Knowledge v Skills at school
Listening to the radio recently, there was a discussion about Spotify and how people who are signed up to it don’t need to have significant musical knowledge because they can simply ask Spotify to search for the particular track they want to listen to. Nothing wrong with this; that’s the beauty and convenience of Spotify after all. The argument was then extrapolated to a much bigger question about whether or not we need to know so much ‘stuff’ nowadays because technology has all the answers. Therefore, why bother cramming our heads full of facts if we can ask a machine?
While they might have started out as a gimmick, digital home assistants have become virtual family members in three million UK homes in the past couple of years. We are no exceptions, at Christmas we were given a Google Home assistant so we too find ourselves asking a machine questions. It feels a little weird.
A recent survey carried out by online retailer Moonpig found that 38% of mothers say their child would seek answers to some questions from a tech device rather than them. So is this the start of a slippery slope in which children turn to gadgets rather than parents who may themselves be deeply immersed in some technology device and too busy to answer. If the technology is available (and willing), there is an argument to say why not use it.
At school we teach lots of knowledge. The curriculum is full of facts children need to know. Facts are important don’t get me wrong. Critics of a ‘knowledge curriculum’ claim it takes us back to Grangrindian learning by rote; this is too simplistic. A knowledge-based curriculum cannot be reduced to facts alone. The teacher blogger Clio et cetera (clioetcetera.com) puts it succinctly: “No facts exist in a vacuum: everything we learn is connected to something else we know. And the more things we know, the more connections there are. People who have extensive knowledge bases have significantly more possible connections available to them. Rather than inhibiting creativity, a knowledge-rich curriculum makes creativity possible”.
We should do away with the binary argument that it has to be either knowledge or skills. Those that argue a knowledge-rich curriculum excludes skills are on icy ground. We’re on safer ground by saying that teaching skills depends on knowing things, they cannot exist in isolation. Put another way, if I want to teach a skill such as problem solving the children need to have a solid base of knowledge on which to draw on to solve the problem posed. The two are inextricably linked.
So, if we’ve established that knowledge and skills can’t exist without each-other – at least in an educational setting – the question remains how we harness technology (which knows ‘stuff’) to help.
Better go and ask my Google Home assistant………….