The proposed new curriculum has provoked debate since its release almost 12 months ago – over whether its efforts to promote Australia’s First Nations history came too much at the expense of teaching its Western and Christian history, and whether its maths content skewed too heavily towards inquiry-based learning.
Mr Robert has directed the curriculum authority to consult a list of experts the government has nominated when making its revisions. The government has not publicly revealed the list.
The minister’s letter, tabled to a Senate estimates committee on February 17, asks the curriculum authority to “[lift] standards to ensure they match those of high-performing nations”. He also wants to see a shorter and simpler humanities curriculum, “so teachers know what is essential to teach”.
The Morrison government’s insistence that content be reduced came with one explicit exception: “ensuring that key aspects of Australian history, namely 1750-1914 and Australia’s post World War II migrant history, are appropriately prioritised and can be taught within the time available”.
History Teachers’ Association of Victoria president Deb Hull said the complete span of Australia’s history is already captured in the curriculum.
“The really important phrase in the minister’s letter is ‘in the time available’,” Ms Hull said. “The time available is determined by how many hours schools devote to history in the timetable, plus for how many years students are required to study history.”
Also key among the Commonwealth’s concerns is the draft curriculum’s proposal to push back the introduction of times tables from grade three to grade four, putting Australia two years behind Singapore, which teaches them from grade two. Australian students have fallen three years behind their Singaporean peers in the global Program for International Student Assessment.
Australian Mathematical Society president Ole Warnaar said it was inconceivable that a curriculum change alone would help Australia catch up with Singapore in the forseeable future.
A lack of expert maths teachers was a more serious concern, and was contributing to a sustained decline in school-leavers’ maths skills, he said.
Professor Warnaar, chair of pure maths at the University of Queensland, said the society shared the Commonwealth’s concerns that the draft curriculum focused too much on inquiry learning at the expense of mastering the basics.
“As professional mathematicians, we are all problem solvers, so it is extremely important, but unfortunately what seemed to have happened in the curriculum is that, to make room for more problem-solving, they took out some of the core and key skills required to effectively carry out the process of problem-solving,” he said.
“It’s a bit like giving someone some timber and rope and ask them to build a life raft, but you’ve never taught them how to tie a proper knot.”
A curriculum authority spokesperson said education ministers have asked the organisation to provide a revised version of the curriculum by April, and the updated curriculum will be published following its endorsement.
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