All posts by @DrCWebbBAPhD

About @DrCWebbBAPhD

I am a teacher, researcher and academic, whose main interests have converged from management learning into education. Currently based in Dubai, UAE. I've got lots of teaching experience under my belt, right from secondary level through to FE, HE and postgrad.

Call for UN health / refugee funding to develop bilingual health edu videos on YouTube 


I read this piece on the Time website this morning. Briefly, the moving stories told on the one hand show that presumably Arabic spoken Syrian women in refugee camps (e.g. in Greece) are without regular health checks, especially when needed during pregnancy. They are often displaced from usual family support networks and left dangerously floundering, severely hindered by language handicaps.  Even when in good medical hands, sometimes too late, their lack of common language leaves them frightened and disadvantaged. 

On the other hand, what was interesting, was that many of such women have access to mobile phones and YouTube – something they use to educate themselves with. In the absence of their own mothers or other educational outlets, they search for and watch relevant YouTube videos and educate themselves. 

It made me wonder if they could access Arabic to English or English to Arabic pregnancy healthcare education YouTube videos. I did a quick search. Nothing was immediately apparent. There was a nice little video in English helping non Arabic speaking people learn how to say a few nice well wishes to pregnant women in Arabic, but beyond that there was nothing I saw. Nothing that would help women to communicate from Arabic to English and back about their maternity. I did find purely English pregnancy vocabulary videos, and Arabic pregnancy healthcare tips. But there was nothing to fill the void to help those with language barriers in such circumstances. 

Put yourself in the shoes of a pregnant Syrian refugee living in a camp. You’ve got a phone with YouTube access but not much else. You’ve got time. You’ve got no regular health care visits or prenatal care. How great would it be if there was a UN maternal healthcare educational YouTube channel that provided Arabic and Arabic to English (and vice versa) instruction. How great would it also be to provide a two way communication channel for such women, who could connect with UN maternity nurses in lieu of regular ante natal care. 

There’s obviously a need for this gap to be filled. If it’s already filled then it needs promoting better. I hope these women get the help they need. 

The rise and fall of edu fads: just ebb and flow of well intentioned chatter and action and what it means to be human?

Hands up if you were ever guilty of applying learning styles in your lesson planning? Or if you thought the idea of right brain left brain thinking was appealing? Or if growth mindset science has helped steer your edu action? Or if you’ve seen the light through the curtain into the chamber of mindfulness?

Now hands up if you’ve then felt a twinge of disappointment when you’ve read critical evaluations, debunking polemics or scathing rants against any of these or any other neatly packaged ideas? 
I’m going to say that these and other such edu fads emerge through well intentioned thinking, conversation and action of teaching professionals who want to make an impact on their students, in their practice and in their schools and classrooms. I’m going to say that they become popular through obvious publishing channels such as books, papers, blogs, social media, conferences, and then find their way into practice and policy through a variety of routes. And I’m going to say their emergence demonstrates patterns of marketing such as early adoption of innovation loving practitioners, copy cat followers and disciples, then making it into the popularity of mainstream, before eventually even conservative types decide to follow suit, at which time the phenomena starts to dwindle in popularity while in the background another new fad emerges. 
So how to spot a fad? I guess an edu fad might be anything in teaching and learning practice that extends beyond a teacher, a variant of a blackboard and chalk, student slates, and testing. 
Do we mind? Edu critics thrive and become popular on the back of spotting the fads and ranting about them. For the rest of us perhaps they may in part be what keeps us going. We are only flesh and blood in need of motivation after all. 
Perhaps our interest in and adoption of edu fads is like edutainment, buying a new item of fashionable clothing or reinvigorating our interest in life through the uptake of a new hobby or pursuing and examining a religious belief. Perhaps it’s like going on holiday in search of a refreshing change and coming back fresher and motivated to start a new. Perhaps this is symptomatic of our materialistic consumerism and pseudo fetishism, translated from a primitive urge to deify and worship to find spiritual satisfaction within a group or on an individual level. There are certainly those who like to convert and those who like to join. 
So is there any harm in getting swept up in the wave of a new fad? On the downside there’s money involved that might be spent more wisely elsewhere. Rather than investing money, time, energy and opportunity on a fad, perhaps we could be just doing things well stripped bare of unnecessary bells and whistles. But would we be us and human if we did that? Can we all do that?
I mean, the same would be true of housing decor and clothing. We would save a lot of time, money, energy and opportunity if we all never went shopping again and just did away with worldly materialism. But would we enjoy life? Do most of us find some sort of satisfaction in the material fripperies? If we didn’t have them and our world was more ascetic would we be the same? 
Perhaps we don’t need fads to learn, but perhaps we look for them because we’re human. 

