The Australian is reporting that the Victorian opposition Liberal Party have proposed a reform to the school curriculum. I am uncomfortable about the framing of this reform and I believe it carries potential risks as well as some opportunities.
I am concerned that the way the report in The Australian is written represents more of an appeal to the base of the Liberal Party* than a reasoned position that could start a conversation across the political divide. The term, ‘back-to-basics,’ is not only politically loaded, it is misleading. There is nothing ‘basic’ about a curriculum that utilises the best research on teaching reading, writing and mathematics, so what is this intended to signal? I also don’t believe that it is the job of schools to, ‘teach students to be proud,’ of anything. As I made clear in a recent post, students should be presented with concepts and allowed to make their own decisions about what to believe and what to internalise.
Talk of an attempt to ‘de-clutter’ the curriculum is a particular concern. I wish to see a rich curriculum full of powerful knowledge. When the Australian curriculum was last reviewed, the same language was deployed as justification to degrade the humanities content while leaving the airy and pointless general capabilities untouched. These capabilities include things like ‘critical thinking’ which cannot be taught in a vacuum. Either critical thinking is already being taught as a key component of every subject, and so adding it as a general capability is redundant, or the intention is to mistakenly try to teach critical thinking in some general sense.
Nevertheless, it is a good time to start asking questions about the curriculum. Australia in general, and Victoria in particular, would be better served by a clear curriculum document that was specific about the knowledge that children are expected to learn. At present, the Australian curriculum is exceptionally vague, with exhortations that children should pose questions and conduct investigations. Nailing down the substance would be good. Dr Jennifer Buckingham, a past researchED speaker, will be asked to conduct the curriculum review if the Liberals win the November election. Buckingham has campaigned for better reading instruction and has the capacity to see past the political slogans.
Hopefully, this renewed policy focus will prompt a response from the Labor government, placing the quality of curriculum back on the political agenda and offering us a clear choice at the election.
*For those outside Australia, The Liberal Party spans the centre-right to right section of the political spectrum, similar to The Conservative Party in the UK and the Republicans in the US. It often forms a coalition with The National Party, a group that focuses in country issues.