Educating for the unknown- what’s worth learning?

David Perkins from Harvard University was another keynote speaker at the Singapore conference.

He put the proposition that a lot of what goes on in schools is educating for the known – we teach lots of information – spelling rules or maths equations or history often decided by state wide curriculum or in textbooks – not that it’s not worth knowing but the information and skill list is endless.

So who decides on what to learn?

It’s generally accepted that we live in a complex and changing world  with transportation, communication and bological revolutions. Life is also becoming more demanding and the concepts that the world is becoming smaller and flatter [refer Friedman] means there is a need to develop a sense of world citizenship and responsible activism around ecology or poverty.

Perkins argued that not only do we have an achievement gap but now we have a relevance gap. What’s important for students to know, to understand and is empowering to take action.  

His solution was to reframe topics to bring out their flexpertise which he defines as ideas central to disciplines but used to proactively understand the world. We pick the richest topics first, work in some of the others, just touch on some and drop the rest. So what about the outcry – when you drop [i.e. bike education or quadratic equations?]. He suggested thinking about what you really wanted to keep and decide what to do with the rest. 

David was clear that we need to decide what the choice means in the local context and go forward with a vision of the future of knowledge. He finished with an acknowledgement that these are hard problems to solve with entrenched interests and traditions to keep the conventional curricula in place.

So what do I think? His argument about relevance gaps goes in some ways to the heart of some student disengagement. The unspoken words of students why do I need to learn this are important to hear. As a principal I am responsible to ensure a balanced curricula but sometimes I wonder do we reflect enough about our curricula content and structure challenging tasks to promote world citizenship and responsible activism?

We have a framework based on key understandings in the statewide curriculum [VELS] and developed with support from Kath Murdoch a series of throughlines [refer Tina Blyth’s works from Project Zero] which connect the individual class inquires over the 7 years of primary school. But do we look enough at the world issues and use flexpertise to decide what’s most important to learn in our context?

Boy – do we educators need some time and feedback, both student, parent and research to make content decisions on a yearly basis. Lots more reflection needed here and it does make you wonder if others are pondering a relevance gap?

Bottom line – “Just accept that gap and get on with it tackling it”.