A national curriculum

I find it interesting that just as the world is opening up to new possibilities of accessing and sharing information, connecting and collaborating globally, the government’s strategic policy focus is defining what should be learned by all students in all Australian schools today. Perhaps the new draft K-10 national curriculum is more a response to the fear that these new capabilities will only weaken the traditional transmission of knowledge.  It seems to me that there is an inherent paradox in our current situation that the more freedom we have to expand our knowledge, the more we want to protect and narrow what we deem to be valuable.

The first casualty of the initial draft is what subjects were in and what was out.  No surprise that the big winners are: maths, science, grammar and phonics. Wouldn’t it have been interesting if the first draft ignored this and opted for creative and performing arts, music, health and well-being and geography.  Do we assume here that science is more important in today’s world than music? These are the realities we face and it is no different from the ideological battles of the past 100 years in education about what should and should not be taught in schools.

Fortunately, we will have a curriculum where the devil is not in its detail. This is a broad curriculum mapping the essentials around content and achievement levels for the various key learning areas. The detail is in how well teachers deliver the curriculum to today’s learners.

The Federal Education Minister, Julia Gillard made it clear that while the government wants to ensure all students are literate, numerate and well-equipped to contribute to the world in which they live, the central issue is bringing all states into some sort of alignment over processes and procedures around schooling. The issue of children moving interstate and readjusting to a new framework has been a key driver as has been an attempt to standardise assessment processes so comparisons can be made about school and student performance.

While these are important, we need much more work on teacher practice and how teachers improve their practice within the new ACARA framework. What ACARA does with community feedback on the draft curriculum is not as critical as what teachers do with it.

7 thoughts on “A national curriculum

  1. Yes, I see it like this too, Greg.

    So many opportunities and great potential for us Australians to lead a world class curriculum and, we have something less than useful…a political solution devoid of innovation and flair.

    I would love to read the submission you and your system presents by May. Any chance of seeing a draft?

  2. Great post. Specifically I like your focus on the importance of teacher quality and practice. “The detail is in how well teachers deliver the curriculum to today’s learners.”

  3. Stunning way to explain something I have been struggling with: the traditional transmission of knowledge. There is not one single ‘knowledge’, and most of the time, I personally and professionally value ‘understanding’ rather than simply knowing. Professor Freebody, the man behind the English draft, is pretty clear, that the English paper is not a throw back to some Utopia. The whole back to basics is a myth. To idealise a 1950’s or 1960’s education system is to forget a system that was based on exclusion: one where some people (Indigenous/working class/women) were excluded from quality education.

  4. Yes it’s all very interesting. I find it interesting that they seem to think we don’t teach phonics. Have these people been in an early years classroom recently? I wonder, or are they academics who have been lecturing for years and written various papers. We use a multi cueing system when we read and write and we teach all the cueing systems needed. But then you already know this.

    I wonder about it when gov’s put out drafts for comments but already have them published.

  5. The nostalgia driven education agenda always bubbles to the surface when politicians want a quick simplistic solution to the demanding and complex business of learning and teaching, that is schooling.
    All your comments reflect a deep understanding and a wisdom which is too sadly ignored in the discussion and hence the frustration we often feel because of this.
    Prof. Freebody’s comments are refreshing to hear. I’m Sure that Prof.Peter Hill at ACARA shares this understanding and wil, work to ensure that once the framework for a National Curriculum is in place the then substantive work of building teacher quality and capacity becomes the main game.
    Wouldn’t it be a novelty if their could be a national discussion on what is a relevant 21st century learning experience with contributions from people like Prof.Ken Robinson and Dan Pink and their work on creativity and innovation

  6. Hi Greg,

    Interesting side note: when Ms Gillard was asked by Kerry O’Brien to what extent would a ‘back to basics’ approach be at the cost of innovation (with other areas like critical literacy, technology and creativity) she replied that the government’s approach was, in fact, ‘beyond basics.’

    Rhetoric is so easy for politicians to manipulate and you’re right to shift the focus back onto the teachers. After all, we’re the ones who have to make the curriculum happen. In the choice between ‘back’ and ‘beyond,’ I know where I’ll be heading.


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