More GCSE nonsense

Can learning be "delivered" and "received"?


During an interview on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme yesterday Lee Elliot Major, Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter said:

"… around two million children received no learning during that first lockdown period."

(You can hear the interview by listening to from 2:10:00.)

I was stuck by the bizarre suggestion that learning is something an individual can "receive". Another misleading verb sometimes used in connection with learning is "deliver". Donald H Taylor pointed this out in a blog post several years ago  in which he wrote:

"‘How should we deliver learning?’ We shouldn’t. Or rather, we can’t."

The words "deliver" and "receive" can only make sense in relation to learning if one imagines the learner as the passive recipient of something. For the last 14 months I have ordered almost all my groceries online and they have duly arrived at our front door. My provisions have been "delivered", and I have "received" them without me having to make any effort at all (apart from opening the door). But learning is not like that. Real learning involves commitment and active participation on the part of the learner. To use the words "deliver" and "receive" in relation to this process is dangerously misleading because it suggests the learner is passive rather than actively engaged in the learning process. It is perhaps particularly unfortunate to adopt the "we deliver, you receive" idea of learning in the context of the perceived need for young people to "catch up" with the schooling they have missed during the COVID pandemic. It is surely dangerous to believe that young people just need longer school days and/or additional tutoring to compensate for school closures, and that everything in the world of education will then be fine again.

But everything in the world of education is far from fine. As Simon Jenkins wrote in an opinion piece in today's Guardian newspaper:

"… the sadness of the Collins plan [for educational recovery] is that he did not seize the opportunity to propose a revision, even a radical experiment in British education… Schooling today is an introverted pursuit. It answers to an exam board and a minister, but not to a community. That is the opportunity lockdown missed."

Jenkins also identifies the need for "education for life, for jobs, self-reliance, relationships, health, money and citizenship". That is the sort of real learning that cannot be passively "received" from the educational equivalent of a grocery delivery.


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