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Pyne's curriculum review doesn't pass the logic test

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Penny Wright 19 Jan 2014

Did you hear the one about the "leftist" agenda hidden in our curriculum? No? Huh - I must have missed it too.

But education minister Christopher Pyne launched a two-man crusade to pick over the National Curriculum last week, to weed out so-called partisan bias.

But who has he hand-picked to do it? One of them, Kevin Donnelly, is a former Liberal party staffer and member, tobacco company Philip Morris employee and vocal supporter for more teaching of 'Judeo-Christian' values in schools. He is also an one-eyed champion of private schools.

As is becoming a predictable pattern for the Education Minister - he has deliberately ignored the main point again. It's not just the wrong men in charge, it's the wrong approach.

A curriculum should not just teach students what to think, it should teach them how to think - for themselves. It's doesn't have to be Australia's Indigenous history versus ANZAC Day, or whether Menzies or unions had a bigger role in shaping our country.

Trying to limit what is taught to kids - rather than teaching them critical thinking - reflects a degree of paranoia on Christopher Pyne's part. Homilies about a curriculum that "teachers are excited to teach" and the need to emphasise creativity and communication show supreme ignorance about what is already going on in classrooms all around Australia.

Of course, curriculums should be reviewed and there are always ways to improve. But let's look at the facts of the current national curriculum.

1.       It was developed over several years taking input from thousands of stakeholders, including teachers and other educators, students, and parents and community members;

2.       It was negotiated and agreed to by state and territory governments of all political persuasions;

3.       It is still being implemented. There are still states and territories preparing to roll it out this year.

It's clearly not the time for a review, let alone a two-man, six-month operation.

Nevertheless, the biggest fallacy in this whole argument is that fixing the curriculum will raise Australia's educational performance.  What nonsense. It doesn't matter what is in the curriculum while teachers lack the resources to properly implement it.

What will make the biggest difference to lifting education standards is investing in students - particularly the most disadvantaged ones.

As Jenna Price wrote this week - in Australia, there is a direct and solid correlation between educational outcomes and social advantage. You can practically track year 12 success by looking at the home postcodes of the students who sit the exam. What a wicked waste of potential.

The Minister's man, on the other hand, Kevin Donnelly, does not acknowledge the inequity in our current system.

Christopher Pyne's review is designed to distract from the mess the government has made over Gonski - but we're not going to let him away with it. We will use it to make our voices even louder.

Kevin Donnelly says Australia must learn from the best. Well, we can do that by looking at the OECD evidence and reducing the gap between the highest performing and lowest performing students, by truly valuing our teachers and supporting them to do their vital work.

What parents want to know is that their child will get the best education possible, irrespective of their postcode.

Our schools - particularly public schools which educate the majority of disadvantaged children - have been underfunded for too long. The kids and schools who need the most resources aren't getting them, pure and simple.

And that's the big picture - not a stunt review.

PS. If the Gonski reforms matter to you - join our campaign here.

PPS. If you only read one opinion column on the curriculum review - make sure it's this one from Gonski panel member, Ken Boston.  As usual, he absolutely nails it!


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