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My Opinion Pieces

Herald Sun: Early years is the time to teach basics

   Monday, 6 November 2017

Herald Sun 6 November 2017

The revelations in the Herald Sun about the sex education curriculum for primary school children, Catching on Early, will concern parents. The explicit nature of material for students as young as seven belong in an X-rated movie, not in grades 2 and 3 classrooms.It shows a total disregard for the innocence of childhood, while trampling on the traditional role of parents to discuss sensitive matters of sex with their children when they believe them to be ready.

The Catching on Early curriculum was released by the Department of Education in February 2011. Most of the development work for this curriculum occurred under the Brumby Labor government, but it is important that politicians look back critically on previous decisions and admit those times when they didn’t get it right. This is one such occasion. Aside from the obvious issues of
the age appropriateness of the material and the educational relevance to young children, how does wasting crucial class time
with explicit sexualised content improve student outcomes so that young people one day end up with a job or move on to higher
education? In Victoria, student outcomes are stagnating. Andreas Schleicher, head of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), recently visited Australia with a simple message: “Australia used to have one of the world’s leading school systems, but in the past decade, learning outcomes have dropped to levels closer to the average of the industrialised world.”

Despite the state government massively increasing spending on education between 2001 ($6.1 billion) and 2017 ($15.392 billion), PISA results have barely changed. Three critical elements of our education system have broken down in recent years: teaching the
basics, maintaining discipline and instilling sound values. Basic literacy and numeracy skills remain the foundation for meaningful employment. They should be the foundation of our curriculum. One of the major reasons for the decline in student outcomes,
according to Mr Schleicher, is that Australia’s curriculum “is a mile wide and an inch deep”.

Premier Daniel Andrews has taken an already packed curriculum, and added even more. Along with compulsory sexuality education, this year Respectful Relationships became compulsory in the curriculum, on top of the Marxist-inspired Safe Schools program. Respectful Relationships begins by teaching prep-level students lessons on gender identity: “The early school years are a critical time to challenge stereotypes based on gender and other differences.’’

I would have thought the early years are a time to teach kids to read — and international evidence agrees with me. In later years, Respectful Relationships seeks to expose students to post-modernist and radical notions of gender fluidity. The material introduces
students to terms such as “pansexual, cisgender, transman … gender fluid, or gender queer … those who self-identify with multiple genders, and may move fluidly between being boy and being girl”. I have not seen this knowledge requirement on many job descriptions.

We need to clear the ideological clutter from the curriculum and get the focus back where it belongs. The greatest determinant of
academic performance is the quality of teaching. Teaching is one of the most important professions in our society and we want educators, particularly at the primary level, to be given the opportunity to teach children the most important building blocks for a successful life, sound literacy and numeracy. The values that underpin our education system should be the values Victorian parents believe in: aspiration, excellence, personal responsibility, respect and reward for effort. Parents must be included in the education process, and every child should be supported to be the best they can be.

The Labor Party believes parental choice should be outsourced to bureaucrats and every child should win a prize regardless of effort or achievement. It’s this culture of mediocrity that’s compromising our education system and producing poor student outcomes. Victorian primary schools are required to teach ethical capability, intercultural capability, healthy eating and lifestyle, traffic safety, bike education, and the list goes on. Surely, some of this is the responsibility of parents?

The stagnation of literacy and numeracy standards is affecting the nation’s economy. By focusing on the basics, restoring discipline and instilling sound values, we can make Victorian schools an example that the rest of the nation will soon want to follow. Our children deserve nothing less.