National curriculum review announced
On Friday 10th January the Commonwealth Minister for Education announced a review of the national curriculum - I was appointed as one of the two panel members. In the following published in the SMH I outline the nature of the review.
Coalition's call to review school curriculum based on sound reasons
"While Australian students perform reasonably well in international mathematics and science tests, there are always a handful of countries... that do better."
The Commonwealth government, while being a key stakeholder in school education in terms of money, resources and programs, does not employ any classroom teachers or manage any schools.
As a result - and as signalled by Education Minister Christopher Pyne when announcing the review of the national curriculum - the review will be a consultative one involving schools, parents, professional associations, academics, and state and territory education authorities.
While critics argue that the review's outcomes are predetermined, it's also the case that nothing has been decided, and the fact that public submissions are being called for suggests that the process will be open and transparent.
The reasons for establishing a review are manifold.
The Coalition's election policy promised, if elected, that an Abbott-led government would review the national curriculum to ensure its robustness, that it represented international best-practice and that it was free of bias.
The need to benchmark the national curriculum against the curriculum of more successful, stronger-performing countries as measured by mathematics, science and literacy tests - such as Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, and Program for International Student Assessment - should be beyond debate.
While Australian students perform reasonably well in international mathematics and science tests, there are always a handful of countries, mostly in the Asian region, that do better.
As noted by the Australian Industry Group, a significant number of employers are complaining about the inadequate literacy and numeracy standards of employees.
While there are no magic solutions, there is much that we can learn in Australia by analysing and evaluating successful overseas curriculums in terms of content, design, styles of teaching, classroom interaction and theories of knowledge.
If, for example, so-called best-practice curriculums are succinct, teacher-friendly, academically rigorous and involve a range of teaching styles, from teacher-directed to learner-centred, then why not evaluate the extent to which our national curriculum compares?
One of the criticisms made by primary teachers is that the curriculum they are being asked to teach covers too much territory, is overly prescriptive and that it is stifling flexibility and choice at the local level. It's also important to analyse our approach to the curriculum in light of what the research suggests is most effective in raising standards and strengthening learning outcomes.
Countries around the world, including South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Britain and the US are continually evaluating what works and what does not in the classroom, and ensuring the training and professional development of teachers are evidence-based.
Increasingly, across the English-speaking world for example, the consensus is that phonics and phonemic awareness are a critical part of teaching young children how to read. The research also suggests, especially in the early years, that automaticity, involving memorisation and rote learning, are important elements in allowing children to go on to higher order, more creative learning.
Ethnographic research examining Asian classrooms also suggests that lessons need to be highly structured, where students have a clear understanding of what is expected, and what constitutes success or failure, and there is adequate time for interaction and feedback.
Teachers in countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong also have the time and resources to mentor one another, to work collaboratively, and are highly respected by parents and students.
It is also important to evaluate whether Australia's national curriculum is balanced and objective.
As suggested by Pyne, the fact that the national curriculum stipulates that every subject must be interpreted through a prism involving indigenous, Asian and sustainability perspectives needs to be revisited.
While there is no doubt that Australia is geographically a part of Asia, that sustainability is a significant and continuing issue, and that giving the curriculum an indigenous perspective is important, there are other equally important things to consider.
Australia is a liberal, democratic nation, and our political and legal institutions, and way of life owe much to Western civilisation. As such, it is important that students have a sound understanding and appreciation of the values, beliefs and institutions that enable Australia to be such a peaceful, tolerant and open society.
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Latest Blog19th January 2014
In the following, published in the Australian soon after the national curriculum review was announced, I briefly outline what a sound curriculum might look like - based on my personal views.
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Latest NewsNational curriculum review announced
19th January 2014
On Friday 10th January the Commonwealth Minister for Education announced a review of the national curriculum - I was appointed as one of the two panel members. In the following published in ...