Australian Curriculum, Wellbeing and Social Development
The Australian Curriculum (AC) is not, and should never be, an experiment in social engineering. It is, however, a tool that can be utilised in the social and emotional development of students. The main focus of the AC is on head knowledge, like other Curriculums around the world. Unfortunately, it currently ignores the social and emotional learning of students. It also ignores the fact that family dynamics have dramatically changed over the last fifty years and the role of schools in childhood development is changing in response.
It is assumed that students will develop “holistically” with family support. It has been assumed they will grow up as cooperative adults after working their way through the different levels of the AC. This is naïve on a breathtaking scale. It completely ignores the impact of life outside of school on students. It does not take into account the constantly changing social environment that children are now growing up in. The AC, like most other Curriculums around the world, does not take into account the changing nature of mental health and its accommodation within the community[i].
The rise of issues around gender, sexuality, self-identity, self-worth, as well as bullying, social isolation, depression, anxiety, general mental health issues, all impinge on teaching and learning[ii]. To attempt to deal with this, some States have developed, independently, Wellbeing programs, or even a Curricula. These programs have had varying degrees of support from schools, depending on how they value the concepts included, but it is not compulsory in all schools throughout different jurisdictions. Some schools do not even have a specific pastoral care program at all deeming it as detracting from time needed to advance required head knowledge. Wellbeing is not explicitly supported in the AC yet it is implied throughout the entire K-12 Curriculum.
The AC should not drop an emphasis on head knowledge, but it could be more inclusive of, and explicit in, student Wellbeing, formalising a national approach to Wellbeing. This recognises that what children learn at school can contribute, or detract, from their general wellbeing and successes in school and after, in higher education or in the work place[iii].
A big part of a Wellbeing Curriculum may need to be aimed at the development of self-confidence in students, or perhaps in simply teaching students how to step back and relax, develop broader perspectives on social issues. This implies that it should run through each topic of every Curricula, perhaps even as an explicit outcome for some Disciplines, but certainly as a broad and obvious implicit function of the AC. Confidence can stem from an improved understanding of the learning materials beginning in the Early Years, and students’ applications of the outcomes of those materials in Senior Years. That is, they have to have a mastery of those materials to provide them with a firm foundation to build on. After all, we can’t build a house from the roof down.
[i] The Effectiveness of School-Based Mental Health Services for Elementary-Aged Children: A Meta-Analysis Amanda L.Sanchez MS Danielle Cornacchio MS Bridget Poznanski BS Alejandra M.Golik BA Tommy Chou MS Jonathan S.Comer PhD 29/01/2020
[ii] https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-11908-9_15 Hoover S.A., Bostic J.Q., Nealis L.K. (2020) What Is the Role of Schools in the Treatment of Children’s Mental Illness?. In: Goldman H., Frank R., Morrissey J. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of American Mental Health Policy. – Palgrave Macmillan, Cham 30/01/2020
[iii] https://www.cfchildren.org/wp-content/uploads/research/FOC-policy_brief_spring_2017-v5-5.31.17.pdf From “The Future of Children” McKown, Clark – Princeton-Brookings 30/01/2020