In Australia, the idea of a national curriculum has been on the federal government agenda for several years. The 2004-05 federal budget contained a reference to investigating the feasibility of an Australian Certificate of Education. A report was duly commissioned but the potential ACE was buried under the avalanche of attention given to private school funding.
A year later, The Australian newspaper began its campaign for curriculum reform and as a result discussion of a national curriculum has reached a prominent position in the daily news. The problems with state curricula were given a public working over by former education minister Brendan Nelson, and now current federal education minister Julie Bishop has staked her claim on the issue and is gunning for reform.
According to Ms Bishop and her supporters, including The Australian, state-developed curricula are rabidly anti-government, radically left-wing and outrageously politically correct. Numerous examples from syllabus and curriculum documents demonstrate how schools are being used as vehicles for social engineering, with a decline in academic rigour.
Professional teacher organizations and state governments are united in their opposition to Bishop’s plan to overhaul curriculum, but for different reasons. English and history teachers associations and teachers unions do not dispute that curriculum has become ideologically-charged and even defend its right to be so. State governments, however, deny that their curricula are biased and intellectually impoverished and reject any need for reform.
In the court of public opinion, it appears that the federal minister is gaining ground. A recent poll revealed that 69 per cent of Australians are in favour of a national curriculum. University academics have also been confirming what parents and employers have long suspected – that there has been a significant decline in standards and therefore in the abilities of high school graduates. It is not just English