[This is the first in a series of items I am writing about the Australian Curriculum. Hopefully, they will, when completed, make sense. ]
The concept of the Australian Curriculum (AC) should have been adopted a generation before it was. At that time, society was far less polarised, far more focussed on positive learning outcomes for students, far less fragmented on educational fads and more importantly, distractions like social media were still in the future.
There has been a large number of “fads” in education that have come, failed, and gone, only to return, rebadged and polished up, with an expectation of success based in wishful thinking.
One great furphy here would have to be the concept of “Middle School”. Middle School is based on the US approach of three different campuses, Elementary, Junior High School and High School[i]. It has been a questionable practice in Australia. Our School system has been built on the British system of a clear division between Primary and High School based on age which developed into a two-tiered system of Primary then Secondary Schools. Even in many schools that are K-12, there has been little or no movement in developing three physically separate mini-campuses, even if built in the last fifteen years, as the concept actually requires. The US Middle School does not translate into our Primary to High School, but it is still promoted as a valid methodology. The AC makes no such distinction but an unclear rhetoric from many educators makes Middle School sound better than practice suggests.
“Learning styles” seem credible but have little evidence to positively support the theories. They appear to be a long-term fad pursued by many Educators as being “real”. An article in the British Journal of Psychology[ii] found that the student subjects liked words or pictures better, not that words or pictures worked better for their memories. There is no concise or conclusive evidence to support the existence of learning styles.
The AC was brought about during the time when education was being constantly bombarded by fad after fad presented as “the latest and greatest” in Education. To an extent, the authors of each of the curricula attempted to reflect these things in their product. All it did was to place so much content in each document, especially Maths and Science, that essential ideas in mastery were overlooked[iii].
Mastery was a concept developed by Benjamin Bloom[iv] in response to a very real difference that had been detected in outcomes between varying socio-economic groups in the US. The essential principles of Mastery are simple, give sufficient time as well as teaching and learning resources to a particular topic, all students will gain a mastery over that topic. The top place holders in the PISA test use these principles extensively, holding those places without any sign of surrender. (Bloom’s Mastery, btw, has been replaced by the less transparent term “Competency Based Learning”. )
Mastery was a large part of the various State Curricula long before Benjamin Bloom wrote his seminal 1968 paper “Learning For Mastery.”[v] Although unrecognised as such, Mastery rewarded ability and effort, with future citizens being able to use education for social mobility. Australian students had done well in the first PISA test, 2000, until other ideas and criteria were applied which have led us away from Mastery and to a corresponding decline in our student’s results in PISA and NAPLAN.
The sheer volume of materials to be covered in both core and non-core subjects could be considered as preventing sufficient time, despite the teaching and learning resources available, being devoted to any topic, theme, subject or discipline in the AC. This in turn, leads to a decline in mastery of the materials being taught, in short, students can survive so many years of “education” but are functionally illiterate and innumerate.
[i] https://www.justlanded.com/english/United-States/USA-Guide/Education/The-American-school-system – How US Schools are organized in K-12. 21/11/19
[ii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27620075 – US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health 20/12/19
[iii] https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/0a6d/3371def4acc0456a849efb21ed29bc645cef.pdf University of Kentucky, UKnowledge 20/12/19
[iv] https://www.britannica.com/biography/Benjamin-Bloom – Biography of Benjamin Bloom. 16/10/19
[v] https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED053419.pdf – The full text of “Learning for Mastery” 16/10/19