Saturday, July 14, 2007

Britain Dumbs Down National Curriculum

I've been reading about Britain's proposed revamping of its middle school curriculum, which aims to "make subjects more relevant by introducing modern day issues."Now there is nothing wrong with showing students that traditional academic subjects have practical applications in the "real world". However, the British plan appears to go beyond simply incorporating real-world applications into lessons to actually replacing traditional curricular topics.

In the revised history curriculum, there is no specific mention of the Wars of the Roses, Elizabeth I, Henry VIII and his wives, Winston Churchill, Adolph Hitler, or Josef Stalin. Greater emphasis will be placed on Islam, slavery, the United Nations, and the European Union.

Math is to be taught as a "creative" discipline and calculator use is expected.

In science there will be less emphasis on electricity and magnetism and more emphasis on highly controversial topics such as genetic engineering, In Vitro Fertilization, embryonic stem cells, animal experimentation, and "sexual health". Call me a cynic, but somehow I doubt that these will be given "fair and balanced" treatment in government-run schools.

In English classes, students will no longer have to learn about the Bible, Arthurian legends, or the Greek myths. New authors on the curriculum include Bill Bryson, Philip Pullman, Zadie Smith, and Meera Syal. Students will also be taught to use computerized "spell-check" programs.

In geography, names & locations of countries and their capital cities, rivers, and even continents are out and the Olympics, climate change, third-world trade, and the effects of the 2005 Asian tsunami are in.

While traditional academic disciplines are being gutted, space is being made in the new curriculum to

"equip young people with 'the personal, learning and thinking skills they will need to succeed in education and in adult life' Under this heading come new classes in financial literacy and money management, Urdu, cooking, and 'understanding racial differences'."

A convention of history, English and science teachers on issued a plea on July 5th for traditional subject disciplines to be protected.

Some educrats, however, feel that the new curriculum is not radical enough. Mary Bousted of the the Association of Teachers and Lecturers criticized the the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), who oversaw the development of the proposals:

"By hanging onto a subject-based curriculum the QCA makes it hard for teachers to meet the differing learning styles and needs of individual children - to personalise their learning. The new national curriculum also fails to move away from the current overemphasis on academic subjects and downplaying of vocational skills."

Now I agree that there ought to be better integration across subject disciplines and more individual tailoring but that doesn't mean that traditional subjects should be eliminated!

This is yet another example of the "dumbing down" of the curriculum. I predict that homeschooling will continue to boom in the U.K. as a result. The number of homeschoolers has tripled over the past 8 years, and current estimates range from 50,000 to 150,000.

No comments: