Philosophy is not a subject that can be found on every UK school’s curriculum, but it has long been taught in many of the country’s independent educational institutions.
And a new study has looked at the true value that philosophy can bring to students’ education, with the results showing classes in the subject at a young age can not only equip individuals with valuable life lessons, but may also boost their exam results.
Research carried out for the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) led to the discovery that weekly hour-long philosophy sessions could improve primary school pupils’ literacy and numeracy skills.
Over 3,000 nine and ten-year-olds from 48 UK schools took part in the study, which saw them following the Philosophy for Children (P4C) programme.
Pupils were given regular philosophy lessons, with a typical session seeing them sit in a circle to look at a video clip or article to stimulate discussion on a particular topic. Then, there is a set period of silent thinking time, before the children are asked to give their opinion, with debates being encouraged.
Following the trial, pupils’ reading skills were four months ahead of where they had been previously, while their maths abilities had advanced by three months and their writing by two, placing them in front of their counterparts throughout the country who weren’t receiving philosophy lessons.
Study author Professor Stephen Gorard commented: “Our results suggest that these philosophy sessions can have a positive impact on pupils’ maths, reading and perhaps their writing skills.
“But crucially, they seem to work especially well for the children who are most disadvantaged. This is very encouraging as we, along with the EEF, are committed to helping tackle educational disadvantage.
“Evidence like this is extremely important in identifying what works and what doesn’t and to help headteachers decide how to spend their pupil premium funding for most benefit to their pupils.”
Improvements in exam scores weren’t the only result of the experiment, as the teachers taking part in the trial also reported seeing significant boosts to students’ confidence, self-esteem and patience following philosophy lessons.
What’s more, philosophy opens up young people’s eyes to important issues that aren’t necessarily covered by the curriculum.
For example, sessions included in the trial covered subjects such as organ donation, explaining it in terms children could understand, asking them if a healthy heart should be donated to someone who hasn’t looked after themselves.
In addition, their minds are opened to different viewpoints, even if they arise from something as simple as a children’s story, equipping them with valuable listening and debating skills that will see them through the rest of their schooling and beyond.
Essentially, philosophy lessons are designed to make children better, more world-aware people as they grow up, so parents may wish to take into account whether or not these classes are on offer at their child’s prospective school before deciding where to send them.