In last week’s blog on this site, Reviewing the Review: Exploring curriculum reforms in NSW, Kath Cartwright commented on the interim report on the review of curriculum conducted by the NSW Education and Standards Authority (NESA), Nurturing wonder and igniting passion: Designs for a future school curriculum. The interim report is open for public consultation until 13 December 2019.
The Interim Report Consultation Workbook provides a structure for our input, inviting feedback guided by questions ‘for exploration’ (2019 p.1). Kath’s insights on two of the reform directions – Reforming the content of the curriculum, and Reforming the structure of the curriculum can guide our thinking.
I want to put the NESA reform of curriculum into a broader context.
A bit of history
An article titled NSW schools set for biggest shake-up in 30 years (‘The Educator’ 2019) stated:
‘A back to basics approach’
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the Government “strongly supports a back to basics approach” to the curriculum.
“Students need to have strong foundations in maths, English and science to be prepared for the jobs of the future and for attaining lifelong skills, Berejiklian said.
Henebery in ‘The Educator’ (22 Oct 2019)
In 2010 Dr Paul Brock presented a paper at the ACEL Annual Conference titled Towards Schooling in the 21st Century: ‘Back to Basics’ or ‘Forward to Fundamentals’, later published by ACEL.
The title of the paper was taken from the words of Garth Boomer, one of Dr Brock’s ‘great Australian educational heroes’.
Thirty years ago Garth would boom out that he was sick and tired of an almost obsessive focus on the “back to basics” theme in education and would cry out for the need to go “forward to fundamentals”.
Brock 2011 p.3
That ’thirty years ago’ from 2010 takes us back to about 1970, the year the Premier was born.
So for nearly 50 years there has been a cry for a return to something, somewhere in Australia’s education past. Curiously, it seems that it was when we received our initial schooling that was when the ‘basics’, whatever they are, were being taught so successfully.
This is the 21st century now. Can we just get on with it, please? And does the Premier really believe that just three subjects is sufficient?
Changes in schooling
We don’t need a ‘back to …’ anything. That’s exactly why these reforms – this one in NSW, the review of the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (current) and ACARA’s four year plans for review of the Australian Curriculum (2017-2021) – are occurring.
What we thought was pretty appropriate 10 or 12 years ago (or 20, 30, 40 or 50) is no longer a fit. We live in a world with different demands and expectations of its citizens.
In schooling in NSW we’ve had pretty much of everything over the years. Some things we have achieved, and mistakes have been made, and continue to be made, since Brock and Boomer railed against calls for ‘back to basics’. ‘Reforms’ and grand plans haven’t necessarily worked out so well in their execution.
That’s why we need reform.
Goals of schooling
The 2019 Review of the Melbourne Declaration has just concluded. The two goals of the Melbourne Declaration are:
Goal 1: Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence
Goal 2: All young Australians become successful learners; confident and creative individuals; and active and informed citizens
These Goals remain as powerful and as relevant in 2018 as they were in 2008. Indeed, they have been adopted by other jurisdictions in the intervening period, just as Australia was informed by a number of leading education systems in crafting these goals in 2008.
Australian Council for Educational Leadership (ACEL) A Compelling Message from Australia’s Educators Media Release (2019)
Our NSW review must not lose sight of these.
Literacy, numeracy and education
Our students will be literate and numerate – they must also be educated. There is a difference.
Literacy and numeracy are is not just learned at school. They are developed across a lifetime through social contexts. Literacy is not the study of English as a subject, just as numeracy is not the study of mathematics.
The NSW Education Minister, Sarah Mitchell, acknowledges that the draft curriculum review has indicated “significant change” is required:
Students need to be equipped with strong literacy and numeracy foundations to succeed in the 21st Century. We want a curriculum that leaves no student behind while stimulating students who are advancing faster than others.
The Educator (22 Oct 2019)
Is she talking about literacy? Or does she mean she wants our students to be educated in the best ways possible? These differences should be clearly articulated in our submissions.
Preparing for the 21st century
Apparently concerns have been raised that the state’s current curriculum is not preparing students for the 21st century. Nor will a new version. We cannot hope to guess what the next 81 years will bring, just as in 1900 no-one could have foreseen the achievements and the horrors of the 20th Century (see Brock 2011 p.6).
The review must take into account that our children are learning, and our teachers are teaching, and that education must be valued, in the world of now.
We can tell NESA what we want the NSW curriculum to look like. If we can keep the principles of education, not schooling, at the forefront of our thinking, then the ‘wonder’ and the ‘passion’ of the interim report’s title may well turn out to be positive attributes.
“People need to be very careful of what they wish for”
Maurie Mulheron, NSWTF President, quoted by Henebery, ‘The Educator’ (22 Oct 2019)
Australian Council for Educational Leadership (ACEL) A Compelling Message from Australia’s Educators Media Release at http://www.acel.org.au/acel/ACELWEB/News/2018/Melbourne_Declaration.aspx accessed 1/11/2019
Australian Government Department of Education (June 2019) at https://www.education.gov.au/schooling-0
Brock, P (2011) Towards Schooling in the 21st Century: ‘Back to Basics’ or ‘Forward to Fundamentals’, Australian Council for Educational Leaders Ltd (ACEL) Monograph Series, #49, September 2011, Penrith NSW
Education Council (2019) Review of the Melbourne Declaration at https://www.reviewmelbournedeclaration.edu.au/ accessed 1/11/2019
Education Council at Draft Declaration on Education Goals accessed 2/11/2019
Henebery, Brett (2019) NSW schools set for biggest shake-up in 30 years in The Educator (22 Oct 2019) at https://www.theeducatoronline.com/k12/news/nsw-schools-set-for-biggest-shakeup-in-30-years/267461?utm_campaign=Editorial%20-%20The%20Educator&utm_content=103757559&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter&hss_channel=tw-2855305681 accessed 1/11/2019
NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) 2019 Interim Report Consultation Workbook available at https://www.nswcurriculumreview.nesa.nsw.edu.au/pdfs/interimreport/chapters/NSW-Curriculum-Review-Interim-Report-Consultation-Workbook.pdf accessed 1/11/2019