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My Opinion Pieces

Herald Sun: Basics are the way forward

   Saturday, 27 January 2018

Herald Sun 27 January 2018

The Andrews Government and its ideological cheer squad proved how out of touch they are with mainstream values by attacking the Liberal Nationals School Education Values statement. Extraordinarily, the Coalition was accused of “fear mongering” because we suggested the current Victorian curriculum fails to inspire respect for Australia and its values.

What could be wrong with wanting children to grow up to be proud of their country and have a strong understating of the ideals that underpin our democracy? As co-chair of the review into the 2014 National Curriculum, Prof Ken Wiltshire observed: “Australia was built on two fundamental pillars: a fair go and have a go; while the curriculum is saturated with the former, you will find little reference to the latter.”

Ensuring students understand that Australians from multicultural backgrounds have built one of the world’s oldest continuous democracies and robust economies is a story of which to be proud. Of course, there are aspects of our history we are not proud of, particularly the shameful treatment of indigenous people and that must be taught as well.

It is deeply concerning that a recent survey by the Lowy Institute for International Policy found that only 42 per cent of 18 to 29-year- olds agree with the notion that democracy is preferable to any other kind of government. Another test, conducted by the Australian Curriculum and Assessment Authority last year, shows Victorian students lack an understanding of our national institutions, the historical basis for them and the principles and values that have shaped our society.

The curriculum should attempt to inspire young people with the ideas and values that have helped make this nation a beacon of hope and justice around the world. It should emphasise what generations who have come before us have deemed worth conserving
and that we are lucky to call Australia home.As Prof Wiltshire observed, “There are whole slabs of Australian history missing”, slabs that have inspired the creation of one of the of the most egalitarian societies in the world.

The curriculum simply doesn’t inspire interest in fundamental Australian principles of civilised liberal democratic government: the inherent dignity of the individual; respect for the law and other citizens; freedom of speech, association, movement and religion; tolerance for everyone no matter their race, sexual preference, class or linguistic background; equality of both men and women; and a society which enshrines hard work and equality of opportunity as the great enablers for social mobility.

The curriculum lacks historical context for the rights and freedoms we all enjoy. Foundational events that occurred in Europe and North America before 1788 that underpin our national and state institutions are barely spoken of. On our own continent, how most of the then colonies achieved self-government in the mid-19th century is taught poorly. Our early experiments with democracy weren’t perfect; many were excluded, particularly indigenous people and women, but it was the beginning of our great national journey.

That is not to suggest that politicians should be able to dictate the contents of the curriculum, rather that the curriculum should reflect the ideas and the traditions that have stood the test of time. The curriculum should conserve and pass on our shared cultural inheritance. It should distil what the generations who have come before us have deemed to be worth knowing, as well as equip young people with the technical skills and values they need to negotiate a complex economy and an advanced democracy.

That’s why Opposition Leader Matthew Guy announced that should the Liberal Nationals win the state election later this year, Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership board member Dr Jennifer Buckingham will review the curriculum.

The Victorian curriculum runs to 2804 pages, excluding the copious quantities of classroom resources. Add another 3000 pages of the National Curriculum and it’s a laborious, massive document. One primary school teacher I spoke to laughed at me when I asked her if she taught all of it in one year. She replied there was no chance of her teaching the entire curriculum in one school year as
it would take 18 months.

Victoria's results are flatlining — look at our PISA results over the past 15 years. Yet over that time the state education budget has doubled. One of the reasons for the decline in student outcomes is, as OECD education leader Andreas Schleicher observed, that Australia’s curriculum “is a mile wide and an inch deep. It’s very crowded, with a lot of content”.

A key recommendation of the 2014 National Curriculum Review was to reduce the crowded curriculum so teachers could focus on teaching essential knowledge.

The Liberal Nationals believe in getting back to the basics in a safe environment and preparing our kids for a journey of learning and the job opportunities that brings. We are committed to a Victorian society based on the values of equality of opportunity and reward for effort through an outstanding public education system.