Monday, January 13, 2014

Kevin Donnelly from Australia: The aim must be a sensible, teacher-friendly curriculum

In establishing the review of the national curriculum, the Abbott government is fulfilling an election promise and, as someone who has been intimately involved in curriculum development and debates over more than 30 years, it is a privilege to be involved.

The curriculum, along with teacher quality, parenting, student motivation and ability, and a school's culture and ethos, is one of the most significant factors influencing learning outcomes. As such, it is vital that whatever curriculum is mandated by governments across Australia is academically rigorous, teacher friendly, free of bias and educationally sound.

Such a curriculum should also be benchmarked against international best practice, based on evidence-based research and able to be implemented across a diverse range of school settings and classroom environments. A viable curriculum also needs to balance what is compulsory across all students and schools with the need to respect diversity and the ability to tailor what is taught to local circumstances and challenges. Not all schools are the same, not all teachers have the same ability and expertise, and not all students have the same interests, abilities and future career paths.

In a world that is increasingly fragmented, transitory and caught in the here and now, the curriculum needs to introduce students to what is lasting and what forms the common ground on which stability, reciprocity and social cohesion are based. The curriculum forms an essential part of any culture and the knowledge, understanding, skills and ethical values passed on from generation to generation are critical if communities are to survive and prosper.

As such, any curriculum should be inherently worthwhile as well as serving a variety of more practical and utilitarian ends. The moral, aesthetic and spiritual aspects of education are as important as improving the nation's productivity and ensuring that students have mastered work-related skills and competencies.

The curriculum should also be impartial and disinterested. It should be based on the search for wisdom, understanding and truth.

It is vital any changes to the curriculum are teacher-friendly, cost effective and able to be implemented without adding further to the demands of what is an increasingly difficult and onerous profession.

It is also vital that there be consultation involving teachers, parents and school communities, in addition to the usual professional associations, academics and education bureaucrats, to ensure the curriculum is not divorced from the realities of the classroom.

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