The focus on generic skills in Australia‘s new national curriculum risks breeding a profession of general-capabilities educators rather than teachers of specialist subjects such as history, English or maths.
Former president of the national History Teachers Association Paul Kiem – who has written about school history in a collection of essays, Australian History Now, launched last night – said the message reaching teachers was confused over whether the priority was to teach general capabilities or to teach their subject.
The emphasis on generic or “21st-century” skills such as problem solving and critical thinking was resulting in a culture of compliance in schools, with teachers “ticking the box” on all the points included in the curriculum rather than teaching their subject.
“The purpose of the subject needs to come first,” Mr Kiem said.
“If the general capabilities are supposed to be what it’s all about, why did they build the national curriculum around subject-based disciplines? If it’s just about teaching thinking, teaching people to be good people, let’s do that and see where we are.”
The national curriculum includes seven general capabilities to be taught across all subjects, “essential skills for 21st-century learners in literacy, numeracy, information and communication technology, thinking, creativity, teamwork and communication”, as well as three cross-curriculum priorities: indigenous culture, Asia and sustainability.
As reported last week, one of the nation’s most senior education officials, Tom Alegounarias, has dismissed the view that schools no longer need to teach facts because students could Google them.
Mr Alegounarias, a member of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority board and president of the NSW Board of Studies, argued that generic skills could only be learned in the context of a field of knowledge.
Mr Kiem, a former high school history teacher who now advises schools on implementing the national curriculum, said Mr Alegounarias’s comments were encouraging and reinforced, at least in NSW, the primacy of teaching the subject and the discipline-based skills.
“If it’s announced by ministers and reinforced by education bureaucrats . . . that the general capabilities are the most important part of the curriculum, that’s suggesting then that the discipline-specific areas are not the most important,” he said.
Australian History Now is edited by award-winning historian Anna Clark, and University of Technology, Sydney history professor Paul Ashton and canvasses historians’ views on history in Australia and its place in public debate over the past 50 years.
In the book, Mr Kiem says history teachers were excited by the advent of a national curriculum for history, particularly with the subject being elevated to a core subject alongside English, maths and science.
Outside NSW, where history had long been taught as a distinct subject, teachers welcomed their subject’s separation from integrated social studies.Source: The Australian – Culture raises generalist teachers
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