Depth Over Distance

Far too much of the school model is built upon the principle of coverage. The teacher’s primary duty is to get through the curriculum in order to prepare their learners for exams that similarly prioritise the testing of memory.

When you prioritise curriculum coverage, you do two things that undermine lifelong learning:

  1. You imply that there is an end, when in reality learning never ends.
  2. You give no foundation of understanding upon which learners can build further, self-directed learning.

When you prioritise depth of understanding, you encourage lifelong learning in the following ways:

  1. Highlight the inherent value of learning.
  2. Reveal the interconnectedness of different subject.
  3. Demonstrate that there is always more to learn tomorrow.
  4. Provide enough understanding so that learners can form their own questions about the subject matter.

It should be a goal of an education system to provide learners with both a desire for learning and the skills and abilities needed to pursue that learning whether they are in the classroom with a teacher or on their own.

Instead, what we are doing far too often is ensuring that the last day of school is also the last day of learning.

I now teach adults far more than I teach school learners, and the overwhelming consensus is that these adults have barely bothered learning anything—or even reading anything in many cases—ever since they left school.

We need a system that achieves the exact opposite of what we have right now. We need a system that even acknowledges, let alone promotes the value of lifelong learning; a system that proudly proclaims itself the first step on a lifelong journey, rather than trying to be its own self-contained destination.

We need to prioritise depth of understanding over coverage of the curriculum, and then we need to provide more access to that curriculum outside of the schoolhouse and more support for learners who are motivated to keep learning after school.

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