The learning journey must not be derailed

10th June 2011 at 01:00

Children are like sponges. They soak up every sight and sound they experience. So if the current climate of austerity means they are being exposed to fewer school trips, we are poorer in more ways than one.

These external stimulae are central to the core values of Curriculum for Excellence, which seek to offer hands-on, experiential learning, relevance and sheer enjoyment. Centres such as the Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre are fun, but they also teach young Scots about events that changed the course of history.

Heritage visits take children on a journey back in time. The Scottish Government offers significant travel subsidies to some centres of historic importance as a deliberate strategy to give pupils a better grounding in Scottish history. That aim is laudable and - according to TESS research - is having the desired effect of increasing the number of school visits.

But our investigations suggest schools are being forced to cut back on the visits to other destinations - science centres, zoos, botanic gardens and cultural centres (page 12). While the Government cannot be expected to subsidise travel to every Mecca of learning, there is a strong argument for creating a more level playing field. If children can be helped to travel back in time, then surely, in best Doctor Who fashion, they should also have access to assistance as they travel forward in time. What can be more important for Scotland's future economic needs than creating scientists and technologists - the very people whose imagination may be stimulated by the wonders of Our Dynamic Earth or Glasgow Science Centre?

There are, of course, other kinds of journey than those made by bus or train. There is also the "flexible learner journey" (page 5) - or, in common parlance, the various ways a young person can travel from school to college or university, sometimes incorporating all three stops, sometimes simply going from A to B, and sometimes arriving mid-journey.

The Scottish Government sees a clear logic in making Advanced Highers in S6, the Higher National Certificate at college and first year of university study interchangeable. After all, each appears at the same point of the ladder in the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework. But content and curriculum can be very different and further work will be needed to make hopping from one mode to another a seamless passage.

The short-term working group set up by Universities Scotland to wrestle with the conundrums produced by the flexibility of Curriculum for Excellence is a welcome move. Universities may have come late to the CfE table, but there is still time to make sure that young people arrive at the right destination, on time.

Gillian Macdonald is away.

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