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UK education minister calls for open source curriculum!

January 11th, 2012 by Graham Attwell

The fundamental model of school education is still a teacher talking to a group of pupils. It has barely changed over the centuries, even since Plato established the earliest “akademia” in a shady olive grove in ancient Athens.

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.

But that model won’t be the same in twenty years’ time. It may well be extinct in ten.

Technology is already bringing about a profound transformation in education, in ways that we can see before our very eyes and in others that we haven’t even dreamt of yet.

Nothing too remarkable here, and any regular reader of this blog will recognise similar ideas spouted on these pages. What is remarkable is the person who said it – the unpopular Minster of Education for England, Michael Gove, in a speech at the opening of BETT, the UK education technology exhibition.

This was a long awaited speech, given that Give has said little about educational technology since the Con-Dem coalition government came to power. In a speech which seemed to go down well with the ed-tech community on twitter but was criticised by teachers union leaders, Gove went on to say:

  • The present IT national curriculum for schools would be abolished leaving schools freedom to design their own curriculum. From September this year schools will be free to use the “amazing resources” that already exist and will exist on the web.
  • Games and interactive software can help pupils acquire complicated skills
  • He wants to see the introduction new courses of study in computer science
  • We should “look at the school curriculum in a new way, and consider how new technological platforms can help to create new curriculum materials in a much creative and collaborative way than in the past
  • Rather than concentrate on hardware procurement we should focus on improving initial teacher training and continual professional development for teachers in educational technology

Gove said three main things that technology can do for learning:

  • Disseminate knowledge incredibly widely.
  • Change the way teachers teach, with adaptive software personalising learning.
  • Allow teachers to assess pupils in more complex and sophisticated ways.

Gove went on to talk about an open-source curriculum saying:

Advances in technology should also make us think about the broader school curriculum in a new way.

In an open-source world, why should we accept that a curriculum is a single, static document? A statement of priorities frozen in time; a blunt instrument landing with a thunk on teachers’ desks and updated only centrally and only infrequently?

It all seems a bit too good to be true. And of course a lot depends on how these chnages mucght be implemented and vitally what support and funding is avaiable to schools.

A website – schooltech..org.uk – has been launched to discuss the new proposals. Bernadette Brooks
General Manager of Naace and Seb Schmoller Chief Executive, Association for Learning Technology (ALT) explained the reasons for the consultation:

The effective use of technology has great potential to support better teaching and learning, but there are important questions arising from the opportunities presented by new technologies. For example: how teachers can best develop the right skills; how learning is organised and delivered; and how education can be agile in adapting to new technology developments. This is an important opportunity to discuss and understand the implications.

The site contains, initially, some “stimulus questions” suggested by DFE, which can be discussed by the posting of comments. During March Naace and ALT will work together to produce a report which we will share with DFE that draws on the discussion that we hope will now ensue.

We hope that parents, teachers, technology developers and practitioners, policy people, researchers, students, people from industry and any others with an interest in and experience of this field will join the conversation.

You can add your ideas on the conusltation web site. Or of course you can just add a comment here :)   I will be coming back to some of the issues raised by Give’s announcement in further blog posts over the next week.

3 Responses to “UK education minister calls for open source curriculum!”

  1. In my view, this was a cracking speech – and I hope it will soon be posted to YouTube.

    You title is a little misleading. “Open source” should be in inverted commas as the term was being used as an analogy, not in its literal sense. Michael Gove was not saying that open source should occupy a privileged place in the curriculum but simply that the government itself was not going to mandate what the curriculum should be in this area. This is a response to the widely perceived failure of the current, government-specified “ICT” curriculum.

    Even if he isn’t going to prescribe a curriculum, what Gove wants to see is clear: more academic computer science. If awarding bodies could produce appropriate courses, Gove held out the prospect that these could be contained as an option within the clutch of rigorous “core” subjects which are allowed to count towards an “English Baccalaureate”. The difficulty (and one very good reason why Gove might have ducked the challenge of imposing such a curriculum) lies in finding enough teachers capable of teaching such a demanding subject – in Britain we can hardly find enough Maths teachers.

    When you describe Gove as “unpopular”, you should add “with the teaching unions” – in most of what I would regard as the serious press (excluding the left-leaning Guardian), he is feted as one of the most successful and cerebral of current UK ministers. See e.g. article at http://www.economist.com/node/18561268.

    Just as the government is not going to prescribe the new computer studies curriculum, so there is going to be much less direction (e.g. through ring-fenced funding) on how (or even the extent to which) technology should be used in schools. Education technology suppliers must provide solutions which schools decide are worth buying. Gove’s positive words about education technology does not mean that the government is going to continue to try and pick winners, throwing a lot of taxpayers’ money at technologies which (in the UK at least) have done little over the last decade to raise standards.

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