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New curriculum focus is 'worrying'

A Curriculum for Excellence risks moulding children into obedient do-gooders who fail to question prevailing values, says one of Scotland's leading educational researchers.

Gert Biesta, who recently arrived at Stirling Institute of Education as director of postgraduate research, believes the new curriculum is "worrying" because it focuses too much on producing a certain type of person. Its four "capacities" typify a recent trend for education to become a socialising process which "puts the emphasis too much on moulding individuals according to particular templates and provides too little opportunity for ways of being, that question and challenge such templates".

Professor Biesta, who has carried out research into citizenship education, is sceptical about the "responsible citizen" capacity. It puts too much emphasis on "apolitical forms of citizenship that are mainly confined to doing good in the community", and too little on "the acquisition of political literacy, the promotion of political activism and the development of political agency".

Good citizenship education should not involve "the production of obedient citizens through effective socialisation", but encourage pupils to question the existing social, cultural and political order. "From this angle, it is perhaps significant that the word 'critical' does not appear in any of the four capacities of A Curriculum for Excellence," he said.

Professor Biesta also fears the focus on what children should become is detracting from what they should know and be able to do. "The danger here is that we forget to pay sufficient attention to the qualification function of education and thus might forget that, in many cases and for many individuals, knowledge is still power," he said.

And he attacked the "quasi-consensus" that, to remain competitive within the global knowledge economy, schools needed to produce a highly-skilled workforce. This was based on the "questionable assumption" that everyone would have complex jobs. In reality, most jobs in post-industrial societies would be in the low-skilled and low-paid service industry.

The quasi-consensus allowed no alternative to the emphasis on economic competitiveness, yet arguments could be for societies that prioritised care - whether for the elderly or the environment - or democracy and peaceful co-existence.

"Such priorities suggest a completely different set of educational arrangements and articulate radically different views about what good education might look like," said Professor Biesta, in his inaugural public lecture.

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