The national curriculum and education reform
Life Advice·4 min read·16/02/22

The national curriculum and education reform

Is it time to consider education reform? What is the national curriculum? And is it really more comprehensive than self taught knowledge?

Keep reading to get answers to these important questions!

We all know that education is important but the current system in place can leave students questioning the prescribed syllabus which seems to have little application in the real world and omits some topics important to adult life.

For example, I haven’t had to apply Pythagoras’ theorem since I walked out of my GCSE Maths exam and quite frankly, I’m glad about it. That’s not to say that it's unimportant but given that we have a limited number of hours and resources in school, it's hard to fault the students who question ‘why do we actually need to learn this?’

So, why do we actually need to learn this?

The truth is that teachers have great difficulty answering these kinds of questions as they have no more control over the curriculum than the students do. But surely, there must be more to education than merely teaching students the same set of facts that you were taught as a child? Given that a large proportion of school learning directs students to critically analyse and question almost everything (a nod to the true purpose of education which I’ll touch on later), it’s not surprising that teachers face these kinds of questions.

It's glaringly obvious why we should all learn certain skills like reading and writing and of course, budding engineers will need a solid understanding of maths and science. But why does a student who’s pursuing a career in marketing need to know the equation for gravitational potential energy? The short answer is they probably don't. It is understandable then, that students can become quickly disheartened when their questions are met with the less than satisfactory responses of “you'll need this knowledge in the future” or “because it's on the exam paper.”

The problem with suggesting that “you'll need this knowledge in the future” is that it is far too preemptive as a form of learning to be efficient. Not only will this knowledge be useless for the majority of students, but for those that it is useful for, it will most likely have been forgotten by the time it’s relevant.

So who do we have to thank for our algebra lessons?

Education Reform Act 1988

The Education Reform Act 1988 saw the introduction of the national curriculum. You might be wondering, what is the national curriculum? Although its content has naturally evolved over the years, it can still be described as “a set of subjects and standards used by primary and secondary schools so children learn the same things.” It’s purpose is to ensure all children leave school with a base level of education, but who decides at which stage students are officially considered ‘educated’? It’s a strange concept, right? Some suggest it could be measured by a students ability to problem-solve or critically analyse or in other words, their ability to self-educate.

What is missing from the school syllabus?

Critics suggest that certain areas do seem to be lacking from the current national curriculum. The list below is certainly not exhaustive but highlights some key topics that we receive little to no formal education in. Considering their importance, the question arises as to whether there’s scope to fit them into the national curriculum or if they should remain areas for self education.

  1. Financial literacy
  • Saving basics
  • Taxes
  • Loans and debts
  • Credit cards
  • Investing

2. Home owning

  • Renting
  • Mortgages
  • Basic contracts

3. Career advice

  • Entrepreneurship
  • CV writing skills
  • Networking skills
  • Alternatives to university

4. Healthy lifestyle

  • Food and exercise
  • Mental health and wellbeing
  • Relationships and emotional regulation
  • Emergency medical training

Self taught knowledge

Despite this long list, when there is something to be learned that school doesn’t teach, people simply learn it themselves- there's even evidence to suggest that self taught knowledge is more easily retained! Having said this, people can only do so when they have access to the necessary information and resources. Being empowered to self educate builds self-confidence and is in itself a privilege but sadly not one afforded to all. In some instances, people aren’t able to do this for themselves causing blockers in certain aspects of life. For example, consider those who fall victim to payday loans with ridiculous interest rates, disasters that could perhaps be avoided with a few lessons in financial literacy.

In short, maybe certain aspects of our education system do need reform or at least review. But embracing the school syllabus is not all for nothing. It’s helping to set you up for future success. You’re not just blindly following the syllabus but rather gaining an understanding of your preferred learning style and developing a mindset and habits that encourage continuous learning and productivity. It just so happens to be that poetry analysis and mathematical equations are the tools used to help get you to this point.

Next time you're in an English lesson questioning the value of drawing inferences from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, take a step back. Try to view your education through the wider lens of developing critical analysis and problem-solving skills that will help you navigate adult life.

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