Dewar vows to break down subject walls

17th March 2000 at 00:00
DONALD DEWAR, the First Minister, intends to talk up the Government's vision for education in what his advisers are billing as a "significant speech" in two to three weeks' time.

Mr Dewar plans to put his personal authority behind a drive to impress on teachers the need to embrace and anticipate change in the classroom, particularly in coping with the demands created by new technologies.

The First Minister outlined his thinking at the Scottish Labour Party's annual conference in Edinburgh last weekend when he mounted a spirited defence of the Scottish Executive's educational record. But he added that rapid advances in technology would bring "a great challenge".

"Teaching methods, the curriculum in school, will be radically affected. The courses currently in teacher training colleges are adapting, changing. The watertight compartments of subject specialisation will be challenged. The professionalism of teachers will be different but more important than ever."

The proliferation of subjects has long been a preoccupation among education professionals, but Mr Dewar is the first senior politician to embrace the need to do something about it. In his speech he will question whether teachers should regard themselves as simply teachers of history or physics.

He will also point out that pupils will soon have access to information worldwide as more and more schools are linked to the Internet and every pupil is given an individual e-mail address within two to three years.

Mr Dewar's message is that these developments will need a different kind of teacher, who is not "the sage on the stage but the guide by the side", helping pupils in the handling of knowledge, in learning how to learn and in developing life skills.

This momentum for reform contrasts with the message last week from Sam Galbraith, Children and Education Minister, who told education authority advisers that it was time to call a halt tocurriculum upheaval (page four).

But curriculum leaders are likely to give Mr Dewar a receptive hearing. Mike Baughan, chief executive of the Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum, was addressing these very themes in a talk to this week's spring conference of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland.

The impact of information and communications technology (ICT) and "the school without boundaries", Mr Baughan said, would mean a shift in the teacher's role in which pupils would be helped "to sift and discriminate and structure information.

"If we are really serious about preparing pupils for independent, lifelong learning, then we need to reassess the curriculum in terms of the opportunities it provides for pupils to use ICT and to identify and adopt learning styles appropriate for them."

The concept of "a lock-step, age and stage-related curriculum" will soon be outdated and inappropriate, Mr Baughan said.

Archie Morton, Argyll's director of education, whose controversial proposals for reform include having different pupils attend school at different times, told heads: "We should be focusing more clearly on how pupils learn rather than on what they learn."

Ian McDonald, Glasgow's depute director of education, added his voice at last week's advisers' conference that online learning would revolutionise education and fundamentally change the nature of the teacher's job.

Donald Matheson, the HAS's president, told The TES Scotland that headteachers welcomed a debate on the nature of the secondary curriculum. But he hoped that it would be a wide professional and public debate which went back to first principles, not another opportunity to attack schools and teachers.

"Only in that way can curricular requirements be identified, training and funding matched to these needs and decisions taken about how teachers are to be deployed," Mr Matheson said.

Leader, page 18

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