Curriculum Wars ?– Gove goes again!

In a widely reported speech, Michael Gove tried to project his ‘moderniser’ credentials to an audience of ‘techies’at the recent BETT show. Describing ICT lessons as being ‘off-putting’ ‘demotivating’ and ‘dull’ Gove is removing ICT’s status as a core National Curriculum subject – it will, like technology and citizenship, now just be part of the basic curriculum and encouraging teachers to innovate and use their professional expertise to create a situation where

‘Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word and Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11 year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations using an MIT tool called Scratch. By 16, they could have an understanding of formal logic previously covered only in University courses and be writing their own Apps for smartphones’ (www.education.gov.uk/inthenews/speeches)

Yet other parts of Gove’s BETT statement, particularly his more general comments about learning, are more contradictory if not laughable, telling us that :

‘Education has barely changed… A Victorian schoolteacher could enter a 21st century classroom and feel completely at home. Whiteboards may have eliminated chalk dust, chairs may have migrated from rows to groups, but a teacher still stands in front of the class, talking, testing and questioning ‘

This is not only a blatant exaggeration; it’s an insult to the thousands of teachers who have tried to develop much more egalitarian and compassionate relationships with their students. In sharp contrast to the Victorian bullies–but also many of the grammar school teachers Gove seems to admire. While the education minister lectures us about education’s potential as an emancipator and ‘teachers freedom over what and how to teach’ Gove continues to use the culture and ethos of another age as his catalogue. Favouring a ‘kings and queens’ curriculum, school uniforms for all, standing when the teacher enters the class, not to mention detentions without notice; hardly puts him in the BETT ‘learn everywhere and anywhere’ tendency – does it?

Gove also joins the (now tedious) debate about education and the changing economy:

‘Our school system has not prepared children for this new world. Millions have left school over the past decade without even the basics they need for a decent job. And the current curriculum cannot prepare British students to work at the very forefront of technological change… Where once car manufacturing plants housed lines of workers hammering and soldering and drilling, now a technician controls the delicate operations of a whole series of robots’.

Yet in the US, Labor Bureau date shows just over 1.3 million people fitting this category predicting a 300 000 increase by 2018 – in sharp contrast to the 4 million increase number in ‘care’ workers for example. (www.bls.gov/oco/ocos303.htm#emply) or the million plus increase in shop work or ‘food services’. In the UK 1 in 18 employed people ‘work in the IT’ (1.52 million people) as a whole – with 860 000 in the industry itself (www.prospects.ac.uk/industries_it_overview.htm) – well below even the number who still work in the dwindling manufacturing sector.

Much of Gove’s speech is just spin – designed to attack teachers and schools as much as promote an accurate picture of employment demand. Coming the day before government proposals to make it easier to sack ‘incompetent’ teachers were announced and when Gove is losing the arguments about ‘enforced’ academies; we need to keep all this in perspective.

Martin Allen

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