The Australian Curriculum
The Australian curriculum began its public life on the 14th April, 2008, when then Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, announced that the federal government had a plan to develop and implement a national curriculum.
In a country where national curriculum ideas have been floated before and failed, and the states and territories have thus far been responsible for their own curriculums, it was and is a lofty goal to achieve. So far, the development of the Australian curriculum has been fast, but focused and detailed.
The Australian curriculum in its first phase is structured by separating into each learning area. For the first phase of implementation, these learning areas, or core subjects, are English, Mathematics, Science and History. The second phase will contain the subjects of geography, arts and languages, and the third phase will contain “the rest of the curriculum” (ACARA, n.d.a).
Each learning area contains content descriptions and achievement standards with work samples to show what the achievement standard should be for each year level (ACARA, n.d.a). There will also be “annotated student work samples and advice on reporting frameworks” (ACARA, 2009b), which will give teachers a clear understanding of the levels of learning that each student must complete in order to achieve each grade (A-E).
The curriculum sets out the content and achievement standards along with other information which is intended to set the background in which subjects are to be taught. This information is presented under the following headings: “Rationale, Aims of the learning area, Organisation of the <learning area> curriculum, General capabilities and Cross curriculum dimensions” (ACARA, 2009, p 5).
In an effort to add more to the curriculum than the core subjects alone provide, the Australian curriculum acknowledges 10 general capabilities and three cross curriculum dimensions that “contribute to, and can be developed through, teaching in each learning area” (ACARA, n.d.b). These general capabilities and cross curriculum dimensions are intertwined throughout the curriculum in an effort to fully immerse each subject with them.
The general capabilities throughout the curriculum are literacy, numeracy, information communication technology, thinking skills, ethical behaviour, creativity, self-management, teamwork, inter-cultural understanding and social competence. Each of these capabilities is represented throughout the curriculum in a manner that is unequivocal as to how it should be addressed within that learning area and whether there are any links to other learning areas, leading to clarity for teachers.
The three cross curriculum dimensions are Indigenous history and culture, Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia, and Sustainability (ACARA, n.d.b). Again, each of these perspectives has been written into the curriculum in an unequivocal manner as to where they should be addressed and whether there are any links to other learning areas.
Curriculum can be viewed in a variety of ways, and thus in order to fully appreciate how ACARA views the concept of curriculum (given that it has not given a clear definition of its own), it is important to understand the varying ways in which curriculum can be defined.
Marsh (2010, p. 98) views curriculum as being “WHAT is taught in schools” and believes that most would ultimately view curriculum in this way. The Australian curriculum certainly fits this definition. ACARA consistently says that the Australian curriculum sets expectations for what students should be taught. This fulfils Marsh’s view that curriculum is what is being taught, or to put it another way, the subject matter to be taught.
He goes on to say that various curriculum will vary according to “different value orientations and perspectives” (Marsh, 2010, p.98). By setting the three Cross curriculum perspectives (Indigenous perspectives, sustainability and Australia’s relationship with Asia), the Australian curriculum has certainly put forth what it sees as being the three most important values of the Australian education system.
The Australian curriculum also seems to lend itself to another definition. Goodson (1995, p. 17) says of curriculum that it is “in a real sense irrelevant to practice: that the dichotomy between espoused curriculum as written and the active curriculum as lived and experienced is complete and inevitable.” In other words, curriculum is two separate entities – the written and the lived. The framers of the Australian curriculum seemed to have this in mind.
ACARA (2009a, p. 7) acknowledges that the curriculum should not dictate to teachers how to teach and that general consensus indicates that teachers should be allowed flexibility in lesson planning so that they can decide how best to teach their students, thus allowing for individual student needs. They have recognized that curriculum is both written and lived. Whether the lived curriculum will live up to these ideals will be discussed later.
Peter Hill, the first chief executive officer at ACARA, states that he would divide curriculum into four separate entities.
The core curriculum, comprising those general capabilities that all people need, use and develop throughout their life and the big issues of the day that all need to know about,
The formal curriculum, based on disciplinary rules, understandings and methods,
The chosen curriculum, that individual students and teachers create through the choices they make,
The meta curriculum, comprising those activities, events and traditions that all good schools arrange to promote personal development, character and a community of learners (Hill, 2010)
By Hill’s definitions the Australian curriculum comprises the core curriculum and the formal curriculum, but leaves to teachers, schools, parents and students to formulate their own chosen and meta curriculum.
After deciding what curriculum means, one must think of how a curriculum is written. There are quite a few models for curriculum writing, and the oldest and most commonly used types are the prescription models. Ralph Tyler is the writer of one of the most referred to prescription models known as Tyler’s Objectives Model.
