Oh, ho! You can almost smell the Culture Wars about to crack open, can’t you?
It seems to be the season for talking about education non-policy. We’ve discussed the arbitrariness of university funding. Elsewhere, people have been discussing Gonski and what Gonski means (it means more money). Now we’re discussing the curriculum.
What all the conversations have in common is a complete lack of vision for the bigger picture. Why do we fund universities? Why do we fund education? What do we want from the system?
I’m a big fan of split-stream education. Primary school exists to supplement the education a child receives at home, getting them up to speed. When it comes to secondary education, students and their families can decide between scholarship and apprenticeship. Scholarship paves the way to higher education; apprenticeship paves the way towards vocation.
But I can argue coherently for this because I know what I’d like the education system to achieve. I’m not interested in faux-equality where everybody is treated as badly as everybody else. I’m not interested in ensuring a certain proportion of the population has a degree in something or other.
Two things get in the way of a good education policy. The first is the States. They are horrible and should be abolished. Developing a coherent model of education for all Australians is impossible when you have the States blocking every good policy, forcing you to rely on the bribery provisions of section 96 of the Constitution. The second is the inability to see education beyond the current framework. We look at how schools currently operate and think: ‘What can we do within this space to solve some minor problem?’
Instead, we should be thinking big. Why have we turned the final years of high school into an extended university entrance exam? Why have we turned the first year of a Bachelors degree into ‘Make sure everybody knows all the same things’?
There is a desperate need for a National Curriculum, but it has to be secondary to a reform of how the education system works. It’s like trying to load a new operating system on to a Super Nintendo. Upgrade the hardware, then shape up the software.
That’s why we get these anemic debates about whether Indigenous culture and history is ‘over-represented’ in the National Curriculum. There’s no higher level principle or policy to guide the discussion. You spot a bit that you don’t like and whinge, Christopher Pyne style. Because there’s no higher level principle or policy to guide discussion, it is more difficult to shout Pyne down. Everybody has their own assumptions about what the National Curriculum is doing; Pyne clearly believes that the National Curriculum should replace the family as the source of information on cultural values and history.
As far as a solution to the ridiculous inconsistencies between jurisdictions is concerned, the National Curriculum is great and, frankly, not controversial. Only the doomsayers and halfwits who were frightened by the idea of the Federal Government taking a steering hand in the curriculum; State governments are a thousand times more inept and prone to quackery than the Federal government is. Taking it out of the hands of States is nothing but a good thing.
But as far as giving us some idea of the bigger vision of education in Australia, it fails miserably. Sure, it says ‘Asia’ enough to link to the ‘Australia in the Asian Century’ policy. Sure, it says ‘Indigenous’ frequently enough to make it seem inclusive. But it doesn’t have that grand scale of vision. ‘We have listed several hundred things all students should know, but we haven’t told you why they should know them.’
Oh, and they haven’t got around to telling us what curriculum options are available for gifted children. Never mind.