Let’s talk about learning…

For me personally, one of the very first attractions to joining ISP was our very clear understanding of learning. I have worked in schools for over 30 years and the ISP articulation of learning is the best synthesis I have found of decades of research put into clear easily accessibly language. Our shared definition of learning remains a fundamental reason for working in an ISP school.

At ISP, we recognise that there are three types of learning: knowledge, skills and understanding. For example, a learner driver will need to know which pedal controls which function of the car, they will need to practise the practical skills of controlling the car, and they will need to understand how hundreds of cars on busy roads interact.

A more school-specific example is history / Sejarah. Students studying the Second World War need to know the key facts (for example, the start and end dates, the participant countries), they need writing skills to share their learning, and they need understanding (for example, of why the war started and why the Allies eventually won).

Sejarah / history is interesting because this subject has, traditionally, been approached differently in Malaysian and British schools. For Sejarah SPM, students must memorise considerable quantities of factual information. For IGCSE history, there has (in the past) been more emphasis on the skills and understanding for analysing source material. Which approach is ‘better’ is a subjective opinion.

There are interesting differences between nationwide education policy in Malaysia and England. It is a broad generalisation but nevertheless there is validity in asserting that the Malaysian Ministry of Education wants to move the balance more towards skills and understanding, while the Department of Education in England wants to move the balance more towards knowledge.

One consequence of Malaysian policy is that the MoE is encouraging thematic approaches across subjects to enhance understanding. For example, if students study ‘oceans’, they can study coastlines, maritime biology, ocean currents, and the literature of the seas. APSS primary is proud to be a pioneer school to support the MoE’s development of these thematic approaches.

A consequence of the different policy in England has been an improved understanding of how memory works and how best to help students remember facts. However, the debate in England is at times dogmatic and polarised. For example, only yesterday, I read one UK educationalist describing those with different views as “hippy dippy” (and I have seen far ruder comments!).

So what might we conclude…? The categorisation of learning into knowledge, skills and understanding helps us describe the wider currents of national and global education thinking, which in turn has direct consequences for what happens in our APS classrooms. For example, the MoE encouragement of thematic approaches will directly affect all national schools.

We can also observe that a dogmatic approach to these issues can lead to deeply unproductive to name-calling! Thankfully for all of us in Malaysia, the debate here seems to be conducted rationally and politely. At the same time, I return to my original assertion that our ISP categorisation of learning makes sense and helps us all with its simplicity and clarity.

Written by,

Rob Reed, Executive Principal

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