Brady and Kennedy (2010) write that Tyler’s Objectives Model of Curriculum starts with the framers identifying the objectives they want students to accomplish. The second step is to select learning experiences and the third is to organise learning experiences. These two later steps involve deciding “how” to guide and teach students so that they accomplish the objectives. The fourth and last step is evaluation – determining whether the objectives have been achieved.
It is interesting to note that Brady and Kennedy (2010, p.122) write that Tyler does not “explicitly specify” what philosophy should be used when formulating objectives, nor when selecting the learning experiences or organizing the learning experiences. Indeed, they describe this as a weakness in Tyler’s Model (Brady and Kennedy, 2010, p. 124).
An alternate view considers that Tyler wanted to allow for flexibility and for the framers of a curriculum to decide for themselves where to draw their inspiration from and for teachers to decide how best to teach the curriculum. If this is in fact the case, then Tyler’s model could well have been one basis for the Australian curriculum.
Another model that needs to be mentioned is Walker’s Naturalistic Model. Walker stated that “a model of curriculum development frankly based on practice should illuminate novel facets of the curriculum development process, correct misconceptions about that process, and enable us to understand both the failures and the successes of the classical model” (Walker, 1971, p. 52).
Walker believed that there are three elements to curriculum: the platform, the deliberation associated with the whole, and the design of the curriculum itself.
The curriculum developer does not begin with a blank slate. He could not begin without some notion of what is possible and desirable educationally. The system of beliefs and values that the curriculum developer brings to his task and that guides the development of the curriculum is what I call the curriculum’s platform. The word “platform” is meant to suggest both a political platform and something to stand on. The platform includes an idea of what is and a vision of what ought to be, and these guide the curriculum developer in determining what he should do to realize his vision (Walker, 1971, p. 52).
The Australian curriculum began with the framers deciding what platform the curriculum should be launched from as per this first element that Walker speaks of. The first phase of the Australian curriculum development involved the curriculum shaping phase, which was broken down into three steps: the identification of key issues and development of position paper, the preparation of initial shape paper and the preparation and publication of Shape Paper (ACARA, 2009b, pp. 4-5).
These steps involved discussing key issues, debating issues, reviewing existing policy and practice, discussing ‘big ideas’ and deciding what it is that Australia wants its children to learn.
The second element that Walker speaks of is that of deliberation. ACARA has certainly allowed for plenty of that, from consultations with a full range of professionals, to allowing the general public to have their say via their website.
The last element is that of designing the final curriculum, a process that ACARA is still undertaking.
The final product that is the Australian curriculum may display all the attributes of Tyler’s Objectives Model, however the process of designing the curriculum is certainly more akin to Walker’s Naturalistic Model.
Being true to the platform of which Walker speaks, ACARA mentions many visions or goals throughout its Curriculum Design and The Shape of the Australian Curriculum publications. Many of these goals have been taken directly from, or inspired by, the Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, written by the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA).
The first main educational goal as defined by MCEETYA is that “Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence” (MCEETYA, 2008, p. 7). ACARA borrows from this by talking about creating a world class curriculum for Australian students.
The second main educational goal as defined by both MCEETYA and ACARA is that the “curriculum will be designed to develop successful learners, confident and creative individuals and active and informed citizens” (ACARA, 2009a, p. 4).
Another goal that ACARA sets forth is that of inclusion. They do not accept that a different curriculum for disadvantaged students is beneficial to those students, but rather that there should be one curriculum for all and that with different levels of support, all students can achieve the high level of expectations as set out by the Australian curriculum (ACARA, 2009b, pp. 6-8).
Once goals had been formulated and ACARA had a vision of where they wanted the curriculum to go, they had to organise the curriculum. When deciding on how best to organise the curriculum, ACARA has looked to the developmental stages of children and written the curriculum to focus on four overlapping age bands. These are 5 – 8 years of age (Years K – 2), 8 – 12 years of age (Years 3 – 6/7), 12 – 15 years of age (Years 7/8 – 10), and 16 – 18 years of age (Years 11 and 12). This is indicative that when framing the curriculum they have allowed for the theory of Cognitive Development.
Cognitive Development is based on the idea that learning develops in stages. Curriculum documents have used this theory by allowing for students to gain certain basic knowledge before then expanding on that into more complex knowledge at a later date. Most curriculums tend to bow to this theory and base their curriculums on the ages of students, rather than other methods, such as basing curriculums around the intelligence type of the student (Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences).
