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Gove Versus The Teachers

Britain’s teaching unions evidently despise the
Education Secretary Michael Gove, and in particular his proposals for a new
National Curriculum, to which my instinctive reaction is to presume that Mr.
Gove must be doing something right.

Gove, if I understand the nature of the conflict
correctly, wants to introduce into state schools a curriculum founded on the
underlying principle that children ought to be taught, first and foremost, how
to read and write, and master the basic rules of arithmetic – three skills know
in simpler times as ‘the three Rs’.  A
little history and geography wouldn’t go amiss, either, Gove asserts. 

The teaching unions, and their allies in academia,
believe Gove’s approach to be not only mistaken but possibly dangerous, an
argument founded on the belief that what is now pejoratively known as rote learning
is useless without understanding.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that my knowledge of
such matters may be deeply flawed, but I’m struggling to understand why the
teaching profession is so vehemently opposed to the proposals, and why, in any
event, the two positions are considered incompatible.  If memorisation and recall are valued at the
expense of understanding and inquiry it will represent, or so the teachers
claim, a ‘dumbing down’ of education. 

All I can say, having been exposed in daily life to
the results of the present system – such as blogs and emails so replete with
grammatical and spelling errors that they are rendered unreadable, and shop
assistant who can’t work out what change to give without a computer – is that
Gove is on the right track and the teachers are off the rails.

The aims of the proposed NC are hardly
revolutionary.  They include such modest
ambitions as producing children who, by the age of nine, can recite
multiplication tables up to the figure 12, and by the age of eleven multiply
and divide fractions.

This admittedly doesn’t turn them into instant rocket
scientists, or bio-chemists, but surely if they wish to be either, the understanding
and inquiry that need to be developed will be infinitely more difficult.

The argument will rage on, because in Britain such
arguments tend to rage on, sometimes for decades.  Meanwhile, I read in the press that, with
each passing year, Britain slips
further down the PISA
(Progress for International Student Assessment) tables.  That this should happen in a country once
renowned and envied around the world for its educational standards is dreadful
(that is, one dreads to think where we’ll stand in a competitive global economy
in twenty years time).

I may be talking rot, and I’ll be happy to be
convinced that I am, but my instincts that Britain’s teachers are collectively
almost Luddite in their antipathy to any change, or even to a review of their methods,
is founded on the everyday evidence of my own ears and eyes.  The evidence is that Britain’s
emerging generation, while hardly less intelligent than its predecessors, is
certainly less literate and numerate.     

Everyone agrees we’re in an educational mess; will
someone please fix it, permanently. 


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