‘So-called "digital intelligence" should not just be bolted onto an already bloated curriculum'

25th March 2017 at 14:03
Digital intelligence and critical thinking
Competencies such as digital intelligence and resilience should be included, not as separate add-ons or new subjects, but as unifiers embedded in all subjects

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's Andreas Schleicher calls for students to be better prepared for exercising critical judgement in a digital era wherein "fake news" is proliferating.

Among the global competencies that he thinks should be front and centre in education is "digital intelligence", the teaching of which would help to combat the growing dangers posed by the internet and social media – including the threats of radicalisation, grooming and cyber-bullying.

Many will see an assessment opportunity, adding further to the battery of tests imposed on students. Indeed, the digital intelligence quotient (DQ) is already out there.

There might also be a temptation to bolt it on to an already bloated programme. This is, after all, how critical thinking itself became part of the curricular landscape. Other add-ons and extras have included citizenship and, more recently, resilience. Not to mention ICT itself.

Our secondary curriculum framework is dominated by subject specialism, each subject having its own specialist teachers, departmental areas, and ring-fenced curriculum time. Underwritten by the national curriculum, it is anchored in the fact that that a tranche of subject-specific exams has been allowed to define key stage 4.

There are sound epistemological reasons for cleaving to a subject – rather than a competency – based curriculum, and they have been conveyed convincingly by Howard Gardner.

To be sure, subject vs skills is a false dichotomy, insofar as the justification for a subject approach is precisely that each discipline offers a specific way of apprehending, understanding and engaging with the world. The development of a “disciplined mind”, in all its facets, is a guiding principle of the secondary phase of education, prior to specialisation.

In his concern that education should inculcate an ability to discern the "true" (alongside the "beautiful" and the "good"), Mr Gardner was addressing the threat of lazy relativism, itself arising out of the postmodern turn. "Fake news" wasn’t invented by social media, but the latter has given it an amplifier.

Mr Schleicher is right that students should be taught how to analyse social media and news websites, to sift the true from the often-mendaciously made-up, but this competency is not confined to the internet, and it should not simply be bolted on to the curriculum.

It is the task of subjects across the sciences, natural and social, and the humanities, to teach critical engagement with evidence, ideas, arguments and assertions.

Bolting things on is self-defeating. Specific initiatives tend themselves to become siloed, while the core of the curriculum is hollowed out.

"Traditional" curriculum subjects constitute the disciplinary warp in the fabric of education. These discrete longitudinal threads take the strain in learning, but they are brought into relationship with one another, and with the whole curricular cloth, by the weft – threads woven perpendicularly through the warp.

In the curriculum cloth, these are competencies that should be included, not as separate add-ons or new subjects, but as unifiers embedded in all subjects.

This includes citizenship, Fundamental British Values, ICT (technical competencies as well as digital literacy), critical thinking, creativity and resilience.

Dr Kevin Stannard is the director of innovation and learning at the Girls' Day School Trust. He tweets as @KevinStannard1

For more columns by Kevin, visit his back catalogue

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