The App Curriculum for 2014
03 Jan 2012 Exclusive to www.mikebakereducation.co.uk
By Roy Blatchford
As someone who helped redraft the current National Curriculum during the 1990s, I have more than a passing interest in its successor. The brave announcement by the Secretary of State of a curriculum postponement to 2014 invites opportunities for fresh thinking.
According to recent press reports, David Cameron's advisers had a light bulb moment on a recent trip to the U.S. During 2012 the Prime Minister will add to his beloved iPad an app that will help him govern: a bespoke compendium of real-time performance data about the UK, from employment figures to NHS waiting lists.
It is a truism of our age that the extraordinary becomes the commonplace - at a faster and faster rate. Imagine for a moment that a soon-to-be-revealed global brand donates an iPad to every 11 year-old in England. Let us say to the cohort starting secondary school in September 2014.
That brand might possibly be Harper Collins, whose chief executive has predicted that 50% of fiction sales by mid 2013 will be eBooks. Or it might be Pearson, the world's premier education publisher and, incidentally, owner of Edexcel. Or perhaps Samsung, intent on securing the mobile allegiance of a generation.
The iPad sells today for £399 in the UK. Technology giant Infosys predicts a similar portable device will sweep India within three years, retailing at $39. The extraordinary becomes the everyday.
So, in 2014, with every 11 year-old walking into secondary school with their own iPad, what then are the implications for a new National Curriculum, and for the predatory media giants?
First, there will be an app for each subject. The science, art or history app will have three dimensions: one for pupils, one for teachers and one for parents. Each will be extraordinarily rich in interactive materials, to support and extend all learners.
Second, each app will include continuous assessment and regular tests. This will mark the end of examinations at 16+ as we know them and, critically, help address the recently publicised 'corruption' of GCSEs.
Third, an abundance of edutainment materials around each app will surface from diverse international sources. On-line tutoring (Pearson's biggest growth business in India) will surge in popularity.
Fourth, the class textbook will be in significant retreat, non-fiction books overtaken by the libraries of Wikipedia, Google and WolframAlpha. The interactive whiteboard becomes the relic of a bygone era.
Given the transformational power of a curriculum delivered through apps, what government prescription will be necessary? And how can it be made reasonably future-proof, say for a couple of decades? The answer has to be 'less is more'. The starting point should be a set of fundamental outcomes: the knowledge, skills and attributes (the holy trinity of curriculum planners) we wish our young people to have.
Borrowing from the work of American writer Howard Gardner I would suggest we want our students to develop five minds for the future: the disciplined mind; the synthesising mind; the creative mind; the respectful mind; and the ethical mind. These are the minds and dispositions of international citizens who will thrive in the coming decades.
Using current subject terminology, my choice would be for just six cornerstone apps, with slim prescribed content from age 5 - 16:
• English - rooted in a command of standard English and articulacy
• Mathematics - benchmarked against the highest performing countries
• Sciences - chemistry, physics and biology as discrete subjects, similarly benchmarked against the world's top performers
• History - focused on a deep understanding of the major events and movements in our nation's narrative
• Geography - with specific local, national and international dimensions
• Art and music - introducing pupils to landmark artists and composers.
In summary, any central prescription from 2014 should be outcomes-led, and founded upon Matthew Arnold's powerful dictum 'the best which has been thought and said in the world'.
And, in the spirit of creating a system of independent state schools, let teachers, head teachers and governors determine the rest locally. Let schools 'dare to be different' in providing high quality provision of philosophy, drama, sports, modern languages and vocational work, with specialist teaching starting from age nine.
The Secretary of State has called for innovative, considered thinking and planning before 2014. My serious starter for the whole enterprise is to adopt an apps approach to the new National Curriculum. The 11 year-olds of 2014 can then mirror how the PM will soon be running UK plc.
Roy Blatchford is Director of the National Education Trust and was a member of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority 1993-1997: www.nationaleducationtrust.net