In feeding-back findings from our world-wide research into child-centred inquiry-based approaches to education, we were asked which curriculum we are planning to use. Some parent-carers have concerns that the South African curriculum is not rigorous enough, and that it is not supporting children to develop skills they need to thrive in the 21st century; skills such as creativity, critical thinking / problem-solving, curiosity, and collaboration.
As parent-carers we need to be seeking spaces where our children can develop these skills.
But are we asking the right questions?
As we researched approaches to education around the world, approaches which enable children to develop knowledge, understanding and skills to fulfil their aspirations and relevant for today’s society, it was evident that every teacher we met, in every school, in every country, had to work within a prescribed curriculum. The curriculum wasn’t the limiting factor preventing children from developing skills but rather each teacher’s belief about the image of the child – and thus their approach to teaching and learning.
Allow me to explain further…
If we believe children are nothing more than empty vessels that need filling with information, then teaching and learning will be approached from the understanding that educators need to talk whilst students passively listen; in the hope that what is being downloaded can be regurgitated at a later point by the learner – a ‘feat’ for which they will be symbolically rewarded.
Education in this sense is about filling children with content, with little consideration given to application, analysing information or collaborative problem-solving.
In contrast, if we believe all children are competent, capable, creative and curious, then teaching and learning will be approached from the understanding that every child should actively participate in their own learning and development; educators / teachers here will work with students to determine what should be learnt and how best to learn it. Education in this sense ensures greater involvement and sustains interest; children discover for themselves in authentic situations, co-constructing knowledge with others, as they develop skills in creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration and innovation.
As we establish a school we start with the belief that every child is a unique individual who is competent, capable, creative and curious. As teachers our posture will therefore be one of provoking learning by facilitating engaging ‘projects’ in line with children’s interests.
The word progettazione is a concept we initially encountered in the Northern Italian city of Reggio Emilia, which is where we began our child-centred inquiry-based education research. Over the next 10 weeks we had the opportunity to experience similar expressions in various contexts, forms and languages all over the world. Although progettazione sounds a lot like the English word ‘project’ is it best understood as ‘design’, which articulates better what we mean by ‘project’. Education is not about off-the-shelf, prepackaged, or prescribed activities – with predetermined outcomes, scope or time-spans – but rather a learning trajectory that encourages children to explore an area, with others, through multiple lenses and directions.
Progettazione observes, interprets, and documents, ‘The ordinary moments and everyday experiences in the classroom’ (Kashin 2014). It is an approach that lends itself to an integration between subject areas. Most ‘moments’ and ‘experiences’ are worthy of exploration, but not all of them necessarily, ‘lead to an all-encompassing long-term project.’ Regardless of whether an inquiry is long or short, it is a collaborative approach that encourages the development of creative problem-solving, and self / social intelligence.
Working in this way requires staff to have a good grasp of educational milestones, with an understanding of the knowledge and skills children should be developing at certain stages. Curriculums for the various subjects outline this information. We imagine we will have a fusion of curriculums – from different countries – to ensure quality and high standards.
Over the last couple of months, we have been particularly exploring milestones within early childhood development (18 months to 5 year olds), and mathematics for 5 to 9 year olds. The curriculums at our school won’t dictate teaching and learning, but as children explore an area, experience, or moment – collaboratively solving the challenges they encounter – staff need to be able to identify which areas of the curriculum are being fulfilled and consider how to provoke further learning. This may sound messy, but none of us work or learn in silos. Our interests enable us to explore an area through multiple lenses, with seamless connections between disciplines.
‘We need an education that values different modes of intelligence and sees relationships between disciplines. To achieve this there must be a balance of priorities between the arts, sciences and humanities in education and in the forms of thinking they promote. They should be taught in ways that reflect their intimate connections in the world beyond’Sir Ken Robinson 2001. Out of our Minds, p. 201.