By Ailsa Lawn

IN the classroom of the 1990s, if you needed to know something, it had to be in your head or written down somewhere. The class might have had access to a lone computer but a ropey dial-up connection wasn’t going to provide you with a bank of knowledge.

Fast forward to today – the world has never changed so fast and educationalists are trying harder than ever to prepare our children for an unknown society. As the brain adapts to our new world, we need to find new ways to teach the skills and knowledge we think will be important.

To ensure that pupils will be ready to succeed outside of the school gates, many agree that delivering a curriculum rich in digital skills is a good start.

We know that technology will feature heavily in the future, and it is essential that children have the skills to access this, however, it is becoming more apparent that the soft skills that children develop are crucially important. Technology can do so much, but empathy, creativity, collaboration and a respect for each individual will be key in driving new technologies forward in a positive way.

Most educators believe that memorising meaningless facts that are not underpinned by understanding or context generally have little value. However, most would agree that the ability to acquire knowledge is a crucial skill and should remain an important part of our curriculum. In a world of Google then knowing “stuff” may seem less relevant, and perhaps that is true, but how do you know what you don’t know?

Learning by rote, or repeating something until it sticks, is still viewed by many teachers as a necessary, if uninspiring, process for basics such as learning the alphabet, numbers and times tables. However, 50 years ago, much of the curriculum was taught in this way.

Today’s children are required to retain little concrete information in their heads to function outside the classroom and this is impacting the way that they learn and retain knowledge. Even as adults, we find it more difficult to commit things to our long-term memory, as technology can easily fill in the gaps at the click of a button. The volume of information that bombards us on daily basis has increased exponentially and our brains are throwing most things straight back out.

Short-term retention is fine but revisit something the next week or the next month and the story is very different. At this point we ask Google to refresh our memories or we rely on spell check to fix a word or two – of course this is extremely useful, but the fact is that we are losing the skill of acquiring knowledge.

We need to acknowledge that our brains, and the brains of our children, are working in a different way. If we can link knowledge and form connections to create a memory of that piece of information, there is huge potential for teaching key facts as part of any subject.

It’s not to say that technology doesn’t have a place within education – we can use technology to enhance learning and teach children vital skills.

It’s important though, that we ensure we teach children to know things without Google – to understand a method of science, to spell a difficult word or to have the knowledge of a maths concept to complete it successfully using the information they’ve retained.

If we can achieve this, we can help prepare future generations to develop our society in exciting and creative ways.

Ailsa Lawn is head of junior school at Lomond School.