The curriculum also takes into account Taxonomies of Objectives, which states that each person goes through a series of steps as they acquire new information, or learn new skills, or are aware of new ideas and philosophies etc. “These taxonomies help curriculum planners “target” the meaning of experiences and the measuring of educational outcomes” (Wiles, 2005, p44).
The Australian curriculum may value many process of teaching, learning and assessment. ACARA (2009a) states that one of the main ways in which it values teaching and learning processes is that it allows for teachers to determine their own approach to the curriculum and allows them flexibility to accommodate students who may have different learning needs or who are at a different level of development to that of their peers. Despite this declaration by ACARA, the NSW Board of Studies (2010, p. 24) disagrees, stating that “the mandating of content focusing on Asia restricts the capacity for teacher to reflect the needs and interests evident in local contexts”.
The Queensland Studies Authority (QSA) (2010, p. 4) also feels that there is a discrepancy between the ideals of the Australian curriculum and the actual curriculum. In particular they are concerned about time constraints given the “crowding of the curriculum” not allowing the flexibility that teachers require. They have also stated that they feel there is a lack of acknowledgment for English as a Second Language (ESL) students, students with disabilities, students with learning difficulties and students with special needs.
While ACARA may have the best of ideals, it is clearly yet to be seen whether these, combined with the actual Australian curriculum, can be achieved once the curriculum has been fully implemented.
Another ideal that the Australian curriculum speaks to is that of being a 21st Century curriculum for 21st Century learners. Hill (2010) describes the Australian curriculum as being relevant to 21st Century learners in four areas. The first of these four areas speaks to the development process of the curriculum.
The Australian Government has, on many occasions, attempted to nationalize the curriculum (Brady and Kennedy, 2010). The Australian curriculum is the latest attempt and according to Hill (2010) has been given the structures and resources in order to succeed. Professionals from all areas of education have been consulted, and there has also been an online consultation process so that teachers, parents, students and the community can provide their own input.
The second area that Hill (2010) mentions is the “way in which the Australian curriculum is being conceptualized and structured”. It is detailed in the knowledge that it expects students to attain, and has included general capabilities and cross-curriculum dimensions that are relevant to today’s world.
The third area is the way in which teachers and others are able to access the Australian curriculum. Being an online curriculum, it will be easily updated and accessed, giving teachers up-to-date information at their fingertips.
The fourth and last area is the way that schools and teachers will be supported as they implement the curriculum. A new organisation, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) will foster professional development for teachers and schools as well as set out the National Professional Standards for Teachers which will place teachers into one of four categories depending on skills and experience. This will help guide teachers in their professional development.
Australia faces some interesting challenges in the 21st Century. Global climate change and energy concerns, natural disasters, changing attitudes towards Indigenous Australians, a changing relationship within the Asia region, changing health care, increasing mental illness and increasing poverty as the world population soars are but a few of the things that we need to prepare our children for as they become our future. The Australian curriculum seeks to address some of these directly within its cross curriculum dimensions (Indigenous history and culture, Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia, and Sustainability), and others indirectly throughout the curriculum general capabilities (thinking skills, ethical behaviour, creativity, self-management, teamwork, inter-cultural understanding and social competence) by teaching children how to think independently, and equip them with “the knowledge, understanding and skills that will help them in their futures” (ACARA, 2009c).
Of course, as the curriculum has not yet been finalised, let alone implemented, there is still a long way to go before it is truly known whether the ideals of the written Australian curriculum can be achieved through the lived Australian curriculum. Certainly, it will take a combined effort from the framers, through to the teachers and students in order for it to accomplish that which it sets out to do. As a country, we can only hope that this certainly is the best way forward, and that our children flourish in our schools under its implementation.
ACARA: Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2009a). Curriculum design. Retrieved September 1, 2010, from http://www.acara.edu.au/verve/_resources/Curriculum_Design_Paper_.pdf
ACARA: Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2009b). Curriculum development process. Retrieved September 1, 2010, from http://www.acara.edu.au/verve/_resources/ACARA_Curriculum_Development_process_v3.0.pdf
ACARA: Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2010a). Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved September 25, 2010, from http://www.acara.edu.au/verve/_resources/General_Capabilities_and_Cross_Curriculum.pdf
ACARA: Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2010b). Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved September 1, 2010, from http://www.acara.edu.au/verve/_resources/AC_FAQs_Senior_Sec_v1_20100513_Implementation_FINAL.pdf
ACARA: Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority. (2009c). The shape of the Australian Curriculum. Retrieved September 1, 2010, from http://www.acara.edu.au/verve/_resources/Shape_of_the_Australian_Curriculum.pdf
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