Time to rewrite schooling’s history


Last week, the Prime Minister announced a national agenda on school history (linked inevitably to funding agreements), which would make Australian history compulsory for Years 9 and 10 students.

Historically, schooling was the responsibilty of teachers and the profession at large. These days, it has moved out of the classroom and into the political arena. It seems that we now develop strategic education policy direction by focus group! This trend ignores the need to ask some critical and difficult questions about schooling in todays world.

No-one would argue against spending more on education but how will today’s students and history judge us if we continue investing in and perfecting an industrial model of schooling?

It would be refreshing if debate focussed on asking the right questions such as are schools meeting the learning, social and technological needs of today’s students?

There’s no doubt that schooling is complex and it’s made even more so by competing political agendas, greater accountabilities and of course, the digital revolution. Nonetheless, its core value has and will always be around quality learning in whatever shape or form that may take.

It’s easy to promise more education funding but there are often too many strings attached. Governments, educators and administrators need to work together in addressing how young people learn in today’s world and what processes best leverage learning outcomes for our young people.

5 thoughts on “Time to rewrite schooling’s history

  1. Greg

    To a degree, school curriculum and the school environment have always been ideologically contested. There has been a political responsibility for school curriculum since the Education Acts of the Nineteenth Century. The current “culture wars” involving efforts by different groups to define how students should see the world are unlikely to end in the immediate future. They also beg the question as to what students’ “needs” are. That is an ideologically contested field and so is the model of schooling in which they may learn.

    However, all is not bleak. The Prime Minister’s paper on Australian history is too cumbersome to serve as anything more than a discussion paper. For it or any of its ideas to implemented will take much work in by state and territory curriculum authorities. There may also need to be a test. And there must be a debate about the role of K-6 and the place of Australian history in Years 11 and 12. There will need to be a great deal of cooperation to implement this brief.

    Now, about the students’ needs….

  2. Tony some very valid points. Culture wars have always existed and always will for no one will ever see things with the same perspective. I think Greg’s salient point is that what the increasing national agenda and school history guide in particular do is to reinforce the notion of discreet subjects taught by experts to children rather than embracing the concept of integrated, personalised learning. It really speaks to the industrial model and is one element of a constrictive core national curriculum. I don’t think cocoperation will enter in to it if past Government policy is the model; you will comply, resistance is futile because we will tie it to dollars that you need to survive. The US has a simliar model of provison of services.Of course as a historian I love the idea of History as a subject and the guide covers most of the bases. My concern is the parochial narrowing of study that could emerge and particularly the impact on 11-12 if Australian History is a core study for any student who selects any history course which seemed to be the direction presented at the latest CSSA day by DEST. We don’t want to emulate the US wher most students have no knowledge of any world history outside their own country.

  3. John

    I have not problem questioning the “industrial model of learning” but I do not see what that has to do with the government’s proposal. Education policy in driven by COAG’s focus on human capital for nation economic progress. There is nothing to indicate that this focus will shift, rather, it is likely to be intensified by economic competition with South and East Asia. “The learning, social and technological needs of today’s students” are and will be driven by an economic agenda, not a utopian view of education from the last century. However, when Commonwealth programs come to implementation, the different state and territory perspectives have much influence even on tied to funding. We have only to consider the implementation of the current national tests for 2008.

    The Prime Minister’s proscription for Australian history says nothing about Years 11 and 12. It deals only with the final compulsory years of schooling. There has been no national proposal to make Australian History the only history in the Stage 6. Any such proposal would be strongly resisted. As for the problems American students have understanding the wider world, the limited historical understanding of American students is more symptom than cause.

  4. Tony , my comments on Year 11 and 12 history were prompted by the DEST presentation to the CSSA. They did not suggest that Australian history would be the only history in Stage 6 but one aspect was that under the mooted national curriculum and proposed alternative university entry method any history course studied in the senior years would have to include a core Australian history component. Whether that sees the light of day I don’t know but DEST seemed quite convinced! As regards to the relevance of the history guide I do see it as apposite because, as with the flag poles, plain English reporting and values posters et al it fits with the current Governments culture wars views. COAG may well be driving a modern agenda but the PM consistently talks of teacher directed instruction and discreet subject specificity and we have seen enough things already implemented, tied to funding, to suggest this is also very possible. My point , I guess is that the focus is on subject content and not the nature of the learning process and that by confining and proscribing content we diminish opportunities for diversity of approach.

  5. The simple issue for me is that it is not the Prime Ministers or the Presidents of any nation or state to define what is mandatory to learn about history. This is always going to be contested. There has to be collaboration and consultation on these matters. Too this extent the BOS has serve NSW well.
    Political necessity and focus groups lead to poor policy!

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