What we need to understand is what we want to achieve with education. Do we want to tick boxes, ensure the next generation has STEM skills, or even ensure that the next generations of employees are fit for employment? The challenge is that the world has changed, and continues to rapidly do so, in many ways.
The challenge is ensuring that the skills and mind-sets of the next generation are fit for purpose. There is no question that strong abilities in STEM subjects is a huge benefit, both to employees and employers, and necessary for future societal and economic development. Today however there is also a growing need for soft skills - the skills that companies want are the ability to face and manage change, to address complex problems (from programming challenges to strategic evolution) with innovative solutions.
Today’s children are used to being able to find answers to questions immediately. Access to digital data means that factual questions can be answered immediately. Many employers are looking for flexible minds with the ability to identify necessary questions to even understand the challenges faced. This is the skill of knowing what to ask and being able to look in new places for solutions – not necessarily a mindset that is encouraged by direct instruction. So the question really becomes, what is education for and how do different approaches result in different outcomes.
Ofsted has recently admitted that with the recent academisation of the curriculum, it had become over reliant on performance data, meaning that examination and box ticking could be said to be the ruling framework for education. This is especially problematic at primary level, as performance measures are so narrow.
It may seem that primary aged children are too young to be developing critical thinking skills. Yet critical cognitive skills can be developed hand in hand with growth in emotional and social awareness. By embedding agency through questioning skills into the curriculum we can help support our children into becoming creative, independent and compassionate thinkers.
Is there room, however, for inquiring minds in the direct instruction classroom? The latest neuro-science research shows us that student-generated questioning plays a fascinating and fundamental role in the learning brain, as it forces us to:
- Ensure sensory input is registered – gains our attention
- Link to prior knowledge
- Actively process new information
- Create and reinforce learning pathways in the brain
Fads come and go in teaching, what is certain is that teachers need to be given the flexibility to evolve to meet their cohort’s ever-changing needs. Each teacher ought to have the remit to play to his or her strengths as an educator.
Encouraging great quality questioning skills from an early age is an effective way of ensuring student engagement across both the learning and teaching methodology spectrum.
This article first appeared in the June issue of Education Today.