Comparing Best Practice Global Education Case Studies: All Just Apples and Oranges?

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“Don’t tell me how brilliant they are at education in Finland or Singapore! We don’t live there! It’s not the same! What works well there is based on their context, not ours! It works well because it’s there. Don’t compare us to them or try to make us do things their way!”

So react many when told about amazing results the education systems of those countries bring in general (Finland – dedicated students with great teacher working conditions) or in reference to particular subject areas (Singapore – maths, reading and science – see PISA 2015 results).

I do believe that you can’t necessarily implement what works well in one cultural setting into another and expect it to automatically work well in the different locale as well. There is more to it than that. If that is true, is there any benefit to looking at ‘best practice’ case studies at all? Are other people’s and countries’ lessons learned entirely unique to their own setting, or might there be transferable relevance?

I guess it might be similar to seeking help from an agony aunt or a counsellor. You might think that if you are going through a particular problem, issue or challenging situation that there could be benefit from seeking advice from someone else who has been through something similar or at least has studied how to help those in such situations as yours.

In the same way, perhaps doing a bit of research to see how problems and challenges have been approached by others could be useful. At least by understanding their cases perhaps something could be gleaned to apply in your own setting. Of course, I’m not advocating the seeking out and establishing of one-size-fits-all prescriptive methodologies. Rather, synthesising insights from elsewhere with a view to contextualising intelligent application in your own setting.

With that in mind, if we think education needs reforming, where do we look? Where should policy makers look? Can anything be learned by analysing and seeking to understand the dynamics and challenges of educational reforms in different places around the world in a comparative way? Might there be some common patterns that emerge that make such studies worthwhile? By engaging in comparative educational reform studies might we understand the influences that shape process in general in our time in the 21st century, right now? If we understand those influences would it help us get better leverage on policy making and outcomes from leadership where we are locally? How would leadership roles change? What impact would it make on policy? What would we do differently?

It seems perhaps that as a base assumption and starting point we need to accept that the interest governments have in education tend to relate directly to the future sustainability of the economy. In addition, there is usually some interplay between central government and local governments (or municipalities as they are widely referred to in many countries) as to how educational policy is implemented and education is administratively delivered. So it could be worthwhile to ask in what ways are different national government models related to different local government approaches to providing education services? As we know, in England, local authority control over schools is currently practically out of the window. If we compared the English case of academisation and the rise of free schools with the ways local government in other countries still plays a large role in improving access, equity and learning at various levels of education, would we find that more effective models of policy framing and development have led to better outcomes in the longer term elsewhere?  What do they do differently and how? How are tasks divided and what coordination mechanisms exist between central government and local government in these different countries? What works well, how and why?

It seems reasonable to assume that unpicking these finer details may lead to beneficial insights. As to whether they were then of practical value in different local settings would need to be analysed on a case by case basis – at the end of the day you’ve got to admit there are lots of apples and oranges in all this. 

Then of course there’s the cost. In England’s case, it seems funding is being slashed right, left and centre. Is there any money left to do anything anymore? 

Perhaps educational social entrepreneurship is the answer after all…

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The Economics of Education: Can We Do Anything About It?

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If someone told you that a child was sitting exams in subjects that would earn them collectively two thirds less income maximum than the child sitting next to them in the same class, what would your reaction be? Might you say that perhaps earned income wasn’t a fair measure for the value of education and that perhaps said child might be ‘rich’ in other ways? Perhaps you might say that the said child didn’t want a career in the subject area the child next to them did, or that they had qualities and strengths that made them excellent in a trade that just didn’t give the same financial rewards as the other child’s area of interest. Should it matter?

