School News & Blog

March 26, 2014

The Balance Between Curriculum Workload and Making Schools a Fun Place to Be

Last week I visited the University of Southern Queensland at the invitation of the Vice Chancellor, Professor Jan Thomas, to meet and hear Robert Randall, the CEO of ACARA — the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority — the body charged with delivering the Australian Curriculum and NAPLAN.

It was a valuable opportunity to gain insight into the thinking behind both these projects — probably the most controversial and divisive educational initiatives, outside of Gonski, in a long time. Again, props to Professor Thomas for organising these events and exposing educationalists from the Darling Downs to these high level people who are directing the educational policy for the nation.

Robert was refreshingly candid and open. A Western Australian teacher by profession, he worked in curriculum planning in WA and NSW before joining ACARA in 2009 and taking over as CEO in 2012.

Two things from his presentation on the curriculum really struck me. Firstly, in coming up with the new curriculum he was personally driven by the question: “Are we doing the best by the students?” He felt that, given the rapidity of change in the world, the answer was no.

While I prefer to take a much broader view of how education takes place, it was still enlivening to hear this highly motivated teacher talk about his own young children and how he wants to create a better future for them.

My take on the curriculum is strongly influenced by the founder of The School of Total Education, Vijayadev Yogendra. Again and again in his training sessions with teachers, he stressed the need to make the curriculum work for them and not to be intimidated by it. Vijay challenged the teachers to distil the curriculum to its essentials. He said every subject could be reduced to two or three essentials. These could then be taught to the children in a simple way, rather than bamboozling them with too much information.

Once that was done, the teachers could get out and have fun with the children. He was all for making school an attractive, fun place where children loved to be. The preoccupation of teachers with forcing facts and figures onto children is very much a “more is less” approach.

This is probably the key problem with the Australian Curriculum, as illustrated in the submission this week from Dr David Robertson, CEO of Independent Schools Queensland. He claims that there is simply too much material expected to be covered in the primary curriculum.

As for Robert Randall’s other comment on the curriculum, and on his approach with NAPLAN, more on them later.