Dewar's legacy is a wake-up call to schools to meet the challenge of change

3rd November 2000 at 00:00
The theme of the fourth annual TES ScotlandEdinburgh City Council conference was social inclusion. Neil Munro reports

THE speech due to have been given by Donald Dewar, the late First Minister, was delivered by his long-standing friend and political ally Sam Galbraith, in his last public appearance as Education Minister.

Mr Dewar's speech, as revealed in last week's

TES Scotland, was a "wake-up call" to schools to embrace the learning and teaching implications of the new technologies.

But, in a clear concession to critics of recent reforms, he also signalled a significant shift away from a centralised approach to the curriculum to an acknowledgement that real change requires the consent of teachers and learners. The key points of this educational testament may turn out to be the yardstick by which his successors are judged:

"Not only do we have to equip our children with the skills necessary to handle these technologies, we have to consider how the technologies will change the fabric and structure of learning and teaching itself."

"Students will not allow us to drag our feet: they are already using the web to access revision materials and e-mail to find support from teachers online to help them prepare for exams."

"Teachers will increasingly have to learn how to move from imparting knowledge to managing learning, schools and teachers will have to learn how to adapt to a wider range of learning styles, and we must find ways to maintain the human relationships which must beat the core of learning."

"While we pride ourselves on not having adopted a national curriculum determined by statute, have we not in practice adopted a very uniform approach? To put this more bluntly, have we moved from a position where we sought to provide the opportunity for everyone to experience all aspects of a wide curriculum to a position where we oblige every student to experience every aspect of the curriculum?"

"Is there not room for us to allow more variety (in the curriculum)?"

"Can we not challenge the structures of school education? Is it sensible to expect pupils to make a sudden transition from the whole class, single-teacher approach of primary school to the subject-based, multi-teacher world of secondary education?"

"I hope we will be able to help to find still further forms of provision which may offer effective alternatives to those who find themselves excluded from conventional approaches to teaching and learning. But these will not come from a centrally determined programme."

"Education should not and cannot be simply about acquiring skills and knowledge which will equip our children to enter the world of work. They have also to be equipped and enabled to enter the world of civil and political society."

"There is no doubt of the need for change to meet the challenges we face, but equally it is clear to me that we cannot rely on the old-fashioned approach of introducing central initiatives regardless of the degree of understanding and consent."

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