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Is the British education system broken?

Outspoken teacher claims teaching of facts no longer valued

Children are being left ignorant of facts as progressive education methods fail to teach them the most basic knowledge, a controversial school teacher has claimed.

Katharine Birbalsingh, one of Britain's most outspoken teachers, raised concerns that teaching knowledge has almost disappeared from the classroom as it is considered "old-fashioned" and "boring".

Speaking at the Sir John Cass's Foundation Lecture held at Cass, Miss Birbalsingh said: "In the last 30 years, the concept of teaching knowledge in our classrooms has nearly disappeared altogether. Teaching historical facts or lists of vocab which rely on memory skills is considered old-fashioned."

"We no longer value the importance of teaching knowledge for children to do something with. The problem is that we underestimate the knowledge that we have and use everyday."

She cited examples of 14-year-olds who believe Winston Churchill is the dog from an insurance advert and did not understand that Paris is the capital of France.
"You may laugh, but I have, as a teacher, had conversations with 14-year-olds where they simply don't understand the difference between France and Paris. For them, it is all the same. I can't tell you the number of times I've had conversations with kids about Winston Churchill where they think he's "that dog" off the insurance advert from TV."

Miss Birbalsingh added: "What we also forget is that the very thing that got us to where we are now was the kind of education that we had - our teachers teaching us knowledge, so that we know the difference between Paris and France, even if it sometimes meant being bored in lessons and learning the discipline to struggle through."

In her lecture, titled 'Is the British education system broken?', Miss Birbalsingh went on to criticise the way in which children are taught in groups of desks, instead of rows.

"We believe it is unfashionable to have desks in rows, and some schools actually ban traditional rows in favour of having desks in groups. Teachers are not meant to stand in front of the class, but instead move amongst children who are all busy doing something."

"The idea here is that 'doing' is more interesting than 'listening'. That might very well be true. But the problem comes when we think that 'doing' needs to happen most of the time. This means that the teacher, traditionally a source of knowledge, almost becomes redundant as a fountain of knowledge and instead, becomes something of a referee. We no longer value the importance of teaching knowledge for children to do something with."

Birbalsingh made headlines at the 2010 Conservative Party conference with a damning speech on the state of England's schools.

Sir John Cass's Foundation is one of the largest and oldest educational charities in London.

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