What if we also looked at the child’s future down the line to see their own future offspring’s opportunities. Might we see an eventual poverty gap between the family where less financially savvy choices had been made and the other family whose key earners had followed more lucrative paths? What then? C’est la vie?

What if we weren’t actually talking about just one child versus the child sitting next to them. What if we were talking about children going to school in one local authority area versus another? If you knew the future of your children would be more financially secure just by sending them to a school in a different area, would you send them there? Many would and do.

What if we weren’t talking about schools in one local authority versus another? What if we were talking about a whole country where it became known through evidence based analysis that educational attainment of children in that entire country showed lower levels of potential earned income than other countries? Would you send your child abroad? What if you couldn’t? Would you start lobbying parliament for change? Or would it not matter?

Does education that leads to eventual impoverishment and economic decline matter? Would you mind paying your taxes for that? Or should we not make comparisons about such end outcomes? Maybe we should stop comparing. Or would that make us ostriches with our heads in the sand? “But we are just different! We don’t need to be measured by those parameters!” I hear the defiant objectionist say.

What if you were able to use your high school algebra and geometry to analyse data pertaining to the economics of education that clearly showed that, for example, educational attainment and earned income were inextricably linked, and that you could make decisions based on this data to ensure that the financial futures of those impacted by those decisions would be made to be the best that they could be for generations to come? Would you have a punt and tweak things? Or would you leave things as they were, protectionist style? “As long as they are happy, that’s all that matters…”

One way you could explore the data is through microeconomics. Microeconomics focuses on the behaviour of individuals and organisations in making decisions about how resources are shared out and used, and the way those individuals and organisations interact.  Microeconomics is used to show conditions that lead to positive outcomes, and failures (failures meaning where the desired results aren’t reached). So, based on this kind of data then surely policy makers would’ve got it all right by now? Right? Wrong! Why? Because the individuals in the system aren’t all making rational decisions. Their choices are influenced by so many values that can change as quickly as their environments. Therefore, to really make the data meaningful, policy makers have to not only understand what or how individuals make choices, but also why they make them.

Microeconomics also sheds light on any monopolies, i.e. where there is a single supplier of a particular commodity (e.g. there’s only one Eton that sells Etonian education in the entire world – Eton have the monopoly on that). There’s only one, stable supplier, with no competition, and therefore there are high profits, leading to super profits over time. In educational terms, we could also compare this to Insead Business School in France, The London Business School in England, and other well-known and highly esteemed institutions globally. Their reputation has grown and the end outcomes have become so self-reinforcing over time (extremely high return on investment for those paying to be educated there) that it would take earth-shattering changes to knock them from their monopolistic peak.

Microeconomics also reveals oligopolies: where a market is dominated by a small number of sellers that create incentives for groups of similar organisations or suppliers to collude and for cartels that reduce competition. This then leads to higher prices for buyers and less market output (i.e. controlling and limiting supply to increase demand). The end result is that due to less competition there is massive profit. Any competition that does exist tends towards rapid product/service development innovation to gain market advantage through consumer driven, trending fads.  So, in the field of education you might get a global university ranking system where the highest ranked institutions become known as the ‘best’ and these collude to create a ‘rigorous’ set of ranking criteria and highly selective entrance criteria for students, making massive profits along the way. The massive profits lead to self-perpetuating greatness due to being able to attract the best staff and create the best facilities, attracting the best students and therefore delivering amazing outcomes in terms of attainment and student destinations. Those institutions lower down the ranking scale are left to compete largely via edu-fads, consumer driven trends and pricing. Poor Joe edu-consumer doesn’t stand a chance – he or she is destined to a life already clearly visible in the crystal ball of educational economics.

If you’ve got money, you go to the best places that money can buy, and you get a high return on your investment. If you don’t have money, you don’t. The poverty gap widens. It’s a feature of a market based capitalist system. The only way to solve this problem entirely is to get rid of any competition: hence socialist projects that have state controlled institutions. Maybe the United Nations could propose a global education framework that all countries have to subscribe to in order to try to bring the capitalist driven nature of market based education under control in order to reduce inequalities and close the gap.

