This is a huge subject matter, so I will concentrate on the direction of the curriculum often found in our schools. I believe that what should be taught in primary schools is the basics, teaching the student to use those basics, in addition to them learning how to learn, and then for them to broaden their horizons for higher schooling. As a volunteer who has assisted in classrooms for some 12 years now at all levels in primary and junior secondary school, I have come to a few conclusions that don’t always agree with the curriculum set by some educational authorities.
I enjoy working with those just starting primary school as they usually are spontaneous, starry eyed, usually courteous, wary of adults, innocent and willing to learn. I believe that at this age they are like sponges, ready and willing to soak up everything that comes their way. It is what occurs at school after this early period that I will now address. As I have mentioned earlier, it is essential that children learn the basics, often referred to as the “3R’s” (reading, writing, arithmetic). As it is important that an effort be made to make school as interesting as possible, there also needs to be a measure of creative methods and subjects which not only helps make going to school a little more appealing, but broadens their educational experiences.
In recent years I have been working with children aged 11 through to 15, which gives one an insight as to what they have learnt, or not learnt, in their earlier school years. While the ability of children, and adults for that matter, vary considerably, there appears to be a quite a few gaps in their earlier learning. Modern concepts of learning have moved away from methods used in earlier times and while it may be somewhat appealing, it often does not provide the child with enough basic learning (3R’s). It does not seem productive to me for a junior high school teacher (at several levels) to be forced to re-teach so much of what should have been learnt in primary school. How can a high school teacher teach any subject matter at a higher level when the basics have not been properly learnt? While there will be some students who, for some reason or other, are unable to obtain a reasonable level of the basics, by far the majority are capable of doing so.
Perhaps one of the biggest difficulties encountered in any school these days is the lack of direction and guidance from many parents. There is very little that teachers can do to solve this problem, but the question of how parents can be persuaded to actively assist in their child’s education has yet to be resolved. In any event, the problem needs to be acknowledged and addressed, knowing full well that their involvement is essential. As a parent of any child who has behavior problems will find, their child’s learning processes are more difficult that it should otherwise be. This is another area that needs to be resolved, and to this date I am not sure if any serious thought has been put towards educating parents? Most of this, of course, stems from the relationship that the child has with their parents. Have the parents taken the easy way out and not used their considerable influence to start the child off in the right direction? Is there sufficient guidance or direction being provided to both child and their parents? Has their child learnt that there are many, many restrictions in life that apply to everyone, and have they learnt what the word “no” means? Have they ensured that their child fully understands that there are always consequences of bad behavior? Has their child learn the very important “2R’s (Respect and Responsibility – see earlier post on this subject)? These questions should be learnt long before they attend school, and parents should not expect any school to take up the slack.
It is generally agreed by experts that a person has been basically formed, as an individual person, by the time they are 8 years of age. The majority of this time has been spent at home, not at school. What does that tell us? The early years of primary school is often the time that teachers are trying to undo what has already been formed – virtually an impossible job. What teachers need to do is provide the child with a basic education, that is not only necessary for them to progress in high school, but what they need to become a successful all-round adult citizen. I appreciate that reading and writing in the younger age children requires the subject matter to be of interest to them, and obviously it will, in most cases, be fiction. I believe that more and more non-fiction should be included as the child grows older and progresses though primary school, and by the time they have reached high school, they have moved away from fiction to the skills they will require as an adult.
The real world! What does it mean for most students? It varies between different western countries and different socio-economic societies within those countries, but when all the figures are considered, roughly 50% of those that start high school do not attend any form of higher education or university. A fair percentage, particularly in some societies, never even finish high school. That means that all secondary schools need to tailor their curriculum fully understanding that only about 50% of their students will attend a college or university. In more recent times, those designing study programs appeared to have aimed the curriculum assuming all students will seek and obtain further formal education. That, of course, is not reality. What needs to be remembered is that 100% of all school students need to fully understand the basics necessary to live a useful and fulfilling life. Real life knowledge and abilities are essential, and therefore learning them should be a priority.
