Monday, March 01, 2010

National Curricula or Standard Texts?

The PM and Deputy PM have released first four draft national curricula (English, Maths, Science and History)for K-12. In doing so they have stated that;

Having an online curriculum means the curriculum will be dynamic, and easily updated, in contrast with the static, hard-copy format. The Australian Curriculum will be among the world's first curriculum delivered online.

From next year, students from all states and territories will be able to move schools, school systems and states and be taught the same knowledge, skills and understanding as part of a curriculum for the 21st Century.

In doing so they started a consultation process that can be accessed through this website. This is an interesting example of Gov 2.0 consultation that has the annoying feature that you have to register to participate. Maybe on the theme of identifiers we need to have an identifier we can use to acess any Government consultation. (I didn't mind registering except for when registering as "community member", "organisation {or was it instititution}" was still a mandatory field and the rules on password standards were only revealed if you didn't meet them).

The site has a little video explaining the overall approach. The Chair, Barry McGaw said, there is still a desire for flexibility in the classroom. The individual subjects had these emphases.

Science - less quantity more quality. Not four strands, return to more traditional sciences. Students have been losing interest, recapture interest. Provide opportunity to get excited, and opportunity for trachers to use it.

History - work for a wide diversity of students. Increasing Australia's understanding of the region, understand better through a "world history" perspective. Big theme is question of "sustainability" - (huh)?

Mathematics - inclusive of everyone - everyone able to do it till at least the end of Year 9. There should be less in it! Students will "engage" in mathematics in he classroom.

English - intensifying the continuity of learning across time. Deal with fewer texts more deeply. Teachers making choices of texts.

The curriculum documents have two key elements, content descriptors and achievement standards. Content descriptions include knowledge skill and understanding expected together with elaborations. Achievement standards specify the quality of learning expected.

The ambition of national curricula to facilitate the educational experience of kids moving interstate is fine. But the test will be in exactly how much the "flexibility" is retained. Currently a kid can be exposed to the same thematic content in any of a number of years and can experience the problem of repeating or missing something just moving suburb. This is the "price" of flexibility.

I worry about the whole flexibility thing and the idea that more kids can be inspired by going deeper but narrower, or that the syllabus is so simple that anyone can do it. The unfortunate reality is that the best students can and should get a lot more than this.

The ambition of an "on-line curriculum" is interesting. At least it makes it far more accessible to parents. The real challenge will be the attendent curriculum resources.

As a kid we had textbooks - they laid out the content in its logical order. Even a substitute teacher knew where to pick up from. In the new world order this doesn't happen. In Maths in NSW they introduced a new curriculum in the mid 80s for primary school that needed lots of resources of things to count, make shapes of etc and so different schools would have different stuff.

Without textbooks there has been an explosion in the industry of "black line masters" which get photocopied for kids to learn from (do exercises on).

A realy sensible approach would see the extension of the curriculum site to include (a) a textbook (b) a resource of additional "black line masters" and (c) the inclusion of additional resources including SHORT videos that support aspects of the curriculum, and extension material. (It is possible to provide extension material in most of these curricula areas that is not just accelerating the kids further. There are a plethora of interesting things in number and geometry that don't get later touched on. In the sciences there are lots of extra interpretations).

I also note that there is already concern that teachers (history in this case) won't have the capacity to master the new syllabus. Greater use of the curricula website to provide content could go a long long way!

It is also disappointing that there is nothing in the maths curriculu that talks about (in years 7 to 10)demonstrating the real world application of every element of this. The use of ICT also seems to be poorly conceived - by year 10 a student should be learning how the concepts of mathematics underpin the operation of a computer.

I need to read the Maths and History syllabus in more detail to see if it addresses Lindsay Tanner's call for better maths and science inspiration. I also think a $2M program as also announced today won't go far on helping get kids excited about science just by more teaching about climate change.


ian said...

My wife has been looking for the curriculum documents for some time, and can't find them.

I also looked, and cannot find anything beyond (so called) Information Sheets.

There does not seem much hope of parents finding the curricula. Even if they do, they will probably be written in the special jargon used by educational authorities. The reason for a Dip. Ed. is that it takes a year to learn to read it.

I also don't know that we elected the Federal Government to take over education. I would rather they did the things they promised to do.

David Havyatt said...


To get to the documents you have to register on the site. If you e-mail me at I can send you the pdf of the complete set 240 pages=1.2M.

ian said...

Dear David
Anna, Ian's wife here, thank you. I think I shall register.

I read your blog about the curriculum.
Are you aware that the NSW Board of Studies has all its syllabi/curricula on the web. Indeed they have been on the web since 2000. Parents do not need to register, simply go to the website, choose you subject and download. All past public exams are there too and support documents. May I say dear Julia is about 10 years behind the times.