- Beyond the school gate
- Improving student learning
- Let's teach maths and science
- What's real in a virtual world?
- Careers and transition
- Curriculum for the 21st century
- Early childhood education & care
- Teachers and Teaching
A national curriculum: looking forward
An Australian curriculum to promote 21st century learning
Peter Hill offers leadership during a time of significant change in the learning landscape for Australian education. In this article, he outlines the development, conceptualisation and structure, use and accessibility, and support for an Australian curriculum in preparation.
Over the next few years, teachers and school leaders will be engrossed in realising a significant milestone in our nation’s educational history—the development and implementation of a world-class Australian curriculum that will prepare young people for life in the 21st century.
Curriculum is always complicated and stirs the passions. Leading international education expert Joseph P. McDonald, professor of Teaching and Learning in the School of Education at New York University, wryly observed how he would sometimes leave a room rather than get caught in a conversation about curriculum. Most of the people who stayed in the room thought curriculum was the thing teachers taught to students, whereas McDonald and others heading for the door of course thought that this was a delusion. Ted Sizer (1999) said of curriculum that ‘…only matters of student discipline bring out equivalent controversy, confrontation, self-righteousness, angry voices and quivering lower lips.’
What is curriculum? Using Rogers’ discussion (1999) of the sources of authority for curriculum decisions as a basis, I would divide curriculum into four parts:
- the core curriculum, comprising those general capabilities that all people need, use and develop throughout their life and the big issues of the day that all need to know about
- the formal curriculum, based on disciplinary rules, understandings and methods
- the chosen curriculum, that individual students and teachers create through the choices they make
- the meta-curriculum, comprising those activities, events and traditions that all good schools arrange to promote personal development, character and a community of learners.
So the first point to make is that the Australian curriculum is by no means the whole curriculum. It seeks to define for all students in Australian schools the core curriculum and the formal curriculum, but leaves to schools, teachers, parents and students critical decisions about the chosen and meta-curriculum.
And what about 21st century learning? Here again, there is no shortage of controversy and fuzziness to contend with. Let me suggest four characteristics:
- It does not always imply new learning, but learning that is relevant to life and ongoing learning in the 21st century. By definition, what is relevant is subject to ongoing change.
- It assumes competence in and increasing reliance on new information technologies for accessing, processing and sharing information.
- It is about learning in the service of a better world, and about promoting human potential to solve problems, be productive, creative, think deeply about issues and care for others.
- It is for all and is founded on the notion that all can achieve high standards given sufficient time and support.
So how will the development of the Australian curriculum ensure a world-class curriculum in promoting 21st century learning? I would suggest the answer is again in four parts:
- how it is being developed
- how it is being conceptualised and structured
- how teachers and schools will be able to access and use it
- how they will be supported.
Let’s take these one at a time, starting with the development process. Undoubtedly the starting point has been full support of all Australian governments for creating a world-class national curriculum and for setting up the governance structures and allocating the resources to get the job done.
Ministers of education have all signed off on the ‘Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians’, which provides clear directions about the priorities to be addressed in a national curriculum.
The best talent across the nation, both in academia and in the school education sector has been called upon to develop content and achievement standards and to scope and sequence the new curriculum. There is ongoing and detailed benchmarking of the new curriculum with that of leading overseas nations.
An extended consultation process has begun which includes a significant online consultation component to ensure that schools, teachers and the broader community can contribute to the refinement of and ensure satisfaction with the final product.
Second, there is the way in which the Australian curriculum is being conceptualised and structured.
It will make explicit the content that has to be taught, and the depth of understanding, the extent of the knowledge and the sophistication of skills expected of students (i.e. achievement standards).
Every effort is being made to ensure that challenging standards are set, but that the curriculum does not become overloaded, that there is time for going deep, and that there are opportunities for including local and topical content. While the traditional structure of scope and sequence within discrete learning areas is retained (the formal curriculum), the Australian curriculum gives explicit attention to ten general capabilities (literacy, numeracy, information and communication technology (ICT), thinking skills, creativity, self-management, teamwork, intercultural understanding, ethical behaviour and social competence) and to three cross-curricular themes—one national, one regional and one global—namely, Indigenous perspectives, Asia and sustainability.
Each of these is being given close attention by expert groups and is being scoped and sequenced alongside work for each of the learning areas. In other words, this is a curriculum that places primary importance on the general capabilities that all people need, use and develop throughout their life and the big issues of the day that all need to know about, while also providing for foundational knowledge, skills and understanding in the agreed discipline areas.
Third, there is the way in which teachers and schools will be able to access and use the Australian curriculum.
In the past, curriculum has been published in hard copy form, typically with separate booklets for each learning area. This has tended to reinforce notions of a static, two-dimensional subject-centred curriculum.
The Australian curriculum will be delivered online, and hence will be dynamic and easily updated. Online delivery will provide users with the capacity to interrogate its multidimensional structure and manipulate it according to their particular needs.
For example, a primary school could sort content and/or achievement standards by years of schooling without regard for learning areas, thus facilitating the construction of a school curriculum characterised by high levels of cross-curriculum integration. Or conversely, it might focus in on curriculum content relevant to Indigenous, Asian and sustainability perspectives by year level to ensure that students were gaining a coherent understanding of relevant issues and knowledge.
A year 9 secondary teacher of science may wish to restrict attention to all relevant science outcomes for year 9 and the two adjacent year levels to better cater for the range of achievement levels within her class.
All of this will be possible with the click or two of a button. Online delivery and online tools for linking curriculum to instruction will assist schools and teachers in planning and delivering a curriculum that gives due regard rather than lip service to those core curriculum general capabilities and cross-curricular perspectives that make it a 21st century curriculum.
Fourth, there is the way in which schools and teachers will be supported to implement the Australian curriculum.
In recent years, much has been learnt about change management and effective professional learning for teachers and it can be confidently anticipated that this learning will be reflected in how systems and sectors with the support of the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) approach implementation by and within schools.
At the national level, the newly established Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) can be expected to have a key role alongside the various professional and subject associations and other agencies in supporting implementation of the Australian curriculum.
At a local level, we can expect extensive use of local and site-based professional learning, supported by targeted online professional development.
World-class 21st century learning is a vital aspiration for our nation and one that is widely recognised and supported. The new Australian curriculum cannot guarantee it, but it can give schools and teachers better plans and better tools to work with.
Curriculum work is never done and certainly never done perfectly; it is always work in progress. However, right now we have a unique window of opportunity to make giant strides forward. Let’s seize the moment!
McDonald, JP (1999). ‘Redesigning curriculum: New conceptions and tools’, Peabody Journal of Education, 74 (1), 12–28.
Rogers, B (1999). ‘Conflicting approaches to curriculum: Recognizing how fundamental beliefs can sustain or sustain school reform’, Peabody Journal of Education, 74 (1), 29–67.
Sizer, TR (1999). ‘That elusive “curriculum”’, Peabody Journal of Education, 74 (1), 161–5.
Teaching Australia—Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership www.teachingaustralia.edu.au/ta/go/home/
The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians www.mceetya.edu.au/verve/_resources/
National_Declaration_on_the_Educational_Goals_for_Young_Australians.pdf Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) www.acara.edu.au/default.asp/
The author owns the copyright in this article. For information related to the reuse of this work in any form please contact the publisher firstname.lastname@example.org