By Tamara Cohen
Exit Winston Churchill, enter Twitter …
Primary schools could ditch traditional lessons in favour of teaching children how to use social networking sites such as Twitter, it emerged yesterday.
In the biggest education shake-up for 20 years, pupils would no longer have to learn about the Romans, Vikings, Tudors, Victorians or the Second World War.
Instead, under the blueprint for a new primary curriculum – which was drawn up by former Ofsted chief Sir Jim Rose following a request from Children’s Secretary Ed Balls – they would have to be able to master websites such as Wikipedia, as well as blogging and podcasting. Compulsory sex education will start from five and children as young as nine will be taught to make ‘informed decisions’ about taking drugs and drinking alcohol.
As swathes of prescribed knowledge in science, history and geography are stripped back, schools will be encouraged to put a big emphasis on internet skills, environmental education, healthy eating and well-being.
‘English will cover ‘media texts’ and ‘social and collaborative forms of communication’ alongside traditional works of literature.
These should include ’emails, messaging, wikis and twitters’. Wikis, as in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, are information databases that rely on being edited by the public, regardless of whether they have any specialist knowledge in the subject being discussed. Twitter is the latest phenomenon in social networking that entails writing short messages of just 140 characters to update other users of one’s activities, feelings or thoughts.
Twitter.com has grown over 600% in the past year. Users include the BBC and Barack Obama
Sir Jim’s proposals are the biggest shakeup of primary schooling since the Tories introduced a national curriculum in 1988.
But the final draft, which was leaked yesterday, was last night branded ‘dangerous’ and an assault on knowledge, while critics said children were accustomed to using modern media at home and needed no encouragement at school.
Robert Whelan, deputy director of the Civitas think-tank, which published a damning critique on the curriculum two years ago, said: ‘This is yet another step on the journey to drain all academic content from the school curriculum and to replace discrete bodies of knowledge, which have been organised under subject headings for hundreds of years, with a lot of social engineering and flabby attempts at feelgood philosophy.
‘These proposals will only serve to increase the educational apartheid between the state and independent sector, because the latter will retain traditional subjects.’
New focus: Children will study internet tools such as Wikipedia and podcasting
Pointing out the need for greater historical education, not less, he said he had recently asked a group of pupils in their late years at primary school when Shakespeare lived, and the answer came back as ’50 years ago’.
Sean Lang, senior lecturer in History at Anglia Ruskin University and secretary of the Historical Association, said: ‘This is part and parcel of a general trend both at primary and secondary level to downgrade knowledge, as if all you need is techniques, and knowledge is just stuff you get from the web.’
The Conservatives’ education spokesman, Michael Gove, said: ‘Sir Jim Rose’s review of the primary curriculum has already promised to teach our children less. Now it proposes to replace solid knowledge with nods towards all the latest technological fashions.’
Under the proposed curriculum, children must also gain ‘fluency’ in keyboard skills as well as handwriting, and learn to use a spellchecker as well as learning to spell. Meanwhile a physical development, health and wellbeing programme will make sex education compulsory in primaries for the first time.
George Santayana: “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”