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## Skills vs Knowledge – Is it really a contest?

A lot has been written on knowledge and skill, and the trade off that seems apparent in the debate. It’s a topic I’ve generally stayed away from, mainly because I’m a little confused about the whole thing. Recently, however, someone asked me my opinion on the matter and I wanted to try and get my thoughts in order.

Maths is….

When I was growing up my mother always said that I did better at maths than anything else because it was skills based, and I was too lazy to learn knowledge so skills based subjects were better for me. I never really questioned this, but before Christmas I heard an English teacher tell one of his students that English wasn’t like maths, it was a skills based subject rather than a knowledge based subject. This alternative views are something to ponder, is maths knowledge based or skills based?

Algebraic manipulation seems to be a skill, but that skill is really using the knowledge of the order of operations and inverse operations to manipulate formulae. It’s hard to imagine a maths syllabus that detaches the two. Solving geometric puzzles, such as this one, is a skill. But it’s a skill that is heavily rooted in the knowledge of trigonometry, Pythagoras’s Theorem, similar triangles, angle sums and many other things. Again, it’s hard to detach them. One don’t think maths is either, or maybe I should say it’s both?

I recently wrote this post on problem solving, and it seems to me to illustrate the close links between knowledge and skills in maths. The skills discussed in it are the skills of sketching and deduction, but without a good foundation of maths knowledge you can sketch and deduce till the cows come home, and still be no wiser.

Other subjects

I wondered if other subjects were the same. I thought about English, as I’d heard a colleague say it was skill based. This seemed to be a fair point at first, you write to analyse, to argue, to describe, surely these are skills? Well yes, but without knowledge of how to use the language, knowledge of a wider context, knowledge of other views, how can you do this competently?

What about History? It’s about knowledge right? You learn a load of dates and facts and regurgitate them? But no, actually you need to be able to analyse given sources and combine this with your knowledge to make a coherent argument.

The EPQ,  surely the pinnacle of skill only, you teach them the skills and away they go. Indeed, and here we can have a skill only curriculum, but each project will be rich with knowledge, it just will be different knowledge.

So what are you saying?

I’m not sure. I can’t see a way to separate skills from knowledge, so I can’t see what the fuss is about. Skills and knowledge depend on each other, and we need to ensure we are working on strategies to impart both onto our charges to prepare them for the future.

This post is part of the February 2015 #blogsync which has been inspired by James Mannion’s (@pedagog_machine) request for opinions on the topic as part of his research. You can read the other posts here, and you can read James’s Rationale on the idea here.