Ditching 'primitive' jargon would reveal CfE vision

Crude terms are hiding its true meaning, says learning expert

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Terrorism and burglary were, presumably, not careers that anyone had in mind for a generation of children when Curriculum for Excellence was mapped out.

Yet vagueness in the jargon of curricular reform is allowing any number of unintended interpretations, the annual gathering of Scotland's educational psychologists was told.

Guy Claxton, professor of the learning sciences at the University of Winchester, said he was a fan of CfE since it had at least attempted to define the purpose of education. "In England, we don't have a clue what education is for - it's not written down. In the end, it's just about squeezing kids through a series of arbitrary tests," he said.

But the ubiquitous "four capacities" of CfE left him far from clear about what the vision for education in Scotland was intended to be. "`Successful learners' - what does that mean? Good at tests? Good parents? More successful burglars?" he asked. "If it's just about kids who do better in their Highers, then that was just a waste of time."

He added: "What's a `responsible citizen'? Whose definition? Could it be an eco-terrorist?"

More precision was needed around a number of other common terms, such as "thinking", "creativity" and "interdisciplinary", Professor Claxton said. "Problem-solving" was also an unhelpful term on its own, he added, as different problems required entirely different skills: those required to fix a dishwasher or save a marriage, for example, would most likely overlap only "a tiny amount", he said.

Professor Claxton queried the self-awareness that CfE appeared to expect of children, noting that psychotherapists and Buddhist monks spent lifetimes seeking inner understanding.

"I am envious of Curriculum for Excellence, but it's like preliminary, aspirational branding," he said. "There's a lot of work to be done in making it more concrete."

Much of the language of CfE was "well-intentioned, and absolutely the way we should be travelling", he said, before adding: "But in 20 or 30 years' time, we will think, `How crude, how primitive was our language in travelling in this direction.'"

Professor Claxton, co-director of the Centre for Real-World Learning, suggested that the language used around CfE would be off-putting and incomprehensible to parents, and that ideas needed to be expressed to them in a separate way.

"I think we have to become `bilingual' - you need to have different registers," he told the conference at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

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