Family & Education

We need a 21st century curriculum

Traditional teaching will not meet the challenges faced by today’s pupils


In two years, no British student in any school will have been born in the 20th century. 

Every single one of them will be a millennial, born in the 21st century and facing a very different future from that confronting their predecessors.

But we still force-feed our kids with a curriculum diet forged in the Industrial Revolution, a curriculum comprised of silos of knowledge, tested in the same way that our 19th-century forbears would recognise and probably fare better at.

This is a curriculum that includes many outdated, irrelevant and content- heavy subjects, and about which little thought is given to how children learn so that they can be provided with real tools to expand the mind.

Jews have, for millennia, applied deep reasoning skills to interrogate problems and situations. This has given us our famed fractiousness but also a restless, curious and creative intellect. We thrive on debate, discussion and argument, using text and tradition to hypothesise, test, adopt and adapt new technologies without losing our unique identity.  

Indeed, it is our love of education that has guaranteed our survival against a background of hatred fuelled through the ever-present virus of antisemitism.

So how can our schools, dependent on discrete subjects and relatively crude testing, provide the millennials with the tools to be future leaders, thinkers and morally accountable citizens, unless they have the capacity for free thinking, nourished through intellectual curiosity and boundless imagination?

Currently, the system asphyxiates creativity and is content to pit school against school, child against child, creating an environment where all covet the success of the other, as opposed to celebrating the love of learning, and where teachers spend more time on processing the evidence of learning, rather than educating our youngsters.  

So, we need a real debate on what is an educated student of the 21st century; what dispositions, attitudes, skills, attributes and resources do our millennials need to be able to become true citizens of tomorrow.

And it is all in the Shema. That wonderful daily affirmation of our belief in the Almighty speaks of a love of God with our heart, soul and our strengths — in educational terms the affective, cognitive and skill-based domains of learning. 

The affective domain includes key elements of enjoyment, empathy, love of learning, imagination, creativity and curiosity, the EQ (Emotional Quotient)intelligence and SQ (Spiritual Quotient) intelligence, the awareness of awe and wonder, and the understanding of the role of God in our daily life.

The cognitive domain includes how well a child is learning, processing and applying knowledge and could be measured through conventional tests that broadly resemble the familiar IQ  (Intelligence Quotient) tests. 

The skills domain includes abilities and talents required to enable and record learning, using new technologies and keeping both the mind and the body fit. 

If these three core elements were applied to the education of the child, then it would be possible to provide a more rounded evaluation of child’s development and learning, assisted through digital capturing and leading to a narrative of a child’s progress throughout and beyond school; and yes, even within subjects.

Currently, the uncertainties presented in a post-truth world are frightening and polarising. There is more tangible hatred of “the other” and schools are far too busy trying to assess students as opposed to educating them. 

Twenty-first-century schools need to move away from a Victorian system, characterised by strict age segregation, to become exciting and dynamic community centres of lifelong learning and family education, free from age and subject boundaries and where the real joy of learning can express itself. 

The Shema contains an explicit mitzvah to teach our children. Education cannot simply be abrogated to a school, or the shul or even the home. It is a collective endeavour and a whole community responsibility, we owe this to our millennials. 

Laurie Rosenberg teaches Jewish education at JCoSS in London

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