Let’s look at a couple of examples that have come to my attention recently. While I appreciate that electronic devices are going to be used more and more as time goes by, it is essential that all children remember sufficient details of basic math by the time they complete primary school. This is essential if they are to understand the basic concepts of even the simplest of high school math. They also need to learn sufficient math so that they are able to not only comprehending what occurs in the adult world, but know how to use the usually simple math required. Many students these days do not even understand how all numbers are based on the number 10, and/or multiples or parts thereof. If this fact is fully comprehended, the student will be able to work out many math problems in an alternative way, particularly if they have not fully remembered their times table. Learning the times table should be a priority as that knowledge certainly makes all the more advanced math that much easier. Many high school students have not memorized their times table, nor they have no real understanding of the above basic math principles. If a child is to obtain any proficiency in mathematics during their high school years, they not only need to know their times table, but have a basic understanding of how addition, subtraction, multiplication and division is used in the real everyday world.
There is no doubt that different schools in different parts of the country, or the wider English speaking world for that matter, will differ somewhat, but the concepts I am referring to should be relatable, particularly when referring to the “3R’s”. Thinking about math a little further leads me to asking the question – what math knowledge does every adult in society really need? Answer that question honestly and accurately will lead one to acknowledge that much math taught, particularly in the lower grades of high school, are not relevant to society in general. Most adults do not currently have sufficient knowledge of basic finance, measurement, money, time, space, quantities, odds, business, ratings or any other matter relevant to everyday life in the modern world. Why is this so? Do they fully comprehend how numbers relate to one another? Were they provided with the basic tools to assist them in living in a modern society while they were at school?
Let’s now think about English as a subject. You firstly need to consider what are the necessary skills that every adult should know to live a successful and fulfilling life? The ability to read and write an email or letter to a reasonable level, reading and understanding the driving test questions, understanding letters from authorities, reading and understanding basic finance agreements, understanding basic instructions, reading books and the news, writing a CV plus many other everyday communications need to be successfully undertaken. The ability to perform the above tasks is a skill that everyone deeds to learn. Are current reading and writing lessons directed at achieving a level of competency in all of the above? Why is so much time given to teaching children in high school how to write speculative fiction pieces when 99% of them will never need to use that skill after they leave school? What is it leading to, writing novels?
The ability to read well, and comprehend what has been read, assists everyone in getting through life, but the majority of this relates to factual information. While the ability to understand and use adjectives, adverbs etc. can be useful, they are virtually never used in any writing outside of fiction, and while appreciating fiction is entertaining, it is not essential to an adult’s everyday life. Most children these days, from my experiences, only read fiction, and that fiction is usually not of the real world. Not that long ago a year 7 (grade 7) teacher tried to introduce what he thought would be an interesting subject – the 1969 moon landing. He ran a couple of videos and thought that that would interest the students – he was wrong. The class of some 20 students were just not interested, they had no idea of the technology or the immensity of the accomplishment and no interest to know any more. Both myself and the teacher were amazed. From the comments made be a few students they were not in any way awe struck, as they were so used to watching or reading way out stories that were completely outside reality. They thought real life shown was tame! While their mobile phone (cell phone) probably has more computing power that anything used during the mood landing, they have little understanding of human abilities in the real world.
My above comments on both math and English should, by now at an idea as to my views on this subject. In a nutshell, I believe that a high school’s curriculum should firstly concentrate on what skills and knowledge are necessary for every adult citizen, and work towards that end, depending on the ability of the students concerned. While learning math and English outside of the basics may be appropriate to some high school students, every one of them needs the basics, which is absolutely necessary to live successfully in a modern world. The more that students can relate personally to the subjects being taught, the more they will learn. High school students need to know not only what they are learning, but why. When high school students have asked me why they are at school learning to be a better reader, I have used the following answer to that question quite successfully. “Do you expect to get a drivers license when you are allowed?” The answer is always, “Yes”. Then I say “Well, there is a written questionnaire which you will need to complete and get 18 out of the 20 questions right, otherwise, no license”. All of a sudden, the original doubt about why they are practicing reading disappears. It is a subject matter that relates to the real world, and to them personally, and where possible, that should always be the goal.
In my view, all student curriculum should not only be relevant to the society in which they are living, and at the same time, be relevant to the student themselves. I appreciate that that is not always possible, but it should be the ultimate goal. In the end, children will be the ultimate beneficiaries.