When the NEMP (1988) results showed that a substantial number of year 4/8's had great difficulty understanding the information they retrieved, let alone thinking with it critically and analytically to develop knowledge, the nation should have declared a state of educational emergency, or, at very least a day of mourning.
Why? Well, for tolerating, far too often, an education system that promotes what can best be described as KFL, Knowledge Free Learning, or, if you prefer, Kentucky Fried Learning, or, better still CBL - Cognitive Bypass Learning.
[The definitions below were sourced on the Internet, and are impressively authoritative, although you'll never be able to prove otherwise because, having found something once, it's almost impossible to re-trace your web trail!]
Knowledge Free Learning (KFL) n. Activity promoted through primary projects
which involves gathering a few facts and pasting them up manually
or electronically. Kentucky Fried Learning (KFL) n. Instant, effortless,
fast-fried, nutritionless information which passes through, contributing
no benefits to the human organism and leaving no cognitive deposits,
toxic or otherwise.
Cognitive Bypass Learning (CBL) n. Osmotic process by
which information is retrieved, assimilated and regurgitated (often
through technological mediation called wordprocessing or multimedia
software) without needing to be processed through the head. Facilitation
n. Figure of speech. Often used in context of teaching-free pedagogy
designed to produced KFL (and the NEMP results).
Facilitator n. One who used to be proud to be called a teacher. Worse
still, after the publication of the NEMP report, a Ministry Spokesfacilitator
unequivocally equivocated the Mindless Mantra that in an Age of
Information it was more important to be able to find out than
to have knowledge. This reduces a truism to simplistic nonsense.
Of course it is important to be able to find out - I have been
trying to Page teach people this in the form of resource-based
learning for the last 20 years - but knowledge is crucial.
Knowledge is NOT retrieved information as the mindless mantra implies. Knowledge is thought about, well masticated, wonderfully nutritious, deeply processed cognitive fodder that is richly satisfying to heart, soul and mind.
It's not a question of blaming teachers. But it is a question of challenging us to question bandwagons and ask what teaching professionals should be doing at all levels. That, surely, at all levels, is to teach people to be learners and to value and cherish learning and knowledge?
And, while I'm talking pot shots, I don't know how much fact-stuffing kids like duvets for exams at secondary does much to help them become self-efficacious learners who are passionate about knowing and knowledge and confident about their efficacy as learners.
If this seems obvious - and it does to many of the teachers I meet who tell me they do all this already - they 'do' problem-solving, they 'do' technology, they 'do' projects, they 'do' thinking skills and information skills, then why is the proof not in the pudding? Why, for example, on the NEMP tasks were only 80% of year 8 students able to say when Louis Pasteur was born, and only 46% were able to say why he was famous. This means that roughly 20%/ 54% of 12 year olds can't read 100 words to retrieve factual information or make a simple inference. We are talking literal comprehension here, not high level thinking skills. Sure, you can say 'who cares about Louis Pasteur?' They would have done better if it had been 'relevant' and presented on the screen. You also tell me that is because they are so-called visual learners. Good. So why, given the mouth watering task of watching a video of chocolate eggs being made, could only 13% of year 4s and 19% of year 8s choose 5 out of 8 cards which showed the main steps in making chocolate eggs?
I have to say I don't know why. Some of the results confirmed what I know from many years of working in the area of information literacy; some amazed me. So, what to do about it? I don't know, but the first step is, surely (the Great God Technology Curriculum can't be wrong?) recognising that you have a problem, defining the problem and developing and evaluating a number of solutions, recognising that a complex, entrenched problem is unlikely to be solved with ONE quick-fix easy-peasy solution.
How many of us were taught how to learn?
How many of us learnt by osmosis, and are here, teachers, because we are the system's success stories? How many of us, wherever we did our teaching qualifications, were taught how to learn?
Teaching people how to learn is not difficult. It is fun!