The final report of the Australian Curriculum Review conducted by Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire has recently been handed to Minister Pyne, according to leaks reported in the media. Apparently “vague” and “broad” “postmodern themes” will be swept aside in favour of a greater focus on basic literacy and numeracy.
Basic literacy and numeracy are important of course. They underpin the curriculum. The argument goes that if our young people don’t have basic literacy and numeracy skills, it’s hardly worth trying to teach them more sophisticated skills. But for a country such as Australia to treat basic literacy and numeracy as an end point rather than as the starting point they should be, is to promote a very impoverished vision of education.
To go further and relegate creativity, ethical understanding and intercultural awareness to the category of “broad postmodern themes” dismisses the foundations we need to succeed as a nation. Let’s break it down.
Creativity is the basis of innovation. If we’re intent on even half-heartedly delivering on our claim to be the ‘clever country’, we won’t get there on basic literacy and numeracy alone. Far from being a vague postmodern theme, creative thinking is essential for the creation of knowledge across every field of human endeavour, from science to history to mathematics to the arts.
Ethical understanding is, as a friend and colleague reminded me on social media recently, hardly an invention of the postmodern age. To suggest that ethics is somehow marginal while at the same time advocating a return to the values of the past is hypocritical.
And then there’s intercultural awareness. It’s hard to imagine an educated, tuned in Australian who wouldn’t recognise the growing importance of intercultural understanding, defined within the Australian Curriculum as learning to “value their own cultures, languages and beliefs and those of others”, in the 21st century.
One need look no further than a recent front page headline in The Australian declaring that “We’ll fight Islam 100 years” to see how desperately wrong we can get it and why we need more, not less, intercultural awareness if our communities, from local to global, are to flourish in the 21st century.
Of course, until the report is made public, all we have is the mainstream media’s particular take on what it contains. We may find that the report has been grossly misrepresented. It’s worth noting, however, that Donnelly has in the past decried many things he disagrees with as “postmodern”, and so such a finding within the review would not seem out of place.
Donnelly has tarred formative assessment, outcomes based education, contemporary expressions of civics and citizenship education and of course critical literacy with the ‘postmodern’ brush in his writings over the years.
It seems like common sense to say that our kids need basic literacy and numeracy. But the fact is, our kids need much more than that if they’re to build successful lives in the messy, complex, sometimes bewildering world of the 21st century. We should wish for them much, much more than basic literacy and numeracy skills.
Read the mainstream media leaks on the report HERE