Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has flagged a revamp of the national curriculum, saying we need to get “back to basics” like reading, writing and maths before worrying about “soft skills” like teamwork and critical thinking.
- Education Minister says he’s acting on feedback from principals, parents
- Says other countries are ‘overtaking’ Australia
- Educators say they’ve heard this all before
Mr Tehan today used a speech at an education conference to mount his case for a more “simplified” approach in classrooms, which he will take to a meeting of state and territory education ministers later this week.
“The feedback that I have been getting from principals, from teachers and from parents is that [the curriculum] is too cluttered and what we need to do is simplify it, go back to basics,” he said.
“It is the view of the Morrison Government that our education system must ensure that every child gets the basics right.
“If you can’t read, and you can’t write and you can’t count, then you can’t continue to learn.”
Mr Tehan cited Australia’s chief scientist, Alan Finkel, in his call to streamline the lessons being taught in schools.
“Dr Finkel argues that the hard slog that is studying mathematics becomes vulnerable if we send a message to students that ‘soft skills’ are the keys to success,” Mr Tehan said.
“I’m not wary of soft skills. What we have to do, though, is make sure that we have got those basic understandings there first, those literacy and numeracy skills which are so important.
“Then we can look at things like critical thinking, then we can look at things like the importance of being part of a team, the importance of being able to evaluate.”
Mr Tehan said he would seek the agreement of state and territory ministers to update the 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians.
He said it was time to relook at those goals, as well as take into account early childhood learning and vocational and higher education.
“Our school system is an excellent school system, but other systems across the world are also improving and in many cases overtaking us,” he said.
“So it’s about resetting our goals, resetting our ambitions and making sure that we are keeping up with the rest of the world.”
Australia’s performance in international tests has slipped markedly over almost two decades, being outperformed by countries including Japan, Canada and New Zealand.
Deja vu for educators
For some of the nation’s educators there’s a sense of groundhog day for education policy.
Independent Education Union federal secretary, Chris Watt, said he agreed the curriculum was too broad but he was cynical about anything actually changing.
“We continue to hear mantras like ‘back to basics’, the need for a revamp,” he told AM.
“These things just keep being recycled as political slogans.
“So, even though there was an attempt a couple of years ago to remove some of the load in it, it remains a very difficult curriculum for our members to try to implement in classrooms.
“There’s just too much, and many of our members comment that the knowledge and learning and skills and experiences are spread too thinly across too many areas, rather than complete learning and understanding in core areas.”
Yet the national teachers’ association AAAE doesn’t think the curriculum is too cluttered.
“Society has changed to such an extent that harking back to basics does not give students a forward-looking perspective,” association president Sherryl Saunders said.
“We need to have strong core, but we also need to ensure that the education is broad and wide and deep.”
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