Last night I spoke at an informal session held by academics concerned with the teaching of Geography at the Institute of Education. The first thing is to say that they were very welcoming, and the conversation was a very stimulating one (at least from my perspective). So stimulating, that I suspect this should be several posts, but it is all coming out in a rush.
Oh, and the cookies with Smarties baked into them were great…
I was there to do was to speak about Opening Minds as an initiative which challenged the traditional idea of subjects by
1) seeking to be responsive to the needs of learners entering into a ‘knowledge economy’, which demands we go beyond subject knowledge and basic skills, and foster, for example, creativity, problem solving, interpersonal skills, and ultimately the motivation and capability to learn throughout life
2) making knowledge more practical and relevant by breaking down the barriers between subjects and formulating projects which prioritise the development of competences in learners and integrate content from a range of subjects
We went back and forth on the advantages and disadvantages of Opening Minds as an approach, but, from my standpoint, what was encouraging about the discussion (apart from its quality) was that when I suggested three areas which warranted further exploration, I got unanimous agreement. Those areas were:
1. The context beyond the economy – Opening Minds began 8 years ago with a consideration of the implications of a perceived shift to a knowledge economy. However, the inexorable rise of issues such as sustainability and changing demography and the mission of the RSA both demand that we consider not just the economy but that we think about new community and national civic institutions to help us meet these challenges. Ultimately, this is a question of the role of education in creating the citizens we need for the future.
2. The issue of how schools are responding to narratives about the need for change – increasingly schools are piecing together initiatives to create an individual institutional and curricular response to the kind of narrative Opening Minds has articulated and their sense of local circumstances. That leaves us with two challenges. The first is to make sure the narrative is credible, keeps developing and is not dominated by any single perspective (a notable risk is that powerful economic interests come to dominate). The second is to understand how can we have variation between schools, but share the benefits of knowledge and experience and avoid repeating mistakes.
3. Knowledge – we have seen the argument develop between defenders of more traditional subject disciplines and those prioritising relevance, learner voice and skills development. How do we prepare young people with the non-cognitive skills, competences and dispositions that are so important while enabling them to, for example, specialise in physics or geography if they wish to? What does it mean to take knowledge and the perspectives/world views of different subjects seriously within an interdisciplinary project-based curriculum? How can we learn from and guide practitioners about that? Practically, can Opening Minds play a role in moving this debate on?
The great thing is that this conversation wasn’t the playground push and shove so typical of these kinds of debates, but was a real attempt at understanding how we move forward. It was great. I feel some seminars coming on…
– Ian McGimpsey