Article October 17, 2014

Eduweek October 18

National school curriculum reviewed & the value of university prestige questioned

pen and paper

Curriculum reviewed

Last Sunday the bumper 288 page Review of the Australian Curriculum finally saw the light of day. Since appointing Conservative teacher-turned-commentator Dr Kevin Donnelly as one of the two lead reviewers, anticipation had been building of a report that would mark the first salvo of a ‘culture war’ in our classrooms. Evidently Donnelly’s long-standing penchant for airing rather controversial views on schooling and social matters was largely kept in check, with the first headline to herald the report declaring “Culture wars fizzle out.” Co-authored with Professor Kenneth Wiltshire, the well-received but sweeping report made 30 recommendations to improve the national curriculum. Among these the report advised:

  • A greater emphasis on British and Australian history and Judeo-Christian values, including associated texts and literary achievements
  • A clear, hard-copy ‘curriculum explainer’ for parents be developed
  • More use of phonics (a method of teaching reading) in the early years
  • A less cluttered primary school curriculum
  • Embedding the ‘cross-curriculum’ priorities of Indigenous & Torres Strait Islander culture, Asia and sustainability in particular curriculum areas where deemed relevant, instead of stipulating they be taught in each subject
  • A substantial revision of the role of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), described as a “kick in the teeth” to the government body

Much of the reporting that followed concentrated on key recommendations (the to and fro regarding the business and economics curriculum) or reactions from stakeholders. While most were broadly supportive, the Australian Education Union dismissed it as a distraction from school funding, ACT Education Minister Joy Burch questioned whether the curriculum should be modified so soon after being rolled out, and education academics writing at The Conversation took issue with many of the recommendations. The most controversy came the Thursday after the review was released, with one of the contracted curriculum experts being found to have made repeated derogatory comments about Indigenous Australians in a series of hacked private emails. Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne quickly moved to distance himself from the comments. He and his federal shadow counterpart had this to say on the curriculum review itself:

The key aspects of the curriculum review are that we need to declutter primary school, focus more on history, literacy, numeracy, science in the primary school years to give our students a very good grounding that perhaps we are trying to do too much breadth and not enough depth in primary school, that we need to engage parents more, so have a parent-friendly version of the curriculum so that they can keep up with what their children should be doing, and that rather than trying to fit the content into the three themes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, Australia's place in Asia and sustainability, in fact the themes should fit the content.
Christopher Pyne MP
Education Minister, Liberal Party of Australia / Source
I think that we saw some ludicrous statements early on about this review. And we heard some really extreme statements from one of the authors of this review. But it seems that they've been pulled back into line across the way. We know that there have been experts on board and that a huge number of people with a genuine concern for the well-being of our schools and our students have contributed to this process. So we take that in good faith. We want to act constructively with the Government and we are absolutely the party that is interested in reforming our schools and making sure that our students have every chance to succeed on an international level.
Kate Ellis MP
Shadow Education Minister, Australian Labor Party / Source

For further details, you can catch an ABC Lateline interview with Minister Pyne here and a 7:30 Report interview with two school principals here.

Does prestige pay? 

New research from The Grattan Institute shows that the wage premium commanded by university students is largely dependent upon course of study, not place of study. The Mapping Australian Higher Education report found that graduates of Group of Eight or ‘sandstone’ universities did not earn a higher wage over their lifetime than graduates from technical universities (i.e. Queensland University of Technology), but both out-earn graduates from other universities by about 6% over a 40 year career. As report co-author Andrew Norton points out, this has big implications for university fees in a deregulated landscape, where we might expect institutions with more prestigious reputations to charge significantly more. Potential students will have to do their homework on fees and post-graduation outcomes, and not naively assume there will be a financial return to studying at more expensive universities. As to what’s studied, this chart of lifetime incomes by degree type shows how variable the financial returns to university education can be:

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As it happened:

Monday
Education review: overhaul of ‘bloated’ national curriculum widely supported (Sydney Morning Herald)
Tuesday
ACT Education Minister: simplified national curriculum ‘too fast’ (Canberra Times)
Wednesday
Tony Abbott spreads $12m in schools (The Australian)
Thursday
Business course ‘meant for basics’, says Alex Millmow (Sydney Morning Herald)
Friday  
Curriculum review expert investigated over racially derogatory emails  (The Guardian)

Recent research & reports:

Mapping Australian higher education, 2014-15 (The Grattan Institute)
Review of the Australian Curriculum (Dr Kevin Donnelley & Professor Kenneth Wiltshire)
Readiness to meet demand for skills: a study of five growth industries (Francesca Beddie, Mette Creaser, Jo Hargreaves, Adrian Ong | National Centre for Vocational Education Research)
Expenditure on education and training in Australia: analysis and background paper (Mitchell Institute for Health and Education Policy)