Page 6, 24th September 1971

24th September 1971
Page 6
Page 6, 24th September 1971 — EVOLUTION, NOT REVOLUTION

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People: John Rae


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B. A. HARRINGTON discusses the theoretical background to some changes in teaching procedures, which indicate

TT is quite true to say that 2whilst there are many judges of the results of our education system, the criteria used are often so subjective as to make their judgments not fully valid. This is natural. After all, everyone has had some experience of schools and education.

However, the value of that experience gained whilst they were relatively immature and now at a growing distance in time and events. may reasonably be questioned as an up-to-date criterion. Evolution can look like revolution when so viewed, and revolutions are rarely popular. What has been lacking in the years of change when concentration has been so much upon the provision of educational hardware, has been parallel process to inform and involve parents in the cooperative effort that education should be.

It is the intention of the series which this article introduces to help to remedy this deficiency by explaining the theoretical background to some of the changes in teaching procedures. It will briefly outline the principles upon which progressive education is based. and thereby attempt to remove some misunderstanding.

It is hoped that those most intimately concerned with the formation of children parents, priests and teachers will use the series as a forum for the interchange of ideas and experiences of a constructive nature. And, not simply to be "with it", but because of a sincere belief. reinforced by experience, that responsible young people can and should contribute something towards their own education, the views of older children and students will be welcomed provided, of course, that they are not merely grouses about details which should be taken up with those concerned.

And so to begin.

ASSIMILATION Children go to school to learn. The question is what and how they learn. Perhaps that is not really the first question. Rather should we ask what is meant by "learn,"

It is a misunderstanding and limited meaning of the word which has bedevilled both religious and secular education. For many, learning still means memorising, :ind teaching accordingly means expounding in such a way that memorisation is facilitated.

But learning is not simply memorising. In education it shows that it has taken place when there is a change of behaviour of a more or less permanent nature resulting from what has been experienced. The learner behaves differently from the way he did previously.

it is important to he quite clear about this. What ha.v been learnt has not lust been rote memorised, but has been assimilated so that future acts may be changed as a result. To learn. then. is to adopt a new response to a situation.

Learning is an active process involving the many powers of the learner. The emphasis upon different powers varies according to the matter to be learnt, and the maturity of the learner. Thus a young child's thinking towards a solution will be based on the results of physical action, whereas an adolescent will solve it mentally.

It is essentially an individual affair, and is affected by the learner's personality characteristics, stage of mental development, the needs and drives which motivate him, the influence of his environment and so on.

Teaching nowadays, recognising, this deeper aspect of learning. takes them into account and does not expect that all children will learn in the same way and at the same pace. This realisation of individuality is a prime factor in the transformation of the classroom from a teaching (old sense) environment to a learning (new sense) one.

The whole child is involved, and this is reflected in the modern approach to cur riculum planning. It is designed more to fit the children and less for the children to fit themselves to it, especially younger children.


There is a further objection to the too close association of learning with memorisation. We can only memorise things that are or have been; yet one of the most important purposes of education is to provide students of all ages with the equipment necessary for them to be able to face their own individual futures confidently. This will involve solving problems: and SO problem solving situations arc essential in the curriculum if the school is to be a preparation for life. Their solution is not only good intellectual training; what has been personally solved or discovered is much more likely to be retained than something simply accepted by hearsay. In addition it helps the learner to adopt a "thinking" attitude and habit.

All this is not to state that memorisation is useless in the education process. It can save A Church Schools Conference ecumenical Service of Unity for Teachers is to he held at Westminster Abbey at 6.30 p.m. oil September 30. The sermon will be given by Dr. John Rae, headmaster of Westminster School. All teachers, students at Colleges of Education, and 6th form prospective teachers are invited.

time and effort, but in its rotelearning sense it is much less important than it was. Too much must not he expected of it if we accept the deeper meaning of learning. One of the major criticisms of traditional examinations is that they are memory tests and leave too many other qualities untested. Much of what is learnt is internalised and difficult to examine. as the results are special to each child and must have been affected by the qualities the individual brought to the learning Situation.


It has been recognised that an act of learning involves seven elements: I. A situation offering choices,

2. The personal characteristics of the learner which limit his response to the situation.

3. The goals, either long or short term, which the learner has set himself, perhaps through the skill of the teacher in motivating him.

4. The resultant interpretation of the situation which may be affected by a group discussion.

5.The response which to the learner appears to help him towards his goal.

6. The confirmation or contradiction of the response and the manner in which it is made, which will affect his future action.

7. Finally. his reaction to possible thwarting.

This is a far cry from Hi emorisation.

The traditional authoritarian role of the teacher from whom knowledge flowed to all the learners has had to be revised in the light of analyses such as the above, and of research which has critically and constructively examined the whole process of learning in school. What goes on in the classroom has changed and is changing as practices have evolved in keeping with research results.

As a consequence, the teacher has become (especially in the primary school) much more of a pump printer. an assessor of individual needs, a co-planner with the child, knowledgeable of the resources which will help him to solve his problems.

What has also been appreciated more is the fact that a child really has four sets of teachers and that in the learning process each has a part to play either directly or in influencing the child's approach. They are: 1. Teachers in the home parents, hi-Others, sisters, grandparents, relatives.

2. Peer group teachers children of the same age, classmates, the in-group, the gang.

3. The teachers in the schools attended.

4. Teachers in the community other adults, church and club leaders, mass media heroes and heroines. fashion figures.

The school is only one part of the process, an important part, it is true but each other part affects the child's education in the broad sense.


Many parents, priests and teachers have been fully prepared to accept the soundness of these ideas and principles as far as the learning of secular subjects is concerned. What they have not been able to do so easily is to transfer them to those parts of religious education w inch are the school's responsibility and which involve the acquisition of knowledge.

Whereas the content of such religious knowledge is indeed different. the method of learning it should be in accordance with the principles which have been proved to be correct and well-founded for children to learn efficiently at their different ages and stages. Conservatism here has many adherents.

This may be because we have not all yet made the change in our own outlook towards learning our Faith and its practice from a set of rules catering for all the situations we are likely to meet to an evolving application of its principles to situations and problems we cannot foresee for each child. The former gave the confidence of certainty; unfortunately the certainty did not always materialise.

There are, of course, important factors other than basic principles of learning in Religious Education. The development of attitudes and of moral and spiritual values come first in formation. They are seen to be important because they are practised by the adults with whom children are in early eontact and whom they learn to love, admire and imitate .

The children's other teachers have to be taken into account. They may well have more ultimate effect than what happens in school, and this is why we are increasingly appreciating the role they especially the parents play.


Nevertheless in any part of religious education which involves the acquisition of knowledge in school, it is vital that sound learning principles should be followed. The burdening of young children with facts and precepts which are beyond their intellectual capacity to learn, is hard to

justify. The consequent responses may be known only on a verbal level and may not have been truly learnt because they have not arisen from meaningful experiences.

The possibility of their transfer to behaviour is slight. Some teachers prefer to assess the children's needs and to develop a programme which takes into account environmental influences and the stage of intellectual development end capacity. They endeavour to Use the qualities the children bring to other learning situations.

The programme is then integrated into the life children are living in school and which can be seen by them to relate to their own world.

Parents wishing to extend their reading beyond the matters briefly touched on in this and following articles, can obtain a recommended reading list and occasionally a more detailed exposition of the subject discussed, by sending a stamped addressed en,velope to "The Catholic Herald," 67 Fleet Street, London E.C.4, marking the envelope PPT/BAIII.

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