Knowledge versus information

Prudence Reid

Knowledge and information are very different, but sadly confused as the same in our education system. Too often classrooms and curriculum fool themselves and the general public that we are giving our children knowledge when really we are churning information through them at a rate we have never seen before with the aid of devices in the digital era. Then we ask them to memorise it so we can test them. This is not knowledge. Knowledge is about taking information and creating meaning at a personal level.

We create and innovate when we take action from what we know to make new meaning at a personal level. Knowledge leads to creativity and critical thinking, the current buzz words of the education system around the globe. Pushing higher levels of information onto children without converting it to knowledge (giving it conceptual meaning to be applied elsewhere in life), is like putting a nuclear plant behind a horse and cart. It is having a devastating effect on our children’s learning and general wellbeing, and completely counter-productive to the goal of our education system.

Handwriting is making a big comeback and the reason is because it is more intuitively related to knowledge, while typing on devices lends itself more to mass data. As educators and parents, we need to provide more opportunities for children to develop the knowledge area of the brain, the part that conceptualises information and gives it meaning to be useful in day-to-day life and develops creativity and critical thinking. Educators and researchers have been looking at the effect of typing for some time now as it becomes more mainstream. Even though the iPad did not hit the market until 2010, the effects of typing have been studied since 2004.

This is where the importance of handwriting in the curriculum comes in. The University of California (Oppenheimer and Mueller) and the College of France have identified neural circuits in the brain that are closely related to original thought and creativity. These circuits are triggered when we use our fingers and create letters and the written word. The actual “doing” part stimulates this neural circuit in our brain and makes it stronger. It is like going to a gym and lifting a weight to build a certain muscle. Typing is here to stay but we need to balance it with experiences using fine-motor work and manipulating materials with pencils, crayons, scissors, and clay.

Parents and teachers need to understand the importance of this to create different experiences and options for children. Research has also identified that children learn letters and spelling more firmly from the “doing” part using fine-motor work that employs the neural circuits in the brain responsible for creativity and critical thinking.

Learning is not nearly as efficient by just looking or seeing the letter. Connecting the doing by hand with the coordination centre in the brain is fundamental.

Prudence Reid is a casual teacher