06 October 2006

Wrestling with ideologues

The front page of today's Australian features two articles which comment on the current state of Australian education and training. The lead story headline boldly asserts "Canberra to seize syllabus", while another headline "Skills crisis paves path to payday for Aaron,16" accompanied by a photo which makes the secondary story seem more important than the headline .

The first story quotes Education Minister Bishop:

"We need to take school curriculum out of the hands of the ideologues in the state and territory education bureaucracies and give it to a national board of studies, comprising the sensible centre of educators."

It? Is there really a single overarching curriculum, or is she really thinking of curricula for various subject areas? And who are the "sensible centre of educators" she has in mind? Her attempts to draw a comparison between the state education bureaucrats and Chairman Mao are grossly overstated and will deflect public attention away from the merits of some of her points. I can see the appeal of greater consistency across the board in many subject areas, but would be wary of a centrally imposed curriculum in subjects such as history and geography which
would inevitably tend to reflect the views of the Eastern states.

Aaron's story makes the Minister's concern about ideologues seem pointless, as the young man has turned his back on the school system and followed the lure of good money. The Prime Minister has endorsed this:
"Not everybody is suitable for a university education and we have to get back to the time when a prized and valued technical qualification was as important to somebody's future as a university degree".

Did this time that "we have to get back to" ever exist? I doubt it. The PM and his acolytes, notably Ministers Bishop and Nelson, have had a lot to say recently about ideologues and school curricula. Aaron has already bought a car and is saving for a mortgage: he admits he was not a great student, but at 16 he seems to be wedded to many of the values which the government (and the opposition for that matter) espouse.

Minister Bishop made her provocative remarks at a History Teachers' conference. Matt Price was also there: his views are much closer to the "sensible centre" of opinion than the Minister's.

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