If, as educational consumers, we were able to globally turn the tables on the suppliers and join forces as a consumer based ‘monopsony’ (where there is only one buyer in the market), maybe we would stand a chance against the global educational cartels and monopolies. But I guess those with money might not find this in their best interests. They’d probably prefer to keep the current system going where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer…

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Are You an Educational Social Entrepreneur?

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Who has the opportunity for education? Who doesn’t? What opportunities does that include? Who is left out? To whose and what detriment?

We could use those questions as a starting point for an interesting discussion at a variety of social levels: the family, locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.

A key assumption would be that individual educational achievement and success impacts on the good of society as a whole, and therefore it is a matter of social responsibility that we help all individuals, at every level, to access education and achieve in it.

Beyond the values and motivations of the individual, their family and immediate community, it seems to be down to policy makers, consultants and social entrepreneurs to improve educational opportunity in general. I’m not including teachers or schools/colleges/universities/training centres themselves, as in this context they seem to be merely cogs in the machine (important cogs, but cogs nonetheless). 

Social entrepreneurs are an interesting one: in the UK it is exciting to see how many ‘free schools’ have been set up and sponsored to deliver education that parents and the community deem of importance and relevance – are those who set up free schools in the category of social entrepreneurs? I would argue yes. They are innovating educationally, based on seen and conceptually recognised opportunities. At the heart of their endeavours they believe that their enterprises will achieve some social good. Some of these social entrepreneurs are or have been teachers by the way, but not all. Some haven’t even got a background in education. Do they need one? I guess it would help, but…

Close your eyes and think for a moment: in your family, locally, regionally, nationally or globally, who are those without access to a ‘decent education’? What is a decent education? We’d have to assume it was at least being in full time education until the late teens, and being able to leave with excellent chances of continuing into a chosen profession/trade or further/higher education. But beyond that, why not level up the playing field even more? Of those that you just imagined in your family, locally, regionally, nationally or globally, what is stopping them from not just getting a decent education, but an amazing education that would open up everybody’s chances of reaching out to the most amazing opportunities globally for everyone? Why not? What is stopping that from happening? Not just to the poor and marginalised who have trouble staying in school until 16.

Why doesn’t everyone have the chance to go to Oxford and Cambridge in the UK? Or Stanford, Berkeley, Harvard, Yale or MIT in the USA? Or Insead in France or The London Business School in England?

If you had the magic wand that would give everyone in your family, and everyone locally, regionally, nationally and globally the opportunity to engage in all the opportunities that exist in those educational institutions and beyond (because, after all, those who go to those places have amazing prospects afterwards), what would you do? What needs to change to allow that to happen? What would need to happen to people’s mindsets, values, motivations and financial situations to allow that to happen?

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Do you see a stepping stone that would allow that change to happen? What is that stepping stone? Can you formulate that stepping stone into a mission and a set of objectives and tasks? Can you visualise the end outcomes? What support would you need to put this plan into action?

If you have answers to all these questions, then maybe you are a social entrepreneur. So, what ideas do you have?

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Social-Entrepreneurship

 

Just the facts? 

Questions for Debate

Who selects the facts?

If we didn’t have facts, would we have opinions?

If we didn’t have opinions, would we need to go back to the facts?

Are facts open to interpretation?

Do we ever have all the facts?

How do we know when a fact is a fact?

Is a fact a fact only until we can prove it wrong?

To ensure something is a fact must we be able to test it?

Is this the nature of science?

Can we make the teaching of English scientific?

Should we have a sub-discipline of English language and literature called English facts? Or are English language and literature a sub-discipline of English facts?

If English is a testable science, is English science fiction just for movies, hobbies and interests?

Are humans who swallow and regurgitate facts just robots in denial of what it means to be human?

Who has the hegemony on facts?

If we question the facts, whose authority are we undermining?

If we decide that the facts are unpleasant, what change would we wish to initiate to make it not so?

Can we just use the facts to change the facts or do we need more?

A UAE 600ft tall outdoor climbing wall – but what to call it?

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While I’m travelling through the UAE desert between Dubai and Abu Dhabi at the speed of light on the ‘Desert Bullet’ and I whiz past the 300m high Golden Camel while drones the size of hot air balloons lift sightseers on top to have their souvenir photos taken, my mind drifts to what else the UAE needs to start breaking more world records.

