Blog: Experiential learning - Simon Lebus

Blog: Experiential learning - Simon Lebus

Simon Lebus, Group Chief Executive of Cambridge Assessment laments the spectre of the loss of the practical in education.  

There has been much discussion lately about foreign languages and the challenges the UK faces in ensuring there is sufficient uptake among students. Quite aside from the educational benefits, one of attractions of foreign language study in  the past has always been the opportunity to spend time abroad staying with families, visiting sites, enjoying social life and getting to know the culture.

The freedom to do that is now increasingly circumscribed, as some research published by the British Council reveals, by health and safety fears. It's not clear whether these are real or imagined but it is clear that it is easier for many schools to avoid the hassle and risks of things going wrong by simply avoiding the opportunity and not offering foreign exchange trips at all.

The spectre of the loss of practical experience also raised its head in the rather different context of an Ofqual consultation on the new Cooking and Nutrition GCSE. This is the descendant of the old Domestic Science discipline, which used to have a heavy emphasis on practical kitchen skills. As an intriguing piece of research by our Assessment Research Division records, over the last few decades there has been a drift away from this towards a concept of food science that is based much more on food industry marketing, so it is good to see a wide range of practical skills being rehabilitated in the suggested practical skill requirements set out on the consultation document.

Interestingly there has been a lot of adverse comment in response to the consultation from teachers who have expressed concerns that the label 'cooking' implied a lack of rigour and that there could be practical difficulties about teaching intricate preparation techniques such as filleting fish and deboning chicken.

Rather as with the story of modern languages, it is a shame to see the downgrading of practical skills and the lack of enthusiasm for recognising the important contribution practical experience can make to getting an holistic grasp of a subject so that it can be used as well as understood.

Simon Lebus
Group Chief Executive, Cambridge Assessment

'Assessment Instruments over Time' 
Pg 60: Food Technology/Home Economics by Gill Elliott

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