Contributed by a teacher in Victoria
The Victorian opposition’s new policy to overhaul the school curriculum, has been given the thumbs down by teachers and principals, who say that it is based on ignorance about what goes on in the classroom.
The School Education Values Statement, launched yesterday, by leader Matthew Guy and shadow education spokesperson Tim Smith, aims to strip back the state curriculum and impose greater emphasis on Western History, Australian values and national pride.
These words are a thinly veiled code, for the imposition of propaganda to instill in the young, notions of Western superiority, jingoistic nationalism and a narrow view of Australian history and society, which ignores the reality of what happened to the First Australians and that this developed as a land of people from many places and different races and cultures,who contribute to the melting pot of the Australia that is still emerging.
Insisting that Western tradition is somehow superior to others encourages racial and ethnic intolerance. is this what we want? Young Australians should learn about the Enlightment and the striving for more democratic forms of government. It is important. But it should be studied in the context of the reality that this has been a battle against the existing power structures, which drew from many traditions. This is not what is being talked about.
In its place, is the claim that this land is an outpost of superior Western (read British) civilisation, and that Australian values were born out of participation in the empire and its wars, instead of by millions, battling it out at home, to make this a better place to live, and even rebelling from time to time.
Teachers know better and will resist it. They do teach Australian values. But these are of a different kind, about respect, inclusiveness, an open mind and questioning.
Within the text, there is explicit criticism that what is taught in mainstream schools is too broad and that they get involved in areas that should be left to families or the community outside the schools. This concerns for example, learning about how babies are made and personal relationships, or learning about issues concerning harmful drug use.
It is subtler too. The division of what should be permitted in the school and what belongs outside, is about effectively outlawing concepts of Australian values that do not tally with what is prescribed.
The new policy, it is claimed, is also supposed to lift what is said to be declining student results. The Statement talks about an emphasis on doing more to lift literacy and numeracy skills. It neglects to mention that these are already at the centre of the curriculum.
This is not to deny that there are problems. There clearly are. One of the reasons is that more young people are staying at school than once was the case. So those who used to leave early are still in the system and this skews that result. It also means that teachers face the burden of a wider range of abilities in the classroom, in the face of insufficient resources and growing class sizes.
Investing in more resources for schools is the way to make improvements to literacy and numeracy.
The Statement has quite a bit to say about freeing “overburdened” teachers. But what is the answer? Removing administrative tasks. Who are going to carry these out? Department officials with virtually no knowledge of the inside of a school?
Major teacher tasks outside the classroom are curriculum development, preparation of lessons and assessment. If these are taken away, it means that they will most likely be carried out by non-teachers, who do not have the expertise to do it properly. Curriculum development, classroom preparation, and assessment will be under the control of the appointees of politicians. This is not the way to improve education outcomes. To those teachers who still have the responsibility of planning their own classes but are now not sure what’s appropriate to include and whatnot, there is the opportunity to click here to learn about online teacher courses. Online courses will not only assist teachers when improving their professional development but can also help provide teachers with the necessary information they will now need to include in their lessons.
If the aim is truly to relieve overburdened teachers, the way to do it is to employ more teachers to reduce class sizes, bring in more specialist teachers apply more team teaching strategies.
Schools will be given greater autonomy and encouraged to specialise. This would give the greatest advantage to the wealthy private schools, which already have a different curriculum, based on an elitist concept that they are the training ground for tomorrow’s leaders. They are in a position to market their exclusiveness to a well heeled clientelle.
The big threat of this autonomy push is, the real possibility that this is a path towards a new major round of school privatisations, of schools that have been shaped into packages to attract the new prospective owners.
No wonder the Victorian president of Australian Education Union, Meredith Peace, described the Statement as, “a pretty disappointing document”.
Meanwhile, senior research fellow at the conservative Centre for Independent Studies, Jennifer Buckingham, has already been asked to chair an “independent” review of the Victorian curriculum, if the Coalition wins office. She has already waxed lyrical about the Statement. So much for being independent.