SCHOOLS: by Kevin DonnellyNews Weekly
New national English curriculum scores only C+
, April 3, 2010
On its release, the Rudd Government's national English curriculum was well received, especially by The Australian newspaper.
I disagree and argue that there are a number of concerns, including the following.
Curriculum content is only one of three areas covered; the other two are general capabilities and cross-curriculum dimensions. Content is under-valued by having to teach generic skills and politically-correct dimensions such as environmental sustainability, indigenous people and Asia.
English as a discipline is also weakened by the fact that the so-called curriculum elaborations are voluntary (the document states that teachers "may include" them). There is no compulsion to teach the grammar and phonics detailed in the elaborations.
Literature is weakened by the emphasis on teaching multi-modal texts and information and communications technology (ICT), including "tween mags, avatars, social networking sites and manga".
In relation to literature, the document favours indigenous, Asian and other cultural texts. There is no mention of the classics associated with the Western canon.
Literature, instead of being promoted as inherently worthwhile for its moral and aesthetic value, is dealt with as a cultural artefact.
Similar to Australia's much discredited outcomes-based education (OBE) model of curriculum, the document adopts a developmental approach to learning. It bases what is taught on the world of the student and his/her immediate interest and experience and what is most familiar.
Many of the curriculum elaborations, like OBE, are vague, generalised and fail to give teachers any clear sense of what needs to be taught.
Mention of phonics is weakened by including whole-language strategies, such as looking at pictures, and guessing and working out what words are by context.
Standard Australian English is described as only "one of many social dialects used in Australia".Dr Kevin Donnelly is director of Education Standards Institute, a Melbourne-based education think-tank. He is also author of Australia's Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd won and lost the education wars.