One thing that came to mind was a climbing wall. So I googled that and it turns out that Abu Dhabi is actually all set to have the world’s tallest indoor climbing wall, ‘Clymb’, which is due to open next to Yas Mall next year. It’s going to be 43 meters, beating the world’s current tallest climbing wall by 6 meters: the Excalibur in The Netherlands presently stands at 37 meters (121 feet). But the Excalibur is outdoor, and the Clymb will be indoor.

But then, upon further research, I found that actually there are several other (outdoor) climbing walls that exceed the above records. Firstly, is Georgia USA’s 140ft ‘Historic Banning Mills’ (in the December 2011 Guinness Book of World Records, that one). Then, at 164ft ‘Comm Row Hotel’s Base Camp’ (Reno, USA). And then at a blisteringly dizzying 540ft there’s the ‘Diga di Luzzone’ on the side of a dam in Switzerland – THE current tallest, outdoor climbing wall in the whole world.

I guess therefore what I’m needing is a 600ft outdoor climbing wall to put the UAE well ahead of all the rest. I’m thinking as a first thought somewhere near Ras Al Khaimah’s Via Ferrata by the side of the UAE’s tallest mountain, the Jebel Jais. The Jebel Jais is 1934m high (6345ft). Therefore, a 600ft (183m) tall outdoor climbing wall wouldn’t look out of place there. Also, it’d be in the right spot for climbing enthusiasts and lovers of the UAEs longest zip slide (Via Ferrata).

Alternatively, if the thought arose that perhaps such an outdoor climbing wall might impinge on the natural beauty of the mountain range there, then it could just be put near the 300m high Golden Camel in the middle of the desert between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. In fact, the world’s largest drones serving tourists at the camel could also drop people off at the top of the climbing wall and let them just go down instead of having to go up as well. Quite convenient in all that heat. It would also be something else to look out of the window at fleetingly from the comfort of the Desert Bullet. Let it be called, ‘Desert High’.

My UAE statue will be bigger than yours… a golden camel, pearl or something else though?

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The Wikipedia list of the world’s tallest statues (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_tallest_statues) surprisingly does not include any in the UAE. Neither does the UAE appear to have any large statues in the pipeline if this list (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_tallest_statues#Planned_.2F_in_progress) of planned statues is anything to go by.

So what would the UAE have to do to break current and forthcoming planned world’s largest statue records? Firstly, they would have to construct something that was taller than Myanmar’s current Laykyun Setkyar depicting Buddha and standing at 115.8 metres (380 ft) – the world’s tallest statue. Secondly, they’d have to plan to also out-do India’s forthcoming statue of Shiv Smarak, planned to stand at 210m (690ft) off the coast of Mumbai.

Where to do it? For me I’d say in the desert between Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

What should they build? My own preference would be for a giant camel – a symbol of humble origins, affection, support and sturdy, long lasting, Middle Eastern strength and power in general. If not a giant camel then perhaps a giant pearl, representing the economic starting point of the UAE. Or maybe they should do a giant camel first, and save the giant pearl idea for when the next contender for largest world statue comes along to rival the claim.

How big? Go for minimum 300m tall (984ft).

Made out of what? Well, why not go for gold and break some other world records while you’re at it? If the giant camel was made out of gold it would easily break the current world record of largest/heaviest golden object: The Golden Buddha, officially titled Phra Phuttha Maha Suwana Patimakon -a gold statue, with a weight of 5.5 tons (5,500 kilograms), located in the temple of Wat Traimit, Bangkok, Thailand.

Not sure who would fund the endeavour… but it’d be fun to see if they would 🙂

Also, while they are at it, they could construct the world’s largest gold plated drone to lift people on top of the camel for a souvenir photo for the obligatory camel ride shot, taken of course by a second world’s largest drone. See a video of one already in use at https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=world%27s+largest+drone&view=detail&mid=3040B36B9AAF6E8B057E3040B36B9AAF6E8B057E&FORM=VIRE

Happy world record breaking statue building 🙂

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Dubai to Abu Dhabi in 15 minutes by ‘Desert Bullet’? Bring it on!

