A different Q and A for Christopher Pyne

Bryan Cowling

In a surprise move earlier this year the Federal Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne, announced a short and snappy review of the Australian Curriculum.

After years of consultation and intense curriculum development involving educators from every State and Territory, no-one really thought that the Abbott Government would initiate a review so swiftly. As happens in these situations, there were people who welcomed the opportunity to have another go at getting their ideas and ideology included.

The majority of teachers would prefer that the reviewers went away and they could be left alone to implement the new syllabuses without amendment in their respective classrooms.

As a strong supporter of curriculum renewal and the implementation of the NSW syllabuses (which are based on the Australian Curriculum), the Anglican Education Commission (AEC) sympathises with those who want to get on with implementation. It recognises that those in charge of implementing the curriculum in NSW have said the outcome of the national review would have no impact, in the short term, on the way syllabuses are taught in NSW. However, in the interests of students and teachers across Australia, the commission decided it would submit a number of recommendations to the reviewers.

The commission believes the Australian Curriculum falls short of being world-class because it lacks a clearly articulated purpose. Education, by its nature, is a visionary project, comprising a vision with a clearly articulated set of undergirding values to which teachers, students and parents can commit as part of the school and broader community. It demands leadership in all layers of the system. But such leadership carries the reward of a sense of wholeness in education, a sense of unity in the diversity of educational offerings and a focus for all curriculum planning.

The Melbourne Declaration on the Educational Goals for Young Australians (2008) began that purpose-setting process with its preamble about the role of education in building a ‘democratic, equitable and just society – a society that is prosperous, cohesive and culturally diverse and that values Australia’s indigenous cultures as a key part of its history, present and future’.

The goals focus on ‘equity and excellence’,’ unity in diversity’ (including religious) and include some laudable exit outcomes for students. The goals state that ‘students should be able to make sense of their world and think about how things have become the way they are’, they should ‘have a sense of self- worth, self awareness and personal identity’ as well as ‘being optimistic about the future’.

They will hopefully ‘develop personal values and attributes such as honesty, resilience, empathy and respect for others, and have the knowledge, skills, understanding and values to establish and maintain healthy, satisfying lives, while acting with moral and ethical integrity’. Finally, they will ‘work for the common good’.

Put all of these together and you could have a clear student-focused purpose in the curriculum, one that includes yet goes beyond material and economic welfare to the aesthetic and spiritual components of the good life. Despite the admirable direction set by the Melbourne Declaration, schools remain without a clear statement of purpose within the Australian Curriculum.

In its submission, the AEC commended the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority and the NSW Board of Studies for the overall quality of the English, Mathematics, Science and History syllabuses – and especially the unprecedented opportunities provided within each syllabus for a school to employ pedagogy consistent with its own ethos. That is not to say there isn’t room for improvements, but they do not need to be made immediately.

The Australian Curriculum is rich with opportunities to explore ethical and moral issues in the hope that students will develop their own set of ethics in response. The power of the media, especially social media, seriously compromises that hope. Anglican schools are privileged to support students in their identity as creatures of a loving God. As the Australian Curriculum framework doesn’t include a religious subject it’s assumed that students will have to develop their comprehensive personal set of values through English, History, Maths and Science. We think that’s totally unrealistic and unlikely to happen.

After careful examination of global practice and the stated needs of Anglican schools we recommended that the reviewers consider a central, integrating mandatory subject called Worldview and Ethics. The AEC stands with Professor Trevor Cooling in his claim that “the process of discovering meaning and judging significance is essentially what education is all about and it also characterises what it is to be human”. 

 The full submission to the National Curriculum Review can be found on the AEC website