opinion

OPINION: 'As a teacher, I'll tell you why the changes to our education system won't work.'

The Australian education system isn’t doing so well at the moment. Actually, it’s been broken for a while now. 

Our kids’ results across maths, literacy, and science have plummeted. Despite packed curricula loaded with high-stakes testing, basic skills are flatlining.

But now educational changes are finally set to happen in NSW. It may be one out of six states, but it’s a start, right? 

Last week, Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced a full reform of the state curriculum to be completed by 2024. The new curriculum will take us “back to basics” by culling subjects such as Coding 101, Puppetry, and Drone Essentials (yes, they’re a thing) and making sure kids can read and write proficiently instead. Year 12 exams are on the chopping block, and we’re even talking about scrapping conventional year levels so kids can learn at their own pace.

Back to basics always sounds good to the electorate. But as a teacher, I’m not holding my breath. We don’t need a "back to basics" approach in a world that is moving faster than any time in its past. We need strong foundations and students who have the capacity to learn and be agile with that learning.

After more than 15 years in schools, I’ve seen enough curriculum revolutions to be sceptical. There was a similar curriculum change that I drove students through in Scotland, which translated to less than excellent results across the country. In Australia we’ve had to sandwich social skills and robotics classes between core subjects already struggling for time. The end result is always the same: students lose out on learning in an educational experiment that’s quickly dropped come the next election cycle.

We can’t do this to our kids again. They deserve better.

If we’re going to fix our education system, we’ve got to understand that education is about more than just curriculum. 

It’s about learning. 

And that takes place a world away from educational fads, and political pencil-pushing.

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So instead of buzzword-laden press conferences and chunky documents no teacher has the time to read, parents, teachers, and students need the real questions answered. The ones that have to do with the difficult and messy business of learning instead of curriculum.

Here’s a few to start the conversation.

What does “learning at their own pace” mean for the sixteen-year-old boy who still reads at a Year 2 level? Does he keep grappling with phonics in a primary classroom and look on helplessly while his mates fill out uni applications? 

How do we prepare kids for “the jobs of the future” in the many Australian communities where even “jobs of the present” are impossible to find?

How will a “back to basics” approach serve kids who are graduating into a world that is more complex than ever before? 

And if we’re “getting back to basics”, who decides which courses make the cut? Underwater Basket Weaving might not have its place in the HSC, but will we be forced to throw out endangered subjects like Literature and Ancient History too?

They’re tough questions, but the ones we have to ask if we want this curriculum change to survive the transition from boardroom to classroom. Find the answers and we’ll be that much closer to giving our kids the education they deserve.

Do I believe it can be done? I may be sceptical but, like any veteran chalkie, I never give up hope either. Kids have taught me that great transformations come when you least expect them.

What do you think about the proposed changes to the NSW education system? Let us know in the comments below. 

Allan Dougan is the Global Head of Education at 3PLearning.com – the name behind online learning programs such as Mathletics, Readiwriter and Reading Eggs.

Feature Image: Getty.

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