A national curriculum

Another thread of the Rudd Government’s ‘education revolution’ has been the establishment of the National Curriculum Board to oversee the development of a national K-12 curriculum in the key areas of English, mathematics, sciences and history (many will remember similar initiatives in the 80s and 90s).

Any national curriculum pathway, created without the full collaboration of States and school systems, is guaranteed to be a very rocky one – which is why the need for extensive discussion and cooperation now.

Quite apart from the present initiative, I believe it’s important Catholic educators, to participate in – and even initiate – a widespread conversation on curriculum.  We must never become mere agents of someone else’s educational agenda.

The first challenge is to establish a clear and shared understanding of the term ‘curriculum’.  Some definitions confine themselves to subjects and content, or teachers’ intentions and specific learning activities, or, more recently, expected learning outcomes.

Narrowly interpreted, such definitions have been the starting point, and ongoing preoccupation, of the curriculum debate for a long time.

My argument is that given the social and technological realities of today’s world, these narrow understandings of curriculum have reached their used-by date.  The key is convincing those outside the education sector of the need for a new, dynamic curriculum construct that is responsive to today’s world.

I come back to Daniel Pink’s hypothesis that in a conceptual age, we need a curriculum that reflects creativity and empathy, and above all, one that is grounded in a coherent world view about life and learning.

This is the time for educators and systems to challenge curriculum constructs that are basically content-driven or, even worse, assessment-driven – especially when such assessment is confined to those aspects of learning which are easily measured.

Let’s support any move to bring curriculum into sharper focus by giving it an important place in our ongoing professional conversation!

19 thoughts on “A national curriculum

  1. I find the whole situation juxtaposing and ridiculous, on one hand we have a community of educators who currently are successfully implementing and adapting content-criteria without claiming all glory, then there are those who attempt to acknowledge the “need for change” and then there is parliamentary ideals that want to bring the cane back or over viewing some mere statistics!

    It just shows how the educational representatives have failed to inform the media, public and government of their initiatives and visions of how beneficial project-based/contemporary learning is to the individual, the education system and how it influences the students everyday lives: PBL allows children to move away from bullying by pre-occupying the child with a positive learning environment, one that’s actually interesting, full of exploration and challenges.

    It’s obvious that people cannot distinguish the advantage of project based learning over corporal punishment otherwise there wouldn’t have been a suggestion to go back to old methods.
    I agree, we do need to challenge these old assumptions of what is curriculum and what the current educational environment should consist of, but until someone who has power to act does so, it won’t change, and I’m not a fan of all talk, no action, so Mr.Whitby, why can’t the CEO initiate these debates openly? (Like a forum on the ceo website, since the ceo do represent the catholic comunity in education) Why must it always fall back to someone else to “initiate – a widespread conversation”

  2. Greg, I agree wholeheartedly that we need to look more broadly at what “the curriculum” entails. I am heartened by current moves in the Uk to re-evlauate their constrictive national curriuclum and broadening of the view of curriculum to include students wider life and work experiences. The ‘Big Picture” schools in the US and our own expanding VET and Service Learning initiatives are great steps forward. I fear however ,that what will emerge from the national curriculum deliberations here will be much more traditional and proscriptive, traditional KLA models with the intent seemingly to ensure that should people move interstate the content taught will be largely the same. I think a great opportunity is being wasted because the debate is already not “what is the curriculum”, but rather which subjects are the most important and how can we make each states subjects look pretty much the same. I hope I am wrong!

  3. For the benefit of JSinc (again), it is widely accepted and agreed that mandated change is wasted effort and energy.

    I have been on the public record supporting PBL in our schools and if you feel so passionately about the work at your school, then share student work and your experiences on this and other educational blogs you read.

    Change has to take place at the local level. The system is here to help facilitate, support and resource schools. However, each school must be responsible for discerning what they see are the critical issues of the day and what will make a difference to student learning.

    Keep up your positive contribution to this important conversation!

  4. Can’t quite fathom some of your points Jsinc. Good to see you are passionate about PBL but the juxtaposition with corporal punishment? It’s either PBL or the lash?!
    I would also suggest that in Parramatta we are working at challenging old assumptions and that the whole focus of much of the professional learning and public presentations has been around this very point. I don’t think Greg can wave a magic wand and it suddenly happens but I would not support your view that he or the system have been recalcitrant in some way in challenging the traditional views or providing forums, both electronic and face to face for people to take up that challenge.


