Relevance – What It means and does not mean, for me.

As always Twitter throws up issues of ‘What do you mean by…?’

In this case it was prompted by reading David Didau’s book. “What if everything you knew about education was wrong?” I do think it is worth reading as David uses a great deal of evidence to explain how we might be getting our thinking about teaching and learning rather wrong.

One issue for me was how he describe relevance. I’ll give you my take which has come from my own thinking about how what we teach children can have relevance and what relevant means. I don’t think it is possible to make the stuff we teach, in general, relevant for the children we teach.

One view of relevance is that it is something to do with relevant for a child’s future life. It has some utility. So we have ICT in schools because the world uses ICT. I know there are other reasons. It is quite clear why children have to learn to read well and one of those reasons is that there is so much more knowledge available in written form that they can access. In this sense reading is an enabling skill.

Think about maths and how one might explain its relevance. This issue was prompted by my wife many, many years ago. She asked me to explain why children needed to learn about equations. For me, as a physicist that was a seemingly silly question. Physics is essentially maths in action. You can’t properly understand physics unless you can deal with equations. But why did she have to learn about equations? Where in ‘real’ life do people use equations? Very little, actually, but I am sure that you can think of some areas of employment where dealing with equations will be critical. But what about all the other areas of employment? When did you last need to solve two simultaneous equations?

It seemed to me that to justify a curriculum on the basis of need for the future employment would just not do. We could use an argument that called on compliance from children. I have to teach this so you have to learn it! We can’t predict what role each child will have in future other than to be sure that in a class of 30 children there could well be 30 different jobs they undertake. you have to learn equations because you might need them is poor.

So my conclusion was that to speak of relevance for the future was disingenuous.

I then changed the word and spoke of work that children could relate to. It could be that they would relate because they say their future, say, in the scientific or mathematical spheres and knowing how to manipulate equations was driven by that view.

It might be that the context of the equations, say where the amount of grass seed needed to cover 3 football pitches would be something potential footballers or grounds staff would find they could relate to.

But to be able to relate to the word did not require that we use any future use as a rationale for the teaching of any particular idea. What we need to do is to make the context, content or way of delivering one that a child could relate to. We might use examples from real life, or form science fiction or anything that works. We might have a people context. The rise of infected individuals with time for a new virus to which some would relate. Or it might be we frame the work as a puzzle. There are a myriad of ways that children can relate and fewer ways that the work could be seen as relevant.

3 thoughts on “Relevance – What It means and does not mean, for me.

  1. Hi Peter

    Thanks for your clarification. I do think that, on balance, you’ve misrepresent my view & interpretation of relevance. Nowhere in my book or on my blog do I argue that academic work needs to be made relevant to future employment. In fact, I quite explicitly state in Part 1 that I see preparing children for employment is a dull, quotidian and very limiting view of the purpose of education.

    The blog I recently wrote in answer to your questions makes it quite clear exactly what I do mean by relevance but just to be absolutely explicit, it means connected to what what students already know.

    Best, David

    1. i was not simply giving you an interpretation of your book but stating my own thoughts about relevance. I think quite simply that relevant to the child is not a sensible thing to attempt. I think that what we need to do is work out what a child might relate to, not find relevant. I agree with your alternative definition of relevance that says later content is relevant because of earlier content.

      1. There a few ineistrteng points on time on this page but I don’t determine if these center to heart. You can find some validity but I most certainly will take hold opinion until I look into it further. Great article , thanks so we want more! Included with FeedBurner too

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