06 March 2007

More on dumbing down curriculum

In today's Australian John Hirst has a good opinion piece "A chance to instil a sense of civic duty". He laments that subjects such as history, which the Prime Minister and his various Education Ministers have insisted be given more prominence in secondary school education, effectively cut out at the end of year 10:

Last year's history summit was invited to say what students should know of Australian history by the end of Year 10. Compulsory education ends at Year10, so education policy-makers think that if there is a subject that all students should know, then it has to be offered in that year or before. But the proportion of students who go on to Year 12 has risen rapidly and these last two years of schooling immediately precede the assumption of the right to vote. No one has been considering how schooling should be used to help in the transition to this adult responsibility.

I estimate that 80 per cent of children in the last years of school study nothing that links them to their country: no Australian history, no Australian literature, no Australian art, no Australian politics, no Australian geography. An overseas visitor to most of our years 11 and 12 classrooms would not know they were in Australia.

In these years students are left free to choose their subjects except for the compulsion to study English language. Some need to take certain subjects in preparation for tertiary studies. But many choose their subjects not because they relate to the course they want to take at university but because they hope to get a high score in the subject and so improve the chances of getting into the university course they want. So a would-be student of law may take physics or psychology instead of history or politics.

In these vital years we have abdicated the responsibility to prepare students to be citizens of this country.

Of course this point has been made many times before. It's also easy to identify the problem than to enunciate a solution. Mr Howard and Ms Bishop seem to have a view of history where certain facts, opinions and dates are set in stone: these are relatively easy to put across to year 10 students and to assess. As a longstanding professional historian of good repute Hirst is to a degree protecting his own patch by asking for more higher level teaching of humanities subjects, but he has a good point. Whether he can persuade other influential people to support him on this will be interesting to see, but I'd like to see it happen, ideally as a result of frank and open debate rather than resorting to the likes of Brian Burke.


Miss Eagle said...

Two things occurred to me when I read the list of subjects. The first is that perhaps one skill that is or can be taught in each of these subjects is analysis. Analytical skills should be valued - and analytical skills in these subjects will require a different approach from that required in maths and physics. So, at Yrs 11 and 12, the how could be as important as what. Don't expect that this would satisfy the idealogues such as Howard and Bishop, though. The second thing is that Australians have a reputation for quick take up of new technology such as mobile phones and colour TV. However, this take up rate has not transferred across to blogging. Why? Don't Australians like to think? Do they not have the skills or confidence to express themselves in a literate (or even semi-literate) way? As for voting at 18, Miss Eagle believes the voting age should be lowered to 16.

Shortshadow said...

Despite the jokes some people make about bloggers (eg people with nothing to say writing for people with nothing to do) any quarter decent blogging does require both a reasonable degree of literacy and something which the blogger feels is worth saying (even if nobody else does). It also requires more time than sending SMS messages or talking on a mobile.