  5. greg, i am a student, not a teacher mate, just need to clarify this, and as a student i would like to see more collaborative inter-school communication, initiatives and motivation, not just in my local school. As students we dont see the whole picture, we dont go to collaborative meetings or have the opportunity to do so , and wonder were we stand against other learning environments.

  6. Jsinc, thanks for letting us know that you’re a student. You’re lucky to be at PMHS.

    I agree with your point about input to discussion so that you can participate and collaborative across wider networks. The range of technologies are helping us to do that as you know.

    I can’t answer the last part of your question on how you stand against other learning environments but as you’ve seen from our discussions on this blog, the work we’re doing places students at the centre of our models and we are building from that.

    The issue is what the student knows, how they best learn and how do we support our teachers in facilitating this learning. This challenges them to look beyond some of the existing models we have used over the past 10 years. And because of its very nature, we are working with school leadership teams on this journey. We’re not seeking the next perfect solution, it’s a work in progress. We are asking our professional teachers to be as creative and innovative as they can be. This is in fact what is happening in other sectors and industries around the world. See Dan Pink.

    Also have a look at Alan November, Stephen Heppell, John Connell and Leigh Blackall blogs to see what other strategic educators are doing/thinking.

    It might give you inspiration to begin another blog, which allows students and teachers to discuss and celebrate the learning at PMHS.

  7. Jgildea, i am stressing the point that at this current time and situation, there is too much conflict of perceptions among our society today as a whole ( i.e: between school, ceo, government and public), hence the contrast between ways to ‘solve’ problems ( i took pbl and the arising idea of a comeback of “the cane” in Qld parliament which is attracting much attention to show this contrast), there is a large contrast in what people believe is the right way to advance quality education and effective school environments, on one hand we have a government that wants to stick to traditional concepts, and then we see the new age generations trying to make a change.

    My hope was that Pbl is an open door opportunity to change the perception of a student from mere children (‘just a kid in year 8’) into responsible, talented free thinking individuals, but I cannot see this change when there are people who are more concerned to punish, control or dictate students because of the impression that we are ‘trouble makers’ or naive.

    The problem i see is that the system won’t change dramatically for schools, universally, until there is proper communication between the public and educators. It’s no good to continue to collaborate between the pbl-savy congregation, we should also be reaching out to the general public, and get their support in order to move on.

    Another point I would like to raise is student awareness: students should also be included in the decision making process of their educational future, it’s a bit disturbing to see so few students actually know what pbl is, or what web 2.0 is, or the fact that there is a push to change these traditions.

    As I’ve commented before, we need to see that there is actually a push, not just read it on blogs, because the majority don’t even know these blogs exists, last time I wrote about this point I was ignored, I really want to read in detail documentation of what the CEO plans for future education, evaluations, successes, failures and consequences. We need an insight to the whole picture if students, teachers and schools are to take on their evolutionary challenge, it’s not logical to accept a change when we can’t even see prove or evidence that it’s a positive change.

    I really want to write my own thesis that reveal the student’s (my) opinion of the current system ,what needs to be changed, what students want, and how to implement change, (since there is not much student opinion) but another assessment-driven task has taken this priority away, the future decider , Mr.HSC.

  8. “We need an insight to the whole picture if students, teachers and schools are to take on their evolutionary challenge, it’s not logical to accept a change when we can’t even see proof or evidence that it’s a positive change.”

    Greg, I think jsinc has hit on an important point; this statement resonated with me…and yet I see myself as one who is reasonably informed in terms of current trends in education.

    I know we are on a journey that is driven by continued learning and exploration into better practice in teaching and learning. I fully understand the difficulty in presenting a ‘solution’ that fits all & is achievable in all circumstances. Yet I also have a ‘cloudy’ perception of the future…I have a ‘feeling’ & some knowledge of what exceptional education practices ‘look like’ but this image is always changing and evolving as I learn more each day- from my colleagues, from reading, from ‘trial and error’ and from my students.

    I like jsinc’s challenge to collaborate on solutions. I support the observation that a great majority of students (& I expect teachers) don’t read the blogs where these issues are discussed. Often access (in terms of perceived time available),& awareness, inhibit the opportunities.

    There must be some further ways that can engage a greater majority of the ‘stakeholders’ in these debates?

    I wish I had an answer for jsinc. We are still on the journey, gathering ‘proof’ of positive change. If there was greater dialogue between stakeholders, there would be greater structures of support and encouragement, which would show the combined quest, and give evidence of positive change.

