The primary school curriculum
Earlier this week I was asked what I thought should be the essence of the curriculum for the primary school? In one way, defining the early stages of the primary curriculum is an easy process. Moving from gross to ever finer motor skills, developing competence in reading, writing, speaking and listening; learning the basics of numeracy; acquiring the ability to socialise and work with others; an understanding of the need for physical effort related to health; a sense of time, space and identity within a democratic society; an understanding that there is more than one language, and how others communicate using different languages; the basics or art, music and other cultural activities; science and its approach to the problems of the world; faith and reasoning; the developing technological environment and how it works. And above all, perhaps as sense of wonder, awe and a desire to achieve.
I am sure there is even more. The task for governments is, how much to define and how much to leave to professionals, but to still monitor the outcomes through the political process. As a society we are impoverished in the modern world if children are not literate, numerate, technologically aware and able to appreciate the consequences of living together in society that is complex and based upon many different ideas, ideologies and faiths.
Politicians, on behalf of the learners they fund through schooling and their parents, have a right to expect educators to teach children, using whatever methods are appropriate, providing they meet ethical and moral standards, and achieve expected outcomes, without undue interference. Educators have a right to expect politicians to provide adequate resources for them to achieve these goals.
Universities, government, and the private sector must all play a part in helping develop new approaches to the curriculum, and its delivery, and also in appropriate assessment and recording mechanisms that are not overburdening but do allow the effective measurement of progress to be recorded and effectively disseminated to both the learner and their parents.
Of course, the school is no longer the only source of learning, and never was, but the school must be capable of ensuring that the curriculum for the gifted and talented can stretch beyond the school gates to ensure interests and abilities are not restricted by the need to teach large groups of children. Schools must also ensure that those who have special needs are recognised and treated accordingly and in a manner that doesn’t hinder their learning.
Robert Fulghum probably summed the curriculum up best in 1986 when he wrote ‘All I really need to know I learnt in kindergarten‘. Some things we can learn at any time of life; others we need to know from an early age.