Wikipedia is not font of all knowledge

20th June 2008 at 01:00
It is not surprising that, in the recent Scottish Survey of Achievement in science, only 6 per cent of P7 pupils and 17 per cent of S2 reached the desired levels in terms of knowledge, because this is no longer the central focus of teaching
It is not surprising that, in the recent Scottish Survey of Achievement in science, only 6 per cent of P7 pupils and 17 per cent of S2 reached the desired levels in terms of knowledge, because this is no longer the central focus of teaching. There has been a big shift away from it to skills, particularly soft skills, and self-esteem.

It is a crude measure, but in a search through Building the Curriculum 3, "knowledge" in the sense of "information" is mentioned 14 times against 121 mentions of skills, 110 mentions of "experiences" and 111 mentions of "outcomes".

In a number of committees, I have often urged that we continue to teach knowledge and have highlighted its importance, particularly in science. The reaction has been interesting - a sort of tolerant hearing for an old-fashioned view. The fact that about 70 per cent of one such committee declared themselves to be current or past English specialists may help explain that response.

Now, the latest approach, according to the pages of The TESS, is for children to say what they want to learn - I am not sure that this would include the basic laws of science.

If you do not teach knowledge, society gradually loses awareness of it. To prove the point, I borrow from English and refer to grammar and punctuation, now generally agreed to be the preserve of those over 40.

Obviously, knowledge on its own is useless - of no more value than a trainspotter's log of numbers; but skills without hard knowledge is similarly useless. The saying "knowledge is power" is true - evidence the way dictators strive to keep their populations in ignorance in order to control them. We criticise such countries for blocking knowledge from the outside world and yet we conspire to keep our own young people equally ignorant. Instead of facts, we give them opinion and Wikipedia, which many youngsters view as an accurate source of all information.

I hope the engineer who builds the next Forth Bridge knows what he's doing. If he has high self-esteem that would be good, but my life will depend on his knowledge.

Judith Gillespie, Scottish Parent Teacher Council, George Street, Edinburgh.

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