  9. Frances, I wish I had a definitive answer for Jsinc but this is the challenge we face in today’s world. Technology has enabled us to do much more and yet, we have less time to spend using it.

    I believe it demands individuals taking greater responsibility for their own learning.

    The issue is how do we lead teachers on this journey of personal discovery and professional learning; how do we convince them that blogs can add-value to the work they do?

    Maybe a short term solution is that teachers and students blog together.

    Will Richardson wrote an excellent article in 2006 for Edutopia called the New Face of Learning in which he gives examples where students are collaborating with US soldiers in Iraq and creating podcasts of interviews with local historians and celebrities.

    He makes the point that “there are a billion primary resources out there – scientists, journalists, politicians, and the like – who may know more than we do about whatever it is we are teaching, and for the first time, we can easily and flexibly bring them to our students to interact and learn.”

    Do we really need proof of positive change or is it already there in the fearless and passionate learner?

  10. Greg, I know it is the collaborations/ communications that blogs enable that add value to learning experiences. The significance and value of social interactions in learning today, places communication & collaboration at the forefront of the changes you describe.

    Yes, individuals need to take responsibility for their own learning. Yes, positive change resonates in the fearless and passionate learner; but as you say, often individuals need to be guided onto a learning path. In today’s world, it is the depth of one’s personal learning network that can have a huge impact on the learning journey of an individual. These networks are only developed through the assistance of others, they cannot be established easily on one’s own.
    It is the networking & collaborations first, that bring meaning to blogs & web2.0 tools & their functions. Once these links between people are made, then ways to continue the connections are explored. At the moment web2.0 tools provide the communication structures for these ‘links’.

    I like the work of Will Richardson. I like the ideas presented in your comment….but rather than leaving teachers and students to be ‘lone rangers’ seeking and establishing their own learning journeys, isn’t there a way for us as a diocese to provide support in establishing personal learning networks?

    As I commented before –dialogue between stakeholders is essential. It would be good to have that dialogue enriched by individuals with strong learning networks, who can give informed perspectives based on communication with a variety of people within and outside our schools & diocese. Blogs that encourage communication between teachers, students and ‘primary sources’, experts in their fields, sound great!…But are there ways the diocese/CEO can help individual teachers to make the first ‘links’ with such experts/individuals?

  11. Frances, once again you raise good points in which I have also raised in previous comments.

    You ask: “isn’t there a way for us as a diocese to provide support in establishing personal learning networks?”

    Remember CeNet? well that’s the only current network implemented by the CEO, you would expect that the CEO would want to create such a central network that can be efficient and web2.0 savvy, but it’s not, and although logically it’s the most ideal network to reach out to students and teachers for support and guidance, the CEO don’t even acknowledge this as a medium to communicate such help (maybe master classes could be uploaded onto cenet)

    I can’t see a better way to communicate effectively when CeNet is right in front of all our eyes.

    The question is not only: “How do we get teachers who want to collaborate to collaborate?” but should also be “How do we get Students who want to collaborate to collaborate?”

    I don’t believe in building hundreds of individual personal networks, I much prefer a centralized network in which students can collaborate together, because as students, we are greatly attracted to a network/blog/motive that is connected and involved with 1000’s of other students, because it feels that there is a larger importance over the situation and the experience is superior compared to a class blog. As I’ve mentioned before.

  12. CEnet is being used as you described jsinc in pockets across not only the diocese but Australia. It is very limited and “tired” in its current form as I’ve said before. But for all the reasons canvassed on this blog to date the scale is not there. BUT we are wel on the way

  13. I would like to see less talk and more action – because our kids deserve it! While CEO staff debate the process of change, they are missing the whole point that personal learning networks are what will drive change. It doesn’t take ‘big name’ people to achieve that any more. You don’t need to put people into planes any more and bring them here at great cost to run workshops! Importing big names to the Diocese won’t achieve any where as much as you would achieve if Team Leaders, Teacher Educators, School Executive, and teachers were taking part in a global conversation, willingly and freely – including students in the mix. Just look at what the students in schools like PMHS can do with collaborative learning using Web 2.0 tools, and you realize how hopelessly outdated the learning frameworks being modeled by the CEO actually are. Look at how easy it is for people to meet and collaborate and share best practice online in the OZ/NZ teacher meetups..which no CEO staff or Parra teachers are taking part in, but one!
    Come on teachers, get with the global conversation, and begin grassroots change today!

