Two tribes

Written by Tom Freeman on 25 November 2014

The age-old discussion on balancing the curriculum between art and science has resurfaced in recent weeks, with a Learned Societies’ Group on Scottish Science Education report suggesting the Curriculum for Excellence has led to less spent per pupil on science education in primary and secondary schools in Scotland than in England’s more traditional curriculum.
The report was launched at an annual Science and the Parliament event hosted by the Royal Society of Chemistry. At the event Professor Martin McCoustra of Heriot-Watt University also said Scottish primary teachers aren’t good enough at maths. “Many of today’s primary school teachers lack a Higher in maths, which colleagues and I feel undermines the quality of the teaching of mathematics,” he said, adding: “If primary school teachers aren’t confident in their own arithmetic, which is the basis of all mathematics, they can’t deliver quality teaching to pupils.”
UK Education Secretary Nicky Morgan is another to have re-entered this particular battle, recently advising students to opt for science and maths subjects in order to access a wider range of careers. “The subjects that keep young people’s options open and unlock the door to all sorts of careers are the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects,” she said. The National Union of Teachers in England warned her: “Downgrading the arts is the wrong message.”
Others argue the boundaries between the two sides of this turf war are blurring, and more creative jobs are incorporating STEM skills: from working on special effects for blockbuster films to creating smartphone apps. Certainly this is a good argument for the multidisciplinary learning at the heart of the Curriculum for Excellence. 
There’s an undoubtable skills shortage in Scotland of STEM subjects, and it does need to be addressed, but is education merely about socially engineering a successful economy? Isn’t there more to it?
Focusing young people on what will bring them success to the exclusion of what will bring them happiness cannot be good for society either.
The ethos of the Curriculum for Excellence aims to favour a more flexible holistic approach with a focus on deeper learning and personalised pathways. Creativity is an expression of self-determination after all. Of course, it could lead all the empowered global citizens of the future to want to go to drama school, and then where would we be?   

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