Currently in Northern Ireland, politics is simply a synonym for firefighting. There are numerous issues that have been overshadowed by petty identity politics in the executive. The health service has languished during the 3 year absence of Stormont. Northern Ireland remains rural and disconnected particularly in the west. Yet there are major improvements needed in rail infrastructure and the A1 presents a danger to road users. The Stormont executive can’t manage existing issues and this has left us with little time to consider how fundamental social structures such as education or health should function. That does not mean that these issues should not be highlighted or discussed in preparation of a new Northern Ireland.
There are two statements I have heard that define the curriculum taught in schools. “Why do I need to learn this? I’ll never use it”. Very few of us will need to know about Pythagoras theorem or how tectonic plate movement causes earthquakes. It isn’t useless information for the people who pursue careers or further study in fields such as physics or geology. For the majority of us however I can’t say it’s helpful to know these things.
Conversely, people also say “school didn’t prepare me for the real world”. This statement is slightly more subjective and usually relates to finance and budgeting issues but it is still said which indicates a further problem with the curriculum.
In fairness however, Home Economics was introduced to teach people how to cook. An important life skill with direct impact on health yet it is now more convenient to go to the chippy. So for the few people that do cook that wouldn’t otherwise have done HE the subject may be important but there is little impact on people’s lives in a broad sense.
Additionally, Physical Education has evolved from doing laps outside on a freezing Wednesday morning. Students are shown the benefits of exercise and are taught about bio-mechanics however obesity is a growing issue in NI. Clearly PE in its current form doesn’t have much of an effect.
I would like to note however that greater environmental factors impact a person’s ability to exercise as well as how, what and where they eat. So any attempt to reframe the curriculum must be aware of broader societal factors. In fact, it should form the basis of education.
I believe that the current curriculum is too myopic and dismissive of greater environmental factos. As such I think it would be best to impart knowledge according to their utility in daily life. Economics, Politics, Finance, Physics, Biology, IT, Maths, History, Health and Communication. Politics and Economics underpins society while history informs every aspect of life. Comparatively, Physics and IT are fundamental in daily life. Basic Maths skills are used quite often in daily life too. Percentages, simple addition and subtraction are useful when doing the groceries. Simple Maths would contribute to a better comprehension of financial matters also. Calculating rates of income tax and calculating net monthly payment for example. Health is self-explanatory. These aren’t at all different from the current subjects taught in schools. So a radical overhaul of education is not necessary. Rather a strong base of knowledge must be formed and imparted according to utility before pursuing studies in the name of personal interest. Knowledge is important however it is simply one half of the equation.
Tertiary education forces students to develop many new skills. Social and otherwise. Perhaps the most important of which are developed through academic work but are applicable to all aspects of life. But the bases of these skills is knowledge. In order to acquire that information quality research must be undertaken. This must then be distilled to form persuasive arguments. To build a persuasive argument however, the information provided must be proven or disproven. This simple process encourages the development of research skills, analytical ability and written and or verbal communication skills. Furthermore, this increases the ability to solve problems through and furthers the ability to think creatively. As a result, challenges can become less intimidating. Therefore adult life may not be a case of being thrown into the deep end.
The upside of highlighting this process earlier in the system is twofold. First, by encouraging students to learn these skills at secondary school they will be better prepared for pursuing careers and contributing positively to society in adulthood. If nothing else it may improve the discourse on Twitter. In addition, with the continuing devaluation of university education reformation of school curricula would relieve an unnecessary financial burden on young people and allow degrees to be re-valued.
How this is achieved should be subject of debate among people with greater experience in education. However the benefits of amending the system to suit the 21st century are clear. When students no longer need to bring their own toilet role to school maybe education reform will become a priority. To get there however, the arsonists must face the consequences.