There’s more to education than spelling and numbers November 4, 2014Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
Tags: curriculum, democracy and education, holistic education, national curriculum, values education
from Associate Professor Sue Roffey
Headlines in newspapers on a recent Monday morning said much of the curriculum review that has been welcomed across Australia. The removal of the four “general capabilities” from the curriculum is a travesty many are yet to recognise.
The four “general capabilities” are personal and social capability, critical and creative thinking, ethical understanding and intercultural understanding. Are thinking and creativity now considered irrelevant for education?
Research suggests these are critical skills for innovation, problem-solving, empathy, evaluation, knowledge application and mental health. These skills are also necessary for the promotion of a democratic society. Young people need to be able to think for themselves and make up their own minds about their values, who they become and what they do.
The reduced focus on personal and social capability also makes little sense. Relationships are not the soft and fluffy end of education; they are the central plank of how we learn and how well we live our lives. They determine our ability to contribute to both the world of work and society.
Confederation of British Industry director-general John Cridland says that over half of British firms are concerned about the self-management and resilience of school leavers, who must be better prepared for life outside the school gates.
Eton College headmaster Tony Little has expressed concern over the narrowing of the curriculum:
A sharp focus on performance is a good thing, but there is a great deal more to an effective and good education than jostling for position in a league table … Most of us as parents want our children to become capable adults, able to look after themselves and their own families, but we want them to be good citizens, too.
The US Department of Defence funded research leading to the Wingspread Declaration on School Connections, a document highlighting the need for a sense of belonging for effective education.
There is now a raft of Australian and international evidence for what constitutes authentic well-being for young people and how a focus on student well-being underpins universal learning outcomes, mental health for the vulnerable and pro-social behaviour. Healthy relationships with teachers, families and peers are integral to this.
Many of our young people are not learning the values and skills needed outside of school. Most teachers are doing a great job, despite the pressures on them to focus on test results. The evidence for the benefit of social and emotional learning in the curriculum is overwhelming. In the US a meta-analysis of 213 social and emotional learning programs showed that academic outcomes for participating students had an 11% improvement in academic skills compared to control groups.
It is hardly surprising that some of our most privileged and advantaged schools are taking student well-being – “learning to be” and “learning to live together” – seriously. Prestigious and successful schools such as Geelong Grammar, The Knox School and St Peters in Adelaide have a heavy focus on these attributes.
We need to go beyond the economic, rote-learning mindset, which is singularly concerned with the acquisition and regurgitation of facts. There is great concern that the race to the top in PISA rankings is undermining the education our children and our country really needs. What is the point of top marks in all subjects if you are unable to live a fulfilling life?
And what about valuing all of those children who are never going to be academic stars, but have other things to offer? Don’t they count?
Our education system is about the future of Australia, our democracy, our future mental health and our ability to contribute within our community. Relationships matter, resilience matters. Teachers, researchers and many parents know this, so why don’t the reviewers?
Sue Roffey is an adjunct associate professor in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She is also Chair of Wellbeing Australia and co Lead Convenor of the Student Wellbeing Action Network which is part of the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth. This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Tags: curriculum, national curriculum
The development and implementation of Australia’s first national framework for curriculum and pedagogy in early childhood settings: ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming : The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia” (EYLF), was launched in July 2009 for immediate implementation. This has been a significant early outcome from the Rudd government’s early childhood reform agenda. The development of this framework was perceived by many to present a unique opportunity for the creation of new discourses of early childhood, rich with ‘transformational possibilities’ (Sumsion et al 2009) and the articulation of a vision for the role of early childhood education in promoting social inclusion and equity. The compressed time frame for its development (nine months compared to the six years of development for the New Zealand early childhood curriculum Te Whariki) and the political compromises necessary to achieve quick consensus from the many stakeholders have undoubtedly truncated the opportunities for dialogue about what matters in early years education and limited the conceptual space for the creation of new discourses of early years education and the work of those undertaking its leadership. The account by Sumsion et al (2009) of some of the necessary compromises by the development team and the kinds of challenges to, and erasures from, early versions of the EYLF by risk-averse political gatekeepers provide sobering reading and salutary lessons about the political and contested nature of curriculum. They also provide telling insights into the significant challenges that must be overcome if the early childhood field is to advance robust new images of professional identity and early childhood leadership. For example, the reported institutional resistance to the use of the term ‘pedagogy’, explicitly chosen by the writers to communicate complex ideas involving the centrality of relationships and the importance of intentionality in teaching in early childhood contexts where this is not always visible, together with the censoring and erasure of reference to power relationships in play, could be read as maintaining the hegemony of childhood innocence and developmental frameworks. These frames have not been seen to be empowering to the profession in recent times and a robust critique exists to highlight their dangers in reinforcing care and nurturing dimensions and minimising the intellectual character of early childhood work. Conflicting images of the early childhood professional have emerged during the implementation of the government’s ‘new agenda’, that both constrain and expand possibilities for strengthening professional identities within the field. It is at least encouraging to see politicians locating early childhood provision within a ‘professional discourse’. Arguably, the activation of strong and effective field-based leadership will play a significant role in how these opportunities and challenges ultimately play out. As Osgood (2006), Miller (2008), and others have suggested, early years educators can ‘harness their own agency’ ( 2008: 260) and exert power over their professional identity and positioning to resist the disempowering potentials inherent in many policy discourses.
The new Early Years Learning Framework might be one such avenue for this assertion.