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Curriculum and Technological Change: A Digest

Unquestionably there is much evidence to support the contention that the prime aim of modern curriculum changes is a better trained and more adaptable workforce, able to exploit the opportunities presented by new technologies. The institutional channels from which resources have flowed, and the accompanying rhetoric, frequently testify to concerns about the need for improved economic performance in a global struggle for survival.

The opening words of the British government’s White Paper announcing the extension of TVEI to all schools are typical. “We live in a world of determined, educated, trained and strongly motivated competitors… For the nation… survival and success will depend on… maintaining an edge over all competition”.


The relationship between education and economic performance is far from simple, and this is especially the case with regard to education at school level. Several countries, including Japan, have achieved industrial success on the basis of a school curriculum which emphasizes high attainments by students in traditional, non-vocational subjects. It is by no means self evident that curriculum innovations, such as those associated with TVEI, will on their own contribute significantly to economic pre-eminence.

Their justification on economic grounds is at best partial. An alternative interpretation views TVEI and similar curricular initiatives from a social standpoint and yields two strands of argument. The first of these connects with Martin Wiener’s thesis that Britain, though the first nation to industrialize, never allowed its educational system to come to terms with this. Instead, aristocratic, anti-industrial values have been propagated in schools.

Attitudes towards technology need to be changed to secure its acceptance as a third culture alongside ‘arts’ and ‘sciences’ in British Society. More generally, practitioner knowledge, what Donald Schon terms ‘competence in the indeterminate zone of practice’, needs to be acknowledged as important alongside theoretical propositional knowledge. TVEI, with its emphasis on practical capability, can be seen as contributing to these ends. The second strand to the social argument focuses on the societal impacts of technology.

Technological revolutions are irreversible; no technological change can be uninvented after it has taken place. We need to understand technology therefore, not so much because we need to solve problems, invent, optimize and realize solutions, but so that we can control it.

Hans Jonas stated ‘The lengthened reach of our deeds moves responsibility into the centre of the ethical stage’.

Homo sapiens might have opened Pandora’s box to confront some of the deepest and most profound secret’s of nature, but homo faber has incorporated itself as an object of technology. Technologies are not mere instrumentalities external to man; they represent interior transformations of consciousness, of the ways in which we see the world and respond to it. From this perspective, an understanding of technological change is necessary as a prophylactic against technological determinism.


This is a digest of David Layton OBE, former Professor of Science Education, chaired the Board of the Faculty of Education from 1976 to 1978, and the Committee on Representatives from 1976 to 1988

(Helping children to understand Technological Change, David Layton, Handbook of educational ideas and practices, 1989, ISBN: 0415020611; pp 771 to 781)

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