Settling of critical/health literacy in the Australian HPE curriculum

Year: 2013

Author: Macdonald, Doune

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

While Goodson (1988) reminds us that the curriculum is contested, shifting, and political in its making, there have been aspects of the curriculum-making process in relation to the Australian Health and Physical Education (HPE) curriculum that have settled relatively easily. One of these is the inclusion of health literacy and with it, the elements of functional, interactive and critical health literacy (Nutbeam, 2000). This presentation will address two aspects of this settlement; (a) consider how the intellectual lineage health literacy gave it seemingly ready acceptance in the curriculum space and (b) how it is nested comfortably with other key elements of the curriculum that provide mutual reinforcement of its intent.
From 2011 - 2013, under the auspices of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and reporting Authority (ACARA), the HPE curriculum has moved through its phases of initial Advice Paper, Shaping Paper and Curriculum with national input and consultation occurring across each phase. The presenter was the Lead Writer for the Shaping Paper, a member of the national Advisory Panels, and participant in several national fora when the direction for HPE was being debated. In the Shaping Paper, five propositions for HPE were presented: Focus on educative outcomes of the learning area; Take a strengths-based approach; Value learning in, about and through movement; Develop health literacy; and Include a critical inquiry approach.
The proposition to "Develop health literacy" was informed by significant health authorities' reports (e.g. National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission, 2009) and medical and public health research (see Sawyer et al., Lancet, 2012). Nutbeam, as a respected member of the public health community, provided a model that can encompass varied aspects of health literacy and possibly reflects both conventional and new public health. National feedback suggested ready acceptance of this proposition. The second dimension of its settlement is that the critical health literacy is augmented in its intent by the propositions to focus on educative/student learning (rather than public health) outcomes and the taking of a critical approach to content and pedagogy across the curriculum, the latter of which received mixed feedback. The interplay of these propositions is significant to qualifying how critical health literacy is taught and learned but also raises interesting questions around the intellectual communities that were identified with the different propositions. More simply, the word "critical" received varying levels of support depending upon the intellectual community with which it was identified.
It is concluded that the intellectual "sponsorship" associated with the propositions invited different patterns of their acceptance in the curriculum but that ultimately health literacy has settled comfortably.