Critiquing Curriculum Policy Reform in Finland and Australia: A non-affirmative, praxis-oriented approach to Education

Year: 2017

Author: Hardy, Ian, Uljens, Michael

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In this paper, we explore how the curricula in two national education systems - Finland and Australia - have sought to mediate between broader 'global' challenges, and local conditions. We argue curriculum-making is no longer limited simply to the individual nation-state, but to an increasing degree, reflects both national and transnational ('global') influences, even as it seeks to respond to more localized circumstances and conditions within individual nation-states. We explore whether current curricula reforms help to provide the conditions for learners to potentially transcend their current circumstances (understandings of self and the world), through the creation of a pedagogical space within which they are invited ('summonsed' in Fichte's term) to forms of self-activity that enable them to challenge social prejudices and individual lacunae, and problematic social practices more broadly. Drawing upon the German educationalist Dietrich Benner, and interpretations of his work, we argue these invitations need to be not simply 'affirmative' of current circumstances, but 'non-affirmative', insofar as a non-affirmative approach to teaching entails an openness to the aims of Education - a focus upon Education as dialogic practice within which students are invited to engage in actively critical reflection and understanding about how they might act and be in the world, both now and in the future. We also utilise Vivian Schmidt's notion of discursive institutionalism to help identify differences in policy and political cultures between the two settings that influence this capacity for non-affirmative action. We draw upon recent reforms to curriculum in two countries, Finland and Australia, and focus in particular upon the possibilities for a non-affirmative, praxis-oriented approach to education as evident in the way in which the curricula documents have been developed, and the content of these documents - particularly various cross-curricula skills and dispositions; in the Finnish context, these are described as 'transversal competences' and in the Australian context 'cross-curriculum priorities', and 'general capabilities'. We conclude that while approaches to curriculum development, and these foci, have the potential to cultivate more non-affirmative, praxis-oriented proclivities amongst students, these are challenged by both more neoliberal conditions and pressures, and a tendency towards 'closure' in the respective curricula in relation to individual and collective challenges that confront students as tomorrow's citizens.