Now that agreement has been reached that Australia will have a national curriculum, the next question is: “What will such a curriculum look like and how will it be developed?” How we answer this question is crucial.
Those who remember the last attempt to develop a national curriculum, under the federal Keating government in the early 1990s, will understand that designing a national curriculum is far from easy.
In fact, such were the attacks on the then national curriculum that Australia’s education ministers refused to endorse the national curriculum documents at their 1993 meeting.
This first attempt at designing a national curriculum was attacked as offering a politically correct, ‘dumbed down’ and mediocre set of standards.
Especially in the key areas of maths and science, professional bodies around Australia argued that the national curriculum was a ‘disaster’ and ‘substantially flawed’.
More recently Bruce Wilson, the head of Australia’s Curriculum Corporation, admitted that the first attempt to design a national curriculum represented, and I quote: “ an unsatisfactory political and intellectual compromise”.
How can we ensure that history does not repeat itself and that, once again, we end up with a failure?
Firstly, we need to acknowledge the mistakes of the past and make sure that they are not repeated. Instead of adopting education ‘fads’ like ‘whole language’ and ‘fuzzy maths’ we need rigorous, academic standards.
Instead of destroying history and literature by reducing education to a child-centred, process approach we need to identify essential knowledge, understanding and skills that all students have the right to learn.
Secondly, we need to identify ‘best practice’ in terms of what is happening internationally. Academics and teachers in the USA argue, to be successful, that curriculum should:
- Be related to specific year levels instead of covering a range of years;
- Acknowledge the central importance of the academic disciplines;
- Be ‘benchmarked’ against world’s best equivalent