I am a futures educator. That means I am very interested in the ways that schools equip (or do not equip) students for unknown futures. We cannot assume that things will continue as they always have. As a futures educator, there are some basic themes which underpin all of the work I do with schools. The first theme is that there is more than one future which is possible at personal and collective levels. The second theme is that all of us are able to contribute to the shaping of those futures. Most importantly, though, is taking the time to consider what futures we are actually talking about, especially when planning curriculum within our schools.
For students, this engagement with futures thinking is a way in which they can make explicit connections between what they are learning and its relevance to what they may be doing in their future lives. International research clearly highlights this ‘futures thinking’ as a missing dimension in educational policy and curriculum work.
From a futures perspective the draft national curriculum is extremely worrying. This silo model of curriculum where singular subject offerings are made is reminiscent of something offered in the 1950s (for Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd’s futures). In the first offering of the national curriculum, four silos will be offered – English, Maths, Science, and History – and although within these silos there is some consultation, there has been little discussion about what has lead to this historic, traditional (possibly federalism enforcing) curriculum offering.
Given the impetus for an ‘Education Revolution’, it is astonishing that the government and its constituted curriculum body, the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), appear not to have taken the time to think about ways in which various aspects of education can be improved to then improve student outcomes (if, of course, education’s core business is indeed the students). In the draft national curriculum there is little evidence of transformation but instead rather excessive evidence of recycling curriculum developed for a previous generation’s futures. (Why are we still using curriculum models from the 1950s?) In contrast, the most recent initiatives of state and territory governments (since the last federal government’s attempts to also introduce a national curriculum) have demonstrated a level of educational transformation.
Without exception, all states and territories at the very minimum have sought to consider what are the ‘Essential Learnings’ for students in the compulsory years of schooling. Across the board, curriculum authorities identified those traditional subject areas such as numeracy and literacy, but they also identified the importance of interdisciplinary learning.
Interdisciplinary learning occurs through the craftsmanship of teachers who are able to make connections between different bodies of information and the ways in which these knowledges are able to be applied or identified within their students’ worlds. (Quite different to a silo approach.) This tiny step forward in educational reform is lost within the federal drive to colonise student learning. The money being thrown at the federal endeavour would have been welcomed in providing further professional learning for teachers, and in enabling state and territory curriculum authorities to undertake new transformations of their latest initiatives as opposed to them becoming redundant.
So, what IS the agenda here?
The rhetoric of Julia Gillard has been about the rapidly changing world and Kevin Rudd’s election platforms promised that Australian students would be better able to participate within the global knowledge economy. Where then are these ideals identified within a vision statement for the national curriculum? And, more importantly, how are they articulated within the current draft curriculum statements available for consultation? For example, how will a six-year-old child learning about the days of celebration within Australia’s history assist that child to respond to this rapidly changing world? (In other publications I suggest that there are, in fact, many ways this knowledge would help a child, but I confess to being sceptical my thoughts are shared by the current curriculum writers.)
One curriculum will not produce a particular level of student outcome and one curriculum will do nothing to enable students to critically consider the ways in which they contemplate their futures. And, there is not one curriculum (especially this proposed curriculum) which will address the diverse and multicultural communities that Australia claims to nurture.
The draft national curriculum is indeed worrying. Beyond colonising students’ futures (by making assumptions and decisions which benefit government rather than students), it also attempts to colonise the ways in which students are able to be Australian learners across many settings (by casting a curriculum net and suggesting it suits everyone, and is convenient). As it stands, I think the national curriculum might yet demand another national apology for the untold damage it does to diversity in Australia.
Dr Debra Bateman is a lecturer in the School of Education at Deakin University and an expert in futures education within school curriculum. She is one of the organisers of the My School? Whose School? What’s on the table for public education in Australia?
public forum being hosted by Deakin University’s School of Education
and Centre for Research in Educational Futures and Innovation
on 7 and 8 May.