Forgetmenot. To recall or not recall…

I had a conversation with one of our advisory governors and three experienced teachers.  The gist was how technology is changing things and the idea that pupils do not need to learn material off-by-heart any more; the power of recall is not required. Instead we need good research, interrogation, interpretation, and critical thinking skills. Is this true?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/balakov/ (CC)
forgetmenot - http://www.flickr.com/photos/balakov/ (CC)

The ‘clever’ people I know personally are able to recall a wealth of knowledge as well as employ high-end thinking skills to draw patterns and conclusions. It seems to me that this ability is somehow founded in the bed of knowledge they have accrued. I know of very few people I would consider ‘clever’ (I want a much better word) that do not have both these capacities. I am no academic but I believe I think well. I have a capacity to listen, assess, challenge and conclude. But I wouldn’t put myself in the clever category.

This leads me to wonder how the claim that because technology gives us full access to knowledge means that not ‘knowing’ anything is valid. [I’ve heard this argument a few times on the ed tech circuit] I can’t commit to this. Not yet anyway.

In our education system we start by teaching skills to youngsters, for example, reading. Next step (crudely speaking) is to make youngsters learn facts about stuff – rivers, anatomy, mathematical concepts. Then we examine them (GCSE) and introduce an element of analysis, but a lot of this is learnt beforehand. A Levels next. More specialist knowledge is learnt for recall but there is a clear step into assessing the pupils ability to respond to an unfamiliar question in a context outside an exam board specification (aside: thank you for improving ICT A Level at long last, it’s much better now). Having spent years and years doing exams leads to memorising a lot of things for regurgitation. Now you migrate to university where, at the higher levels, you are required to employ the high-end thinking skills.

My questions: has the fourteen years of recall-based learning been necessary to get to a position where you can be the high-end thinker? Should we abandon the curriculum as we know it? Has the evolution of education misled us? To be a critical thinker, assuming that is the goal, must we have a bedrock of verbatim learning? Do you know?

Forgetmenot. To recall or not recall…

One thought on “Forgetmenot. To recall or not recall…

  1. I don’t think either extreme position is tenable. Instead, the middle way of having enough *organizing* knowledge – meta-level (knowledge about knowledge) stuff, I suppose, is the way to go.

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