Tuesday, 20 March 2007

Mark Taylor on 2020 Vision: Report of the Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review Group

‘Personalised Learning’ is all the rage in current educational debates. The 2020 Vision report makes ‘personalisation’ a central aim of schooling, as a way of liberating children from the perceived failures of the ‘factory’ comprehensive model. Instead, ‘learning guides’ are proposed to support children’s learning in a system where students pay more attention to ‘learning how to learn’ than to subject knowledge. As part of this process, primary school methods are proffered as educational ‘best practice’ for all.

The educational innovators behind this report, although they would reject this accusation, constitute a deeply conservative elite. They appear to debate different approaches to education whether through the idea of our ‘multiple intelligences’, learning styles, or emotional literacy, but they are really rationalising the fact that they no longer believe in a humanistic education for all children and young people.

Their lack of confidence in a universal humanistic education has led them to do a number of things. Firstly, they have begun to dismantle key university departments and school subjects; secondly, they have begun to focus their thinking on subjective intelligence and learning more than public knowledge and education; thirdly, they use an increasingly obscure language with which to explain their proposals. ‘Personalisation’ is now the concept through which they hope to cohere the dismantling of universal humanistic education. Through the apparently anti-elitist language of personalisation they are removing access to the subject based education that initiates young people into human culture in favour of an impoverished idea of human nature based on the idea -- familiar to teachers of children with ‘special needs’ -- that learning to learn is more important than what is learned.

‘Personalisation’ means that the rationale for education becomes increasingly behavioural rather than intellectual -- and the word ‘intellectual’ is put on the defensive. But a system increasingly focused on learning behaviours shifts the emphasis of schooling and parenting. Teachers and parents are increasingly pressurised to ‘support’ or ‘mentor’ the child in their learning. Or, to put it another way, developing learning behaviours is being substituted for the acquisition of subject knowledge.

With the ‘personalisation’ of schooling, children relate only to themselves, and are guided only to learn about themselves. The child, despite the psychological rhetoric about valuation, uniqueness and learning, has been intellectually abandoned. The clearest example of this is the idea that what is needed is not ‘personalisation’ but the even more obscure notion of ‘deep personalisation’ that leaves the teacher and the child floundering in an attempt to construct their personal understanding of the world.

Far from being an educational advance, ‘personalisation’ articulates a proposal to abandon education as we knew it.

2020 Vision: Report of the Teaching and Learning in 2020 Review Group was published on 4 January 2007. It is available at: http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/docbank/index.cfm?id=10783