Thursday, 4 March 2010

When did pupils become 'learners'?

Who decided that pupils in school should now be called 'learners' and, more to the point, why?

There is obviously something about the term 'pupil' that a lot of educationalists don't like. Some years ago my school started referring to them as 'students'. No reason was given, it was just an announcement form the head that henceforth that term would be used. Now, I was was fairly ok going along with that, us being an 11 - 18 school. The term 'student' does embody quite similar connotations to those of 'pupil', except that 'student' has a more 'adult' feel about it, as in university student for example.
For me the term 'pupil' describes a young person who is being taught some knowledge or skill by one (the teacher) who knows more or is more skilled. It also implies the learning of not just a single skill or piece of knowledge, but somehow more than that; perhaps a philosophy or certain life skill, for example.

In English we tend to reserve the term 'learner' to someone, of any age, who is learning a specific skill or piece of knowledge, as in 'learner driver' for example. The term also usually indicates that the person is still in the process of learning. Now, you can learn something without being taught it by someone else. The boy in my Y10 bottom set science class quickly learned that it is not a good plan to cut through the power pack cable with metal scissors while it is still plugged in and turned on at the socket. I didn't need to teach him that, he learned it all by his little self. We are called teachers because we, um, teach. So, the pupils should be called pupils, not learners. Now, get back to teaching your pupils (Teachees? Educatees?...)

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