Daisy Christodoulou’s 2013 book ‘The Seven Myths about Education’ is a well-written critique of the current policies in UK education and their implementation through the curriculum and by school inspections from the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (OFSTED). The book is easy to read, while making some convincing, evidence-based arguments. Her myths are that:
- Facts prevent understanding
- Teacher-led instruction is passive
- Twenty-first century fundamentally changes everything
- You can always look it up
- We should teach transferable skills
- Projects and activities are the best way to learn
- Teaching knowledge is indoctrination
She argues that we learn by building on our previous knowledge and experiences by ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’. In practice, it is not possible to distinguish skills from knowledge. While isolated facts can be meaningless, facts in context contribute to our understanding. A knowledge of facts helps us to understand information, formulate search queries and interpret the search results. Memory also helps us to think and work faster. As an aside, Irish-born Nobel Prize winner William Campbell, valued memory in his education.
Collaboration and team-work, problem solving and learning to learn, creative and critical thinking have all been described as transferable or twenty-first century skills, though these skills have been around as long as the human race. Advocates of 21st century teaching believe that teaching these skills should be prioritised, as huge quantities of information are being generated every day. However, to be interpreted this new information requires an understanding of existing knowledge. While the amount of information is constantly growing, the building blocks of most disciplines are not fundamentally changing. To critique or to solve problems requires knowledge and understanding. In this writer’s opinion, what is new in the 21st century, is the power and pervasiveness of technology, leading to a need for digital literacy in education.
Daisy Christodoulou quotes Steve Wheeler, Associate Professor of Education in Plymouth University as being opposed to disciplinary knowledge. However, he argues in his own book ‘Learning with E’s’ that disciplinary knowledge is better represented when organised around skills development, project work and other active learning methods. In a blog post about his own schooling, Steve Wheeler describes how he frequently changed schools as his family moved around due to his father’s military career. He describes both an excellent and a terrible teacher. As he moved from school to school, some content was repeated and some never covered. He ended up knowing little subject-matter, with no formal qualifications but with transferrable skills such as creativity, problem solving and the ability to think for himself. He went on to teach himself what he wanted to learn.