  14. Oh if it were this simple, Judy. Change is confronting especially more so when it is in such a public domain as teaching. It requires a multifaceted strategy that provides support at all levels.

    The one core thing I have learned and is a cornerstone of sustaining change is that learning is a relational process and has both a physical and virtual dimension. That is why face to face interaction is a critical part of the mix. People need time to engage with the big ideas and see how people react to these ideas.

    This human dimension fosters trust and the inspiration to be innovative. And hopefully, encourage them to begin engaging in those networks you describe. We acknowledge this is a critical part of the work we are accomplishing here.

    Virtual networks of themselves can never replace the relational nature of schooling. These networks will, like the tools that support them, will only enable and enhance the intensely human experience of building a life-long learning community.

  15. Well i guess if we really want to see a massive change in mid/long term education, you would also consider the roots of where teachers come from; University.

    If you want to implement the evolution properly you would need to change the very beggining of how you teach teachers to teach, oherwise new teachers come in with old techniques… and it would never improve.

    But thats a very large scale to change, but could be vital.

  16. Wow, how great to find this blog. Seems that those whom wish to collaborate do search out the opportunity, ie, here I am! I hope I am not too forward in posting a comment.

    I am both a casual teacher and a parent of children within the Parramatta diocese. Can I begin with commending jsinc for the contributions thus, far. What an analytical and reflective young individual, with what appears a sense of social responsibility perhaps you should apply to the NSW Youth Advisory Council at http://www.youth.nsw.gov.au to have a voice with government.

    I have an Early Childhood specialisation and recently re learnt my craft by teaching three subjects at Uni. My, how things have changed. Early Childhood Ed’n used to be more developmentally driven and has moved more to a socio cultural philosophy but without losing sight of what makes EC specialised. If you haven’t already done so, have a look at Hertzman’s TEAM ECD Framework which has reconceptualised education but without throwing the baby out with the bath water. Brofenbrenner is another interesting and in my view is a very ‘Catholic’, centred model. If we are truly to take the marginalised and increase resilience through building social and cultural capital to produce citizens whom will have a moral compass and life skills, then we must look at the learner (ourselves included) in the micro -macro context. Aha, child centred learning. The Reggio Emelia approach is alive and well and the emergent curriculum in Long Day Care and Pre schools. Early Childhood professionals conduct observations on individual students and collect artefacts and annotate these artefacts to document achievement of milestones, or if you prefer, outcomes. Maybe in future, bye bye MR HSC??? In Early Childhood there is no set curriculum, in NSW there is however, a curriculum framework, which is not compulsory to use. It seems natural that this child centred approach is bleeding into the next phase (Schools), how wonderful for learning to be interest based and takes individual learning styles into account. I have been keeping up to date with LTLL and feel it sits well with my reconceptualised personal professional philosophy. By centering on the individual within their community context, we can not prescribe a one size fits all model. Children are coming from Pre school already familiar with contemporary education, we as teachers and community members need to take their lead and look at their interests and individual learning styles, that would be in my mind, the beginning of a National Curriculum. Guess all of us teachers need to install a refresh button into our methods and philosophies!!! Congratulations to you all for navigating the way, Bravo!

  17. jsinc, these changes are already happening at universities. I know UWS and Notre Dame and Macquarie Uni all have similar programs oincluding subjects such as diversity, collaborative perspectives, Early Intervention and Prevention and Policy, Politics and Educational Futures. We need to bear in mind though that we still move from a learning to read to reading to learn stage in the early years. Yes, we can certainly cater for different learning styles in achieving this but in order to turn out self regulated and analytical and reflective students such as yourself, some ‘old techniques’, are still considered to be best practice. Remember there are different levels of reflection and a five year old is usually reflects much differently to an adolescent or adult. There is a lot of contemporary research on critical brain development periods which has given rise to the argument for far more responsibility to be taken at local, state and federal levels of government especially in Early Intervention and Prevention funding. Where they thought we were all ‘wired’, the same there is new scientific evidence to conclude that our relational families and communities (including schooling) has a significant affect on not only what we think but how our brain is ‘wired’. Look up synapses and the myelin sheath as well as critical brain development periods if you want to research further. If I am not mistaken, The Institute of Early Childhood at Macquarie Uni has been asked to join the School of Medicine as a result of this critical evidence. Makes educating the individual an even more enormous responsibility for us to get right.

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