Education Minister Alan Tudge says the board of the country’s schooling authority must substantially rewrite its draft national curriculum, warning he will not endorse the proposed document amid concern student outcomes would be harmed. Writing to the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s (ACARA) acting chairman Norm Hart, Mr Tudge criticised the proposal for supporting “ideology over evidence” and presenting an “overly negative view” of the nation in the study of history and civics. In the letter, Mr Tudge urged the board to seriously consider recent feedback from education experts, who have flagged concerns that the proposed changes amounted to a weakening of learning standards.

“Some of these groups, such as Australia’s peak mathematics association, believe that the current draft will take Australian kids backwards,” he wrote. “If the current draft is simply tweaked, it will not be supported. It needs fundamental changes.” The warning comes as the ACARA board meets to discuss feedback to the highly anticipated update of the Australian Curriculum, an important document laying out what students are expected to learn across the mandated subject areas of English, maths, science, the arts, humanities, health and physical education and languages. The curriculum also seeks to cover general capabilities, or skills, such as critical and creative thinking, as well as ensure young people develop an understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures.

Its release in April, however, sparked a torrent of criticism, including from high-profile historians, academics and reading specialists. Among the most scathing criticism was from the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute, whose membership spans leading universities, government agencies and industry, which called for any ongoing review of the maths curriculum to be halted pending further consultation. The institute was particularly critical of a proposed push towards having students learn maths by engaging in open-ended problem-solving activities, noting that “mastery of mathematical approaches is needed before student problem-solving can be effective”. Writer Tony Thomas says education in Australia has turned into a “propaganda exercise” to convert kids.

Under way for more than a year, ACARA’s curriculum review was launched in the wake of Australia’s declining performance on the world stage, which has shown that Australian students have gone backwards in reading, maths and science over the past 20 years. According to Mr Tudge, the curriculum should seek to be ambitious on students’ learning outcomes and should prioritise evidence-based practices, particularly in reading and maths. “To my great frustration, evidence-based practices have not been consistently embedded in the current draft,” he said. “There is still too much emphasis on whole-language learning of reading and insufficient emphasis on phonics. “30 years ago, determining the best way to teach reading may have been a legitimate debate, but it is not now. The evidence is crystal clear, that the teaching of phonics is vital.”

The minister also urged the ACARA board to re-examine the history and civics curriculum to ensure that it provided a balanced teaching of Australia’s liberal democracy that has made the nation attractive to millions of migrants. Mr Tudge said “it’s deeply depressing” that these sort of views “infect” our universities amid calls by an influential university academic to scrap the word ‘English’ from the national curriculum. The Courier Mail reports a senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne, Dr Melitta Hogarth called for the subject ‘English’ to be renamed because it “asserts” the “besieged sovereignty of the colonial state”. Mr Tudge said at the conference Dr Hogarth could’ve instead talked about a range of other issues such as “how we’re going to get these kids back up to speed from months of lost learning” or focused on “indigenous education”.

“But no, we have to put up with this sort of nonsense. It has to be rejected and it’s deeply depressing these sort of views infect our leading universities.” “Your draft diminishes Australia’s western, liberal, and democratic values,” Mr Tudge said. “The overarching impression from the curriculum is that the main feature of western civilisation is slavery, imperialism and colonisation. “Important historical events are removed or reframed, such as the emphasis on invasion theory over Australia Day. Even Anzac Day is presented as a contested idea, rather than the most sacred of all days where we honour the millions of men and women who have served in war, and the 100,000 who gave their lives for our freedom. “I believe that the best way to serve the interests of our young people is to seize every opportunity to lift educational standards,” he said. “The draft of the Australian Curriculum is such an opportunity.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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