We don’t need bad education!

It is widely touted that it is no longer necessary to focus as much on the acquisition of knowledge (read: “memorise”) as it is about the attainment of skills for the future.  Is this true?  It is probably more appropriate to ask whether this ever was NOT true.  Surely education was never intended to be a process whereby success is assessed only by a student’s ability to regurgitate facts in an exam?  Were the sages of old and classic educators so far off the mark?

Well, the simple answer is “no”; education (even as far back as the ancient Greece, Egypt or Rome) has never professed to be merely about the retention of knowledge.  As far back as 900 BC, the Etruscans placed great emphasis on education, which most probably was only skills-based, hands-on learning (it is debatable whether ancient Etruscan and Raetian languages were standardised in order to articulate such a level of assessment).  Sure, the classical scholar needed to memorise the terminology – the “language” of the discipline he/she was studying to the point of enduring extreme physical punishment for ‘failing to remember’.  Students of poetry needed to memorise the classic works; in politics, it would be the terminology of the ‘rhetors’, and if it was housekeeping …. I think you get the idea.  The point I am trying to make is that poor education practices have never been ‘right’; they have always been misplaced, most probably only gaining prominence to satisfy our insatiable need to measure success.  Although standardised testing certainly has a place in assessment, it is not the sum of education.

While the powers that be are starting to see the light and skills-based learning is being re-established, we need to guard against the notion that all information now resides on the internet or in a dusty library somewhere beyond Alexandria, only to be accessed when needed … but that is the topic for a future blog!

Eddie de Beer

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