Why it's time for the curriculum to catch up

Professor David Wood believes the curriculum must change to keep up with developments in ICT. Jack Kenny casts an eye over his new report

The word "vision" is possibly the word most debased by educationists. It used to mean the fruits of years of intensive, disciplined thought or spiritual revelation; now it is used to describe the thinking behind buying a couple of interactive whiteboards. Professor David Wood has a real vision, in fact he has several. He knows that before you move forward you should try to imagine the destination to see if it is really where you want to be - or where you don't want to be.

Professor Wood's main claim to fame is the report that he did for BECTA on ILS (Integrated Learning Systems). His latest work, The Think Report, is a look at where we are now and what might happen next.

Wood describes what he thinks are crucial issues to the future of education, then defines and describes different possible scenarios. The issues will have to be faced by any educational system embarked on innovative change in responding to the challenges opened up by technology. Second, he sees how the issues play out in the scenarios. Third, he poses a series of questions.

This is a different way of doing things and at first it is off-putting because it is not linear. It means that you can read the document in a number of ways. It also means that you will have to think, hence the name.

Wood outlines some of the issues in education or "axes" as he calls them. For example, he considers the idea that although ICT will enable us to learn and to teach in radically different ways, innovation with ICT is inhibited and stifled by a failure to rethink the curriculum. Isn't this where we are: using ICT to enhance what schools and teachers have always done?

He argues that we have to redefine what is worth knowing and re-examine what skills and tools are necessary in order to be knowledgeable as technology makes an impact on all aspects of professional, vocational, private and public life. What a child learned in the middle of the 19th century would serve them for many years, probably for the rest of their lives. The useful life of much of what is taught in school has shortened considerably.

There is an implication that what is covered in traditional school curricula should be reduced because much of it will be redundant. In an age when people will have a number of roles in their life, the time given to learning can be extended fourfold.

Wood notes: "At the moment, these factors are acknowledged but not acted upon and the main trend is simply to pile new learning and teaching demands on top of traditional ones. This situation creates an unnecessarily heavy load, undue stress and a confusion of aims for schools."

The need to bring parents and the general public along is paramount. Wood does not argue that parents oppose the introduction of ICT. We have only to look at a school that wants to publicise that they are at the cutting edge and the local newspaper and the prospectus will be decked out with images of computers. What he is arguing is that computers are used to bolster the traditional curriculum. Attempts to innovate will be resisted by many parents. He does make the point that those people who have profited from the present curriculum are the ones who support it. In the main, these are also the people who are in positions where they can ensure it is retained.

The conservatism of the curriculum and the antediluvian methods we use to assess learning do not support the learning of new areas. Wood considers that most teachers do not support innovation. He suggests that training and demands for change in their practice will be undermined by the fact that most teachers will appeal to the need for learners to succeed on traditional forms of assessment as a reason not to change.

In a society that notionally supports equal access, Wood contends that a school that pursues ICT to decrease the gap between home and school will create a better learning environment. The energetic pursuit will increase the gaps between schools and detract from the notion of equality.

There are some issues that are not being seriously considered, at least in public. What happens when the maintenance of high-quality ICT provision exceeds available public funding? Already the cost of real broadband is concerning schools and administrators. Is the cost of replacing ICT hardware in three to five years going to be considered a national issue, a local issue or a school issue? What happens if we have an administration that is not prepared to allocate enough resources because ICT is no longer seen as relevant?

The research in the report is the result of discussions by people across Europe. The main purpose of this first draft is to stimulate scrutiny, discussion and debate among the interested and concerned readers.

Copies of the report can be obtained from djw@psychology.nottingham.ac.uk

Issues

* ICTinnovation can be inhibited by a failure to rethink the curriculum

* ICT may fail, being inhibited by a failure to capture the imagination and support of parents and the public

* The burden of maintaining ICT provision may exceed government commitment

* Innovation may fail because tools and practices used to guide learner progress and achievement do not support the achievement of new objectives

* The innovative use of ICT may increase the gap between high and low school achievement

Questions

* With the growing emphasis of the role of ICT in schools, what changes do you foresee in how teachers and support staff will be recruited into your sector?

* Do you have a clear sense of the knowledge and skills teachers will need to use ICT to good pedagogical effect?

* Do you think ICT will have any impact on the kinds of people attracted into the education profession?

* How will the need for ICT knowledge and skills impact on the training and accreditation of your teachers?

* Given the likely impact of ICT on schools and schooling, what changes will take place in the roles and responsibilities of your teachers?

* What steps will you take to ensure teachers in schools will develop the knowledge and skills required to use the new technologies?

* What issues are raised by the potential use of educational products and services developed from different cultural, ethical andor social perspectives?

* What roles will ICT play in the delivery of initial training for teachers and in their professional development?

* Are there traditional areas of education in which technology can help to do things more effectively?

* What new learning systems are required to prepare learners for life in the information society and what will be their key features?

* Do you plan to exploit ICT to change the way your schools are involved in the assessment, examination and accreditation of learning?

* Are there traditional areas of education in which technology can help to do things more effectively?

* What will technology allow learners at different stages of schooling to do differently?

* How can online learning improve the quality of and access to educational opportunity?

* If learning does become increasingly reliant on an online environment, do you envisage any redefinition of the ways schools will look and function as institutions?

* How can your schools and teachers help to equip learners with the knowledge and skills they will need in order to exploit the opportunities and choices open to them?

* What mix of online and face-to-face learning at the different stages of schooling will come to predominate in the future?

* If learners are able to learn about the same things using ICT in different contexts (eg in home and at school) what steps will be taken in schools to ensure the co-ordination and coherence of their learning experiences?

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