Now, what do we make of this news story from the Independent? It looks like the English Minister of Education wants to turn back the clocks and make pupils rote-learn and recite poetry as part of planned changes to the national curriculum.

Traditional values are making a come-back in this proposal to reform (if this is the right word?) the curriculum in English primary schools. Spelling and grammar are given a more prominent role and foreign languages are intended to be made compulsory.

From Year 1, at the age of five, they will be read poems by their teacher as well as starting to learn simple poems by heart and practise recitals.

Maybe I’m too rash in my criticism that is based on a personal attitude towards the news item. My first feeling was “wow, they’d like to reintroduce parrot learning and books – this is soooo retro!” But at second reading, new pedagogies and technologies are actually not mentioned, neither were books and blackboards. So, I guess the method of learning is not described here, at least not in the article, but may well be in the NC proposal. Another thought that came to mind was that rote learning is probably not as bad as its reputation in current pedagogic innovation circles. Many children want to become actors or singers, and there, learning by heart, rehearsing and reciting are important skills, as they are in public speaking and presenting. It’s not a bad idea to expose children at young age to these performing arts.

Similarly, putting a stronger focus on foreign languages early on, is something that apart from English schools every nation on Earth has practiced successfully, so we find competent English speakers not only in Anglophone countries or in exceptional cases.

In total, I would conclude that it is not the intentions and target outcomes that may open the reform of the National Curriculum to criticism, but the pedagogic methods by which these are to be achieved. More details of this should become available soon.

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