Setting the course

I must admit that, at times during the Curriculum Corporation Conference in Sydney I felt like a tiny voice of dissent in a chorus of support for national curriculum.

Not surprising perhaps, given the positioning of the Curriculum Corporation as an agent of federal government, but there was almost an inevitability about it all as speaker after speaker trumpeted the virtues.  It was Orwellian in its dichotomy: ‘national curriculum good: local control bad’.

Which was interesting given the nature of a couple of the keynotes: Dr Ben Levin who talked about the very un-national reforms he’d been undertaking in Ontario, Canada and Mick Waters from the UK, who have been moving ever further from the centralised curriculum that Blair set up nearly twenty years ago now.

I’m not convinced that national curriculum can be much more than a set of benchmarks, so achievable that no state will be embarrassed, peripheral to the real business of learning but easily testable and reportable, and therefore tested and reported they will be with all the baggage that brings.

The idea that a curriculum can be relevant and accessible and challenging and inspiring for students from Katherine to Kew is one I found unlikely. And the idea that curriculum should move AWAY from the students, from the school and the district to  Canberra and the bureaucratic apparatus I find profoundly inspiring.

Yes, some students (2% currently) do move interstate to different schools and that’s a little inconvenient but the move to a politically centered curriculum, one located in the heart of politics, is not likely to be more than inconvenient.

So, I was pleased to see in the AGE today (the article doesn’t appear to be online) a number of educators coming out against the tide, particularly Tony Taylor (below) from Monash University, who wrote some of the recent History curriculum.

The article, in the Education Age, was by Denise Ryan and called Who Sets the Course?. In it Taylor argues that the national curriculum ‘could not be justified by national experience or research’ particularly in terms of so called economic benefits. Others, like Simon Marginson of the University of Melbourne questioned the timing of the proposals, ‘I see it as shadow boxing before the election’ and even Andrew Blair, Australian Secondary Principal’s Association President, generally a supporter says that educators need to be consulted or we will get the same kind of top down mandating of content based curriculum we’ve seen in the courses that Tony helped write.

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