3. What can schools teach?

               ‘Teaching creates all other professions.’ Author Unknown


Think about your education, at school, at home, or at university.

1) What types of things did you learn about?

2) What did you learn that you still use now?

What did we learn at school?

I remember some of what I learnt at school but have forgotten most of the information I don’t use regularly. So then… what was the point of my education if I have forgotten most of it?

Education gave me something more important than information. It taught me skills. I can read. I can write. I can use mathematics. I can learn new things. I can speak a little French. I can solve problems. I can think critically about things. I learnt to persevere when solving problems. I learnt to work with other students. And much more!

As a teacher it is important to be aware you are teaching more than how to pass an exam. It is unlikely your students will use advanced physics in everyday life. However, they may need to use skills from physics to examine a system logically or make a mathematical model of something.

Different things people learn

We will now look at the different types of things people can learn.

Type of learning: Facts

Examples: Learn the formula E=mc2 or know that ‘smoked’ is the past tense of ‘smoke’. Learn the times tables. Learn how paint colours mix to produce other colours.

Further discussion: Facts are often the foundation of other types of learning. For example, to read I need to know the meaning of the words I’m reading.

Type of learning: Understanding

Examples: I know if I drop my pen it will fall. Understanding explains why.

Further discussion:

There are often different levels of understanding. Depending on the age and ability of a student you will explain things in a different way. For example:

Lower level: Gravity pulls the pen down.

Medium level: Masses attract each other, a bit like magnets attract each other. This is called gravity.

Higher level: Theories of what causes gravity.

Type of learning: Problem solving


  • Working out why a scooter does not start.
  • Is it better to buy a cup of rice for 200Ar or 1kg of rice for 1000Ar?
  • How can I improve the yield of a rice paddy?
  • Guessing what a new English word means by comparing it to known words.

Further discussion:

Teaching problem solving is very important. It can be quite challenging to do, here are a few tips:

  • Often, we just solve a problem and are unaware of our thought processes to solve it. Work hard to understand your thought process. Then show your thought process to your students.
  • Give students lots of problems to solve.
  • Have hard, medium and easy problems for different abilities of students. My question packs often start with easy questions and progress to hard ones.

Type of learning: Practical


  • Sewing
  • Riding a bike
  • Art
  • Swimming
  • Practical science
  • Using a computer

Further discussion:

Students learn practical things best by having practicing with individual feedback and help. Some skills are best copied off a teacher (e.g. riding a bike well or swimming is almost the same for everyone).

Some skills are not copied, for example good art is creating new artistic pieces, not just copying someone else’s work.

When developing practical skills, students should be encouraged to experiment and make mistakes. Mistakes are an important part of learning… if students are aware of their mistakes.

Working in groups helps students learn skills as they share their own learning experience and tips with each other. This applies particularly to using computers.

Type of learning: Language

Examples: Studying Malagasy, French, English.

Further discussion:

It is essential your students read, write, listen and speak the language. Read the Bilingual Education chapter for more information.

Type of learning: Critical thinking

Examples: Discussing the question ‘Is the Ambatovy mine good for Madagascar?’

Further discussion:

Most of us have an opinion about Ambatovy but may not realise that the argument is incredibly complex. There are good things and bad things about Ambatovy.

Critical thinking is defined as ‘the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgement.’

Objective analysis means weighing up the arguments about an issue without emotional involvement.

This might involve understanding the arguments that are on both sides. Once you understand the arguments, you come to a judgement or viewpoint on the issue based on the arguments.

If students can think critically, they will be much more successful in life as they will be better equipped to solve many of the problems life can throw at them. However, they are likely to become more annoying… they will start to ask questions about what they are told and may not always agree with you. Be bold and encourage this!

Type of learning: Personal, Social, Health and Values


  • Learning to be honest.
  • Learning to care for others.
  • Learning how to protect themselves from dangers in the world.
  • Learning to look after their bodies.
  • Learning to persist when challenges come.
  • Wisdom.

Further discussion: This is an area where great teachers can change society by educating and encouraging our students to be fair, honest, caring, healthy and successful.

Type of learning: Spiritual

Examples: If your school is a religious school, teachers should encourage students to follow the religion. This might include devotionals, prayer, study of the scriptures, serving the community or raising money for those in poverty.

Further discussion: In Christian schools, it can be challenging to teach students how to have a real and living faith as opposed to just knowing the facts of their faith. Christians believe God gave us free will. This means that faith is free choice – students must not be forced to believe.

Type of learning: Creativity

Discussion: Being able to create new ideas, such as art, businesses, and ways of solving problems or music is important to success. Many people have a fixed mindset and cannot create new or better ways to do things. Farmers are very resistant to changing their traditional methods to try something that might increase their yield. There are many opportunities for successful businesses in Madagascar that have not been developed.

There are many different types of learning that can take place. The best teachers will encourage a variety of types of learning in their lessons. There is a saying ‘you never forget how to ride a bicycle’. Students easily forget facts and understanding whereas skills may remain for a lifetime.


Discuss these questions with other teachers and write down your answers:

1) What types of learning had you not thought of before reading this chapter?

2) What types of learning go on in your school?

3) What types of learning would you like to see more of in your school?

4) What struck you as important when reading this chapter? 5) Critical Thinking: What did you disagree with in this chapter? Why?