The importance of framing is well understood.
I asked the question:
“Should everyone learn the names of all 195 countries in the world, their location and their capitals, by the end of Year 11?”
I didn’t put all that much thought into how to frame the question, as pointed out in one of the comments amongst the responses:
“The way you’ve phrased the statement is to equivocal. I agree with the overall sentiment, though.”
To give a couple of examples of alternative framing, at opposite extremes, I’m sure some people read what I wrote like this:
“Should we force everyone to rote-memorise and be able to regurgitate on command 195 countries and capital cities?”
It’s very easy to disagree with this statement. Others might have read it this way:
“Should everyone have a right to knowledge of what the countries in the world are, where they are, and a little about them, like their capital city?”
Again – I certainly hope! – it’s pretty difficult to disagree with this statement. Yet, the objective to which they each refer can easily be the same, interpreted and framed through different lenses.
I figured I should therefore start by adding a little more nuance to precisely what I meant.
Knowledge of the countries is powerful knowledge
I’m suggesting we should see it as a responsibility to ensure that everyone in society has some awareness of all of the countries in the world. To that end, I would suggest that the location of each country and its capital city would serve this purpose, at least in part.
I think it’s important that everyone know these things; I have not yet made the argument as to why I think this is important, but it seems obvious that while it might be impossible to reach all of the 50 million people in society to help them learn this, we certainly can reach the 10 million people who are still a part of the state education system.
I don’t intend for this to be a pointless box-ticking hoop-jumping exercise to be forced upon unwilling victims. One commenter asserted:
Regardless of your claim, this would indeed be a “meaningless rote exercise.”
If this were the case, then my vision would not have been realised; this is not what I want.
So if this were the case, something would have gone wrong, and it would be a systemic flaw that would be in need of correcting.
A person could argue that it is not possible for an endeavour such as this to be undertaken and for it to end in anything but meaningless rote knowledge – I will not be swayed by such an argument since, having undertaken it personally, I know that it was so far from rote or meaningless as to render such a claim absurd.
However, I do allow for the caveat that I am an adult with a wealth of knowledge and experience to draw upon as I was learning these things. I was also self-motivated; there was no external agent imposing this end-goal upon me. This must lead to a completely different experience for me as compared to a young person in school undertaking a similar activity because they have been ‘told they must, and there will be a test.’
The knowledge doesn’t end with lists of names
What is that knowledge for? Aren’t there more interesting things to learn in Geography?
Some people expressed concern to me in person that a list of names isn’t meaningful, meaning, it isn’t enough. They argued there should be greater knowledge of the countries’ cultures and customs, their society, some brief history, their relationship with the world around them and so forth. Things such as these should be the jumping off point for socio-geographical study, and through this countries would become known. This sentiment, I think, is expressed in the above comment.
Here I found I was sometimes misunderstood.
Yes to most all of the above. I’m not advocating that all that be removed or sacrificed. I am, however, acknowledging that it is impossible to do that for every country. I am also arguing that it is important to have some awareness of all the other countries for which this level of study is not possible.
The one should augment the other, not preclude it.
The timeframe is eleven years, not Year 11
I also found that some people automatically pictured a joyless cramming and testing regime. This is hinted at in this comment:
My answer is probably, ‘I don’t know’. I think that it would be useful for people to have an education that exposed them to the geographical/political/historical details that would lead them to the knowledge. But a ‘here are the 10 countries for the test this week’ approach would not be great.
At a rate of ten countries per week, you’d be done in twenty weeks, before barely half a school year had passed!
Across eleven years in formal education, there are roughly 420 weeks of schooling available. Across that length of time you could introduce countries at a rate of one per two weeks if you wanted, and still have 30 weeks to play with. I’m not suggesting that’s the structure we go for, but I am suggesting we would engage in drill practice and recall tests, in no small part because what we now know is that testing leads to learning (and here); rather than simply assessing it as we once thought. Testing is a pedagogical tool. By avoiding tests we are letting people down. That doesn’t mean cramming at the last second though. By spreading this out strategically across a decade we could easily structure socio-geographical study so that people learnt in depth about countries whose existence at least they were made previously already aware of.
It’s important we see education as a whole journey from start to finish, not just what happens in the GCSE years.