Blurring Educational Boundaries

A radically reformed approach to education, in which different subjects teach connected themes, like climate change or food security, is being proposed by researchers who argue that it would better prepare children for the future.

In a newly published study, education researchers from the Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh argue that there is a compelling case for a drastic shake-up of the school curriculum, so that subjects are no longer taught independently of one another. Instead, they argue that the arts and sciences should ‘teach together’ around real-world problems, and in a manner rooted in pupils’ lived experiences.


The model draws inspiration from Renaissance polymaths like Leonardo Da Vinci, who worked across disciplinary boundaries in pursuit of deeper knowledge. Similar, ‘trans-disciplinary’ approaches are already used in well-regarded education systems such as Finland’s. The idea also echoes recent calls by the youth campaign, Teach the Future, to break down subject silos to teach climate change.


The academic paper, in the journal Curriculum Perspectives, also presents evidence from two recent projects in which pupils appeared to benefit from an approach to teaching which blurred subject boundaries.


Pam Burnard, Professor of Arts, Creativities and Education at the University of Cambridge, said: “If we look at the amazing designs that Da Vinci produced, it’s clear he was combining different disciplines to advance knowledge and solve problems. We need to encourage children to think in a similar way because tomorrow’s adults will have to problem-solve differently due to the existential crises they will face: especially those of climate, sustainability… “


Dr Laura Colucci-Gray, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Education and Sport, said: “The nature of these problems calls for a radically different approach to knowledge. We are proposing a move from the idea of a curriculum as something children are just ‘given’ to a curriculum ‘in-the-making’, in response to transformations that will define their lives.”

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