Sunday 27 March 2016

Back To Basics

One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world - Malala Yousafzai

This Easter Sunday, we sat down to watch He Named Me Malala - the BAFTA-nominated film about a schoolgirl who was shot by the Taliban for speaking out for her right to an education.  To say it was inspiring would be an understatement.  It was a raw and thought-provoking journey through the life of Malala and her family.  The documentary had beautiful, unique animations to illustrate parts of their history as they narrated and it showed her to be as strong and courageous as her media persona suggests.  

Although the film contained audio and video clips of the Taliban's fight against girls' education as well as some graphic images of the resulting violence, it was the focus on education weaved throughout which struck a chord with me.   Especially now.  At a time when there is so much unnecessary change in UK education - so much discontent, discord and negativity,  it is helpful to go back to basics.  

Malala's father, Ziauddin, set up his own school in a rented building with $150.  His aim was for the pupils to learn what they would need for a successful and happy future.  After all, that's the aim of all education systems.  Over the years, the bare bones of education in the UK have been getting lost amid layers and layers of accountability, politics and power.  The government, OfSTED, curricula, examinations, league tables, data etc have been lumped on top with the promise of 'raising standards' and adding 'rigour'.  We're in an obesity crisis and we need to shed some weight.  We need to go back to basics.  Plan, teach + assess, repeat. 

I have often heard learning categorised as being 'just-in-case' or 'just-in-time'.  When children are learning 'just-in-case', they are storing that information or skill on the off chance that they might need it one day - for example in a test or a pub quiz!  When learning is prompted 'just-in-time', pupils are discovering new knowledge or skills because they need to.  After I read about the two different categories of learning, I set about aiming for that 'just-in-time' learning in my classroom everyday.  It wasn't easy fitting the curriculum in but we had some fantastic real-life projects which children loved and learned a lot from.  However, over the last few years I have found it increasingly difficult to avoid 'just-in-case' learning.  With the less-than-basic elements of the new English curriculum and some random additions to the mathematics curriculum, sometimes it feels like children are merely learning things 'just-in-case' they are asked about it in a test. 

Alternatively, Ziauddin's lessons in Pakistan would have been full of 'just-in-time' learning.  Children were learning things because they needed to - they had to.  This is how the UK education system  started as well, I'm sure.  Teachers on street corners helping kids learn what they needed - just in time for the next part of their life journey.  Undoubtedly, it was the hope of making such an important difference in the life of another which inspired me, and many others, to become a teacher.  We're in the job for the basics.  

Children, teachers, books and pens - imagine if you could forget the rest.  

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