fire without a spark' Bruce Springsteen
If we want to develop third world attitudes to education in our country, we need to change education from being adversarial, driven by assessment and an outdated curriculum to being something that is valued, is on-going and is relevant.
To achieve this, we need to change the way education is perceived by children, parents and politicians and focus from the early years onwards on by embedding good habits and attitudes to life and learning. What we need is a revolution in thinking to put in place a new curriculum structure to sit above the debates between traditional and progressive pedagogies, skills rich and knowledge rich curricula and all the other binary issues that hold us back.
We need to move environmental education, ethics and artificial Intelligence to the fore. We need to take some heed of the recent survey by IBM who interviewed 1,500 business leaders in 80 countries to find out what characteristics their companies value most in employees and their findings: adaptability to change and creativity in generating new ideas; the ability to critically analyze problems, create solutions in collaboration with others and communicate their ideas and engage in constructive debate – and ask just where and how we are teaching these.
A new curriculum needs to be bold and imaginative, but with a strong bedrock of literacy and numeracy. It should instil a strong work ethic, a clear sense of purpose, a disciplined approach to time and organisation and a re-examination of what we are teaching and why. It should be relevant and each stage should be part of a continuum. New research and pedagogy will keep affecting how we think about education and the content of what we teach, but we can’t deal with it from within. We need to step outside the current paradigm and start afresh.
This website focuses on how we can deliver a new ethical approach to education, using a curriculum that meets the current needs of children and is relevant for all children. It would employ new methods of assessment, would be non-selective and personalised for each student and would utilise technology to increase the curriculum reach through blended education to make education available to all, regardless of age (dismantling school walls). It would seek to shift education from an adversarial position to one based on community and common purpose and would work to reduce the oppressive role of assessment on learning.