Education experts have responded to the second major review by the Gonski panel into Australian education, with one calling it “a disappointment”.
The review urges that schools shift away from a year-based curriculum to a curriculum expressed as “learning progressions”, independent of year of age. It also urges strengthening the attractiveness of the teaching and school leadership professions, with clearer career pathways and better recognition of expertise.
Since being released, the recommendations have been warmly welcomed by Australia’s principals and education ministers. However, some experts are sceptical.
Dr Christine Cunningham, a senior lecturer at Edith Cowan University, suggested that the review reflects the views of a narrow range of academics, which depend in turn on data from standardised tests like NAPLAN and PISA.
“Recent analysis has shown these standardised tests to be deeply flawed,” Dr Cunningham said.
“Teacher-driven explicit instruction in the early childhood sector is again being encouraged so that literacy and numeracy progression is strengthened as the core of all learning.”
Dr Cunningham said this may further erode the use of play-based learning which researchers have shown to be highly valued as a quality pedagogical practice in the earliest years of schooling.
“Ultimately, the review is a disappointment because of the 23 recommendations listed not one addresses the importance of the humanities and the arts,” she said.
“None of the recommendations acknowledge that teachers are highly educated professionals who can be trusted to always do the best for their students without the need for top-down, one-size-fits-most-schools interventionism.”
However, other experts disagree, saying the review is a step in the right direction.
Professor Linda Graham, an expert in inclusive education at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), who made a submission to the initial review, said “for too long, Australian students have been shoehorned into a one-size-fits-all system that – in reality – fits few”.
“It results in students who learn differently to the pack being left behind with the gap growing with each year. These students will suffer most in an automated future but at a cost to us all,” Professor Graham said.
“There is an exciting potential for personalisation and differentiated teaching to enable students to learn at the pace that best suits them.”
Dr Glenn Savage, a senior lecturer in education policy at the University of Western Australia (UWA), says the report is “quite radical in parts” and could bring “monumental shifts” in education.
“If implemented it would see monumental shifts in curriculum, assessment and reporting in Australian schools,” Dr Savage said.
However, he said there is “much water to pass under the bridge” – particularly in a political sense – before any of the recommendations come to fruition.
“We also need to question whether Australia needs another grand plan to overhaul curriculum, especially given major reforms over the past decade have had no impact on improving student achievement,” Dr Savage said.