SUNS 65 and 66: ‘CURRICULUM FOCUS LONG OVERDUE’ and ‘THANK YOU TEACH

SUNS 65 and 66 ‘CURRICULUM FOCUS LONG OVERDUE’ and ‘THANK YOU TEACHERS’

These columns were published in the Suns during October 2014. Please feel free to quote or use but in so doing please acknowledge the Suns Newspapers as publishers.
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SUN 65

CURRICULUM REFOCUS LONG OVERDUE

It seems that at long last the Australian Government is trying to get our educational house in order. The Wiltshire-Donnelly Review of the Australian Curriculum commissioned by Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne recommends a refocus on literacy and numeracy, particularly at the lower end of Primary School. A phonetic approach to language learning is part of the change. Phonetics used to be a key language learning approach until supplanted by other ideologies. Minister Pyne is aware of overseeing a system where States and Territories are over-stretched in terms of curriculum content. Whether States and Territories willingly accept review recommendations is another matter.

Problem is years old

It seems somewhat ironic that the issue of a burdensome and somewhat superfluous curriculum is being labelled a new issue. For many educators, realisation about curriculum irrelