Whose curriculum is it, anyway?

14th February 2003 at 00:00
When Government specifies curriculum activities, teachers often view them as the only show in town. Tony Wheeler is worried that the new ICT materials for key stage 3 are not much of a stimulus for teachers or learnersI think it's fantastic that the national curriculum describes ICT as a "capability", because it marks out the subject as one of the few areas where process and purpose are officially identified as the core components of a subject. ICT is not just about knowledge (what you need to know) and skills (what you can do) but critically about purpose (why you are doing it).

Asking "why am I doing this?" gives a sense of reason to any task I take on and is key to helping me judge the purpose, progress and quality of the work I produce.

Identifying the "why" behind any project also provides me with the motivation to engage with issues, values, judgments, feelings and opinions I would not otherwise have considered, and it's no different for young learners.

Everyone agrees that motivation is a critical component of education, yet as a consideration in course planning it has been increasingly sidelined.

Motivation is particularly important in ICT, because a PC without a purpose is quite pointless.

The recently published key stage 3 ICT tasks are examples of homogenised learning that could be greatly improved upon. You only have to compare the production values of these resources with the normal daily media consumption of an average pupil and it's perhaps not surprising that motivation becomes an issue.

It cuts deeper than this, however. Teachers and young people need to be given more opportunity to participate in framing their own teaching and learning, not only because motivation will improve grades and allow children (and teachers) to demonstrate knowledge and skills, but also because it will free up imagination and creativity and help to identify children and teachers as individuals. With a little bit of imagination, ICT can offer all pupils the opportunity to realise their ideas in ways I could never have even dreamed of as a student, 30 years ago.

Which is why I find the recently published KS3 tasks so limiting. It takes only a small, but very important, shift of emphasis to offer resources that help teachers develop their own teaching and learning tasks within a more flexible framework.

Providing opportunities for pupils and teachers to identify their own challenges and then to choose how to go about resolving them is at the heart of ICT capability. It seems logical to suppose that teachers and learners will have different levels of ICT experience, capability and confidence.

The real challenge for government educational ICT initiatives should surely be to provide flexible resources that allow teachers to easily modify and mould tasks around the differentiated and developing needs of their pupils, matching appropriate tasks for their particular pupils to their own experience as a teacher.

This is not rocket science and it does not need to be complicated. In setting tasks, some key factors, which can change the nature, level and focus of an activity, can be identified and controlled. The familiarity of the context to the pupils is critical. Preparing a presentation to be given in your classroom is a very different challenge from that of designing one for a commercial setting.

Imaginary and real situations are also very different. What if you were all famous celebrities, or had been transported back or forwards in time? How would your pupils approach change if the task were for a real client, such as a local business, or a present for a younger sibling?

Think about how the same task would alter if your audience were aliens from outer space rather than your peers - no more or less challenging, but maybe more exciting to some 11-year-olds. For an interesting comparison, examine the difference between www.standards.dfee.gov.ukkeystage3strands?strand=ICT and www.maps-ict.com (materials I helped develop).

It is logical that many teachers will look to the KS3 tasks as the definitive set of materials to use. Understandably, many will be frustrated by the lack of creativity but feel constrained to stick with these because they are prescribed by the Government.

To make the ICT curriculum one that takes advantage of the empowering nature of technology, the Government needs to consider publishing a more flexible set of resources that will help teachers and pupils negotiate and structure more exciting tasks, building towards more open, motivating and challenging courses of study.

With very minimal changes, teachers can use these tasks to create more compelling projects - ones that encourage learning by addressing the particular interests of individual pupils.

* KS3 strategy, page 36 Tony Wheeler is a former teacher and is creative director of Tag Learning

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