Education reform in Britain

16 Oct 14

Editors, The Economist, London, UK:

You note that Britain’s education results, even after the work of the admirable Mr. Gove, range from poor to excellent.

Quality of education results arises from two main components: the educational paradigm being used (in the Western developed nations chiefly Direct Instruction, good, vs. Constructivism, very expensive and extremely poor if employed as the main model) and the competence of the teaching staff.

It would be well worth your editorial while to ask a sample of schools which paradigm they use, or if a mixture (which is often the case), about how much of each.

My reckless (but educated) guesstimate is that those schools that have made big improvements have moved from Constructivism (or one of its aliases, e.g. Discovery) much closer to Direct Instruction.

Constructivism has long been proven ineffective, expensive, and indeed dangerous. It is very popular because it is much less work for teachers and requires no exit demonstration of subject mastery*. One of the best of the enormous number of debunkers of Constructivism (“minimal guidance”) is Kirschner et al, pasted in below.

Your paper obviously has a policy of strong, argumentative editorializing. Well here is a golden opportunity!


Frank Gue, B.Sc., MBA, P.Eng.,
2252 Joyce St.,
Burlington, ON L87R 2B5
905 634 9538

* International tests like PISA can be deceptive because they are norm referenced (merely a ranking , in which a high rank might be merely “the best of a sorry lot”), and do not prove subject mastery the way criterion referenced testing does. This is a whole other huge subject also worth your editorial time.

Search word “Kirschner” yielded the abstract below.

Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: an analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching
authors Kirschner, P.A.; Sweller, J.; Clark, R.E.
source Educational Psychologist, volume: 41, issue: 2 (2006), pp. 75 – 86
full text [Full text]
publisher Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
document type Article
discipline Sociale Wetenschappen

Evidence for the superiority of guided instruction is explained in the context of our knowledge of human cognitive architecture, expert–novice differences, and cognitive load. Although unguided or minimally guided instructional approaches are very popular and intuitively appealing, the point is made that these approaches ignore both the structures that constitute human cognitive architecture and evidence from empirical studies over the past half-century that consistently indicate that minimally guided instruction is less effective and less efficient than instructional approaches that place a strong emphasis on guidance of the student learning process. The advantage of guidance begins to recede only when learners have sufficiently high prior knowledge to provide “internal” guidance. Recent developments in instructional research and instructional designmodels that support guidance during instruction are briefly described.