CHILDREN should no longer be expected to learn facts in the classroom because they can rely on smartphones as a "substantial" knowledge bank, it was claimed today.
Teachers said lessons should put a greater emphasis on broad skills such as independent research, interpreting evidence and critical thinking rather than learning dates, facts and figures by rote.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers warned that pupils risked being failed by a Coalition overhaul of the curriculum that will emphasise the core knowledge that pupils should acquire at each key stage.
It claimed that the move represented a throw-back to the 50s and would “kill children’s creativity”.
Jon Overton, a teacher from inner-London, said that smartphones – with full internet access – can by used by pupils to quickly search for facts.
Addressing the union’s annual conference in Manchester, he gave the example of Mozart’s birthday, saying phones took less than a second to find the answer – January 27, 1756 – and a “wealth of related content to follow”.
“We are no longer in an age where a substantial ‘fact bank’ in our heads is required,” he said.
“What we need to equip our young people with are skills; interpersonal skills, enquiry skills, the ability to innovate. That is what universities are saying is lacking, that is what employers say is lacking; transferrable skills that ultimately will make a difference in the life of a young person.”
Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has warned that too many children are finishing compulsory education lacking the most basic knowledge because existing syllabuses have been stripped of core content.
An expert panel has now been formed to review the curriculum, with new specifications in the core subjects to be introduced in 2014.
It is thought that pupils could be expected to learn their times tables by the age of nine instead of 11 and be introduced to quadratic equations at 13 instead of 14.
A new-style English curriculum may also lead to the introduction of distinct lessons in grammar and more rigorous reading lists covering Homer, Sophocles and Shakespeare amid fears too many pupils are “limited to a diet of John Steinbeck”.
But Mr Overton told that conference that “if we resort back to the curriculum from the golden age of Mr Gove’s rose-tinted school experience and simply teach facts we will kill children’s creativity and capacity to be free and independent learners”.
He claimed that schools needed more freedom to tailor the curriculum to meet the needs of individual pupils, adding: “Many of the needs of the children in my school in south London are different to the needs of children living in Surrey”.