Great education is action-packed, for-real and reverberates around issues that matter to us. Why is it then that education and tuition sometimes gets a coward and afraid of life’s really important, real, funny and scary questions? IF education is purely about fulfilling criteria, following rules, reach pre-set aims and maximize test scores … What happens? -We follow a chicken curriculum and worse still, we get chicken learning.
During christmas last year I had the privilege of getting to know To Kim Lien, director of the Center for Education and Development in Hanoi. My family was been invited to dinner the night before Christmas at home with Lien’s family. A Loverly invite and we demanded that we in return could bring some Swedish specialties to the table (not a very wise move as it turned out). It became a memorable evening, for many reasons. *
Besides cooking Lien and I share a passion for education and learning and, to distract our hosts from my cooking, I started to talk about schools and teaching (safer territory). The conditions to run schools in our countries are in many ways very different, both in terms of the physical and material conditions, but perhaps even more so speaking ideologically and intellectually. In Vietnam, it’s even more obvious than in Sweden that education is an ideological tool: what is taught in schools is controlled by the state and freedom for the country’s teachers seems pretty limited to me. Lien told a story about this that etched into my memory. “It’s incredible, ALL Vietnamese children have to learn how to breed a chicken … I mean ALL, and the strange thing is that my children, and most children, NEVER will breed a chicken, that’s a 100% certainty! When we need a chicken we get one from the marker or the supermarket … Would it not be better for my children to learn how to handle chicken that you buy, learn respect for nature, understanding how modern animal food industry works …? “-Excerpts from my memory.
While Lien talked, I got a word in my head: “Chicken curriculum.” Could it be that we have coward curricula (because we for ideological ideologically reasons want the kids to believe certain things) or we make the curricula cowardly, or “Life Whimpy” as David Perkins calls it, by not having imagination and empathy enough to make teaching vivid and relevant to the children?
What’s it like? Do we have a Chicken Curriculum? I thought I’s better check, closed my eyes and pointed into the Lgr -11(out national curriculum for compulsory school) and my finger landed right on these immortal lines, the core content in years 4-6 in History. Text in picture says: ”How historical persons and events, such as Queen Christina, Karl XII and witch trials, have been recorded in different ways by different interpretations at different times”
IF this will be a tuition that is relevant and engaging to the pupil depends the skill of the teacher, if he or she manages to build a bridge from the child’s world to the curriculum text that creates engagement, relevance and context. One thing is certain, if teaching is about Queen Christina, Karl XII and witch trials head on you will get very few the studentswith any deeper knowledge of these important characters and events. -It will be chicken quite simply, and just as irrelevant as poultry farming might be to many Vietnamese children.
_ _ _
* Tip to all Swedes (and non-Vietnamese): If you are invited to a cook-along with Vietnamese, say no, politely. Lie and blame the shortage of your nation’s groceries or jet lag. Vietnamese cooking is an art form 1000 years ahead of the Swedish’ and sharing a kitchen with a skilled Vietnamese chef is a bit like jumping into a ballet at the Opera…. We, the Vikings are lacking, to put it politely, finesse… The fact that your Vietnamese hosts afterwards might praise your dishes is just another confirmation of the fact that some cultures have evolved a bit … further.