The largest claim for The NSW Curriculum Review is that they are decluttering the curriculum, but is it really that radical?
It is more of the same basic structure, with some key vital areas ignored. There is an increased focussing on literacy, maths and science. However, this is not new.
This has been an increased focus for years and we have seen that putting these placing these alone as silos has failed in the past.
A polymath approach where maths and Lit are across the curriculum is what might lift results. Recognising that children from an early age need to have strong foundation in language and numeracy is core but teaching these areas through other curricular areas can be just as effective.
Rather than regressing to a formal learning process in the earlier years, learning through play and social interaction will not only develop literacy and numeracy but also further embed and develop other soft skills which can lead to stronger outcomes further up in the K-12 educational experience.
Research after research study keeps reemphasising the role that creative and performing arts can have on impacting positively, core skills such as literacy and numeracy.
It is why high fee independent schools place such a premium upon them. Perhaps the public system should learn from this.
It is positive that languages will be mandated, but again research lets us know that the earlier a 2nd language can be developed, the stronger the impact on literacy.
What disappoints is that review appears to have been limited to keeping the same basic structure of assessment still with a high stake all or nothing focus at the end.
Through having qualifications at the end of the electives of Year 10 and further in years 11 and then 12 might relieve the high stakes, offer more pathways and progression for students and create a tangible significance and purpose to the learning, in the same way other successful Westernised education systems do.
There are many ‘comfortable’ general statements throughout that sound good but need to have a pragmatic application presented.
How systems will implement this ‘tinkering’ is one question; as are the implications for teacher workload and support.
Fundamentally, this Curriculum Review does not address the wider challenges in the education system, with Closing the Gap, the marginalisation and segregation of specific learning groups (such as children with a disability) and the ongoing poor outcomes for many disadvantaged communities.
Fluttering with the curriculum will not solve our declining results.
Systems need to be transparent, equitable support all children and schools; wider social and health issues must be concurrently dealt with by governments and their agencies; children must be in a safe place to learn (thus the few ‘bad apple’ staff need to be removed from the education system); and the single high stakes examinations given a qualification progression.
We have to be wary we are not reinforcing failed 19th Century educational ideas.
It is beneficial that students over achieving should be able to progress to higher levels earlier, so long as this is not a backdoor attempt at streaming which is further segregation of students.
There also needs to be less of a focus on deficit models nor diminishing certain learning areas. The hierarchical positioning of certain knowledges over others is regressive.
The focus should maybe not be on playing with the curriculum, but ensuring we are investing in the first 1000 days (3 years) of a child’s life. That will have greater benefits and lead to higher success achievement at Year 12.
The largest concern is, will this curriculum create better educated students or more just more limited thinkers?
Dr David Roy is a lecturer at the University of Newcastle who works closely with governments and disability advocacy groups