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This is nothing to do with teaching or English, unless you want to connect this post to the use of superlatives… Dubai and the UAE are famous for attempts to break the biggest and best in records for global competitiveness. Dubai’s Burj Khalifa currently stands as the tallest building in the world. The Burj Al Arab is the world’s only 7 star hotel. The Emirate’s Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi is the world’s most expensive hotel. The next few years will also see the development of the world’s biggest mall. What else could we dream about seeing in the UAE that would break new highs while also making the place an even more inspiring and amazing place to live? Well here’s the start of my wish list 🙂

One thing I’d love to see is ‘The Desert Bullet’ – the world’s fastest train, to zoom at almost tele-portational speeds between Dubai and Abu Dhabi in its first stage of development, and then to branch out to reach Oman’s Muscat and Saudi’s Riyadh and Jeddah. Then why not throw Qatar’s Doha and Jordan’s Amman into the network? Is the Middle East ready for its first gold-plated and diamond encrusted railway network?

Currently, the Shanghai Maglev is the fastest train in the world with a maximum operating speed of 267.8 mph (Maglev is an abbreviation of magnetic levitation – suspension or floating of an object by magnetic field). The Shanghai Maglev has no wheels and it floats on a magnetic field that exists between the train and the track, allowing the train to fly over it. The train takes only 7 minutes and 20 seconds to complete its single route of almost 19 miles.  China railways Harmony CRH 380A is the second fastest operating train service in the world. In commercial service, this electric, multiple unit train achieves a maximum speed of 236.12 mph. But it set a record speed of 258.58 mph during initial tests.

Could the UAE beat this? Would it want to? At the moment, it takes about 1 hour and 23 minutes to travel by car between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, a distance of 139.4km, or 86.62 miles. If the Shanghai Maglev was taking you, you’d get there in about 20 minutes. I’d be up for that for sure! I’d also feel safer and at less risk from car accidents. But of course, the UAE would want to beat the Shanghai Maglev’s records – wouldn’t it!? I guess we could aim to shave a few minutes of the journey then – fancy making it in 15? Awesome! How about Abu Dhabi to Riyadh (894km – normally an 8 hour car drive) by ‘Desert Bullet’ in just over an hour? Phenomenal! Bring it on 🙂

 

Ponderings about the extent to which knowledge organisers are effective

Knowledge Organisers (KOs) are a very nifty, one page (usually) grid that can be used as a revision tool. They focus on facts, keywords, key terms and quotes, perhaps characters and their traits (if English focused KOs), and important definitions. Yes, they are therefore a good aide de memoir. 
You can, much like flash cards and mind maps, use them to revise a topic and test yourself, or have other people test you. They are in that sense an essential tool and piece of educational armour that should not be left out. 
What they don’t seem to include, however, are a range of questions in anticipation of an exam, that could require a whole different set of keywords, quotes, background contextual knowledge and facts, etc. 
For example, if you can be certain that students will get a question on the Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare paper on the particular angle you’ve fed them via a specific knowledge organiser, that’s great. E.g on Act 3, Scene 5, Juliet’s father. Perhaps you also linked it to Act 1, Scene 2. But what if you missed out a detailed analysis of Mercutio? Or if you failed to focus at great length on Friar Lawrence? What if the knowledge you gave them wasn’t the right set of knowledge?
Also, coupled with this, I think what knowledge organisers leave out are any treatment of inference skills or practice at analysing hitherto unseen extracts for language. You could include a range of subject terminology that you anticipate is likely to come in handy, but it will never be an extant list of all variations possible. 
KOs are a great supplementary revision aid, but by no means all that students need. 
They also need extensive training, starting earlier in school, in language analysis skills linking both inference and the use of an extremely large body of subject terminology. Perhaps this could be incorporated to bitesize KOs along the way to make learning manageable, memorable, and ‘revisable’. But I think the literature KOs that are emerging, while useful to some extent, should not be the main focus of teaching. 
Practise using sets of challenging questions that overarch the content of KOs and bring in the need for more adept use of inference skills and language analysis skills using a wide range of subject terminology seems to me to be a more pressing focus. KOs are useful under this umbrella, but are not the umbrella itself.