Accessibility links

There  is a debate in Education that just seems to go on and on, that between ‘traditionalists’ and ‘progressives’. These terms are so ill-defined as to make the debate more a slagging match - each side imagining the other to be the bogey-men they would most like to attack. A sub-sector of the debate that is a bit more clearly defined is that between those who favour a skills-based education and those who favour a traditional knowledge-based education. The RSA is somewhat engaged in this debate as its Opening Minds curriculum is to a certain extent skills-based.

There is a debate in Education that just seems to go on and on, that between ‘traditionalists’ and ‘progressives’. These terms are so ill-defined as to make the debate more a slagging match - each side imagining the other to be the bogey-men they would most like to attack. A sub-sector of the debate that is a bit more clearly defined is that between those who favour a skills-based education and those who favour a traditional knowledge-based education. The RSA is somewhat engaged in this debate as its Opening Minds curriculum is to a certain extent skills-based.

class="MsoNormal" I say to a certain extent because it does not teach only skills, it teaches knowledge and skills that are transferrable across areas. In fact, you can’t teach skills without knowledge – you can’t learn how to apply a skill in a different area unless you understand the particular features of the latter, as well as the generality of the principles that structure the skill. To apply the skill of engaging an audience, for example, one needs to understand the particular audience in question.

I think this whole debate could be deflated if we got clear about what level of competencies in skills is required in an individual, and if we distinguished between the range of different levels required at the aggregate rather than individual level.

It seems to me each individual needs to reach a certain level of competence in at least the following transferrable skills. She needs to be able to understand how to identify the salient features of an abstract model in abstract terms. Applied mathematics is a good example of this skill. Second, she needs to be able to see abstract models particularly well spelled out in reality. Looking at how life forms in biology instance kinds of patterns in nature is a good example of this skill. Third, she needs to be sensitive to the particular features of things – the tone of someone’s voice, the particular colours that make up a painting, the particular tone of a poem. Fourth, she needs to be sensitive to other people’s needs and be able to cooperate with them. Project work is a good example of this kind of skill. Fifth, she needs to be sensitive to her own needs – she needs to develop an understanding of her own strengths and weaknesses in a positive and supportive environment (I have little idea how this could be taught, but I’m sure it could be). Sixth, she needs to learn facts about the world to which she can plug in all these skills (she needs knowledge).

A complete lack in any of these six areas will retard a person’s progress, and make her a pain to be around. But beyond that, we wouldn’t want to expect or impose an ideal of strength or expertise in any one area. People are different and hooray to that. What we require from education for an individual is a baseline reached in all six areas. What we require from education as a society are strengths and excellences in the various areas distributed across individuals.

Advocates of skills-based education are right about wanting everyone to reach a certain level of skill in the five areas listed above. But they go too far if they think the idea is for everybody to excel in all areas. Advocates of knowledge-based education are not attentive enough to the necessity of everyone reaching a certain baseline in the five areas of skills. But they are right to complain about the futility and harmfulness of too much social engineering attempted through education at the individual level.

Comments

Be the first to write a comment

Please login to post a comment or reply.

Don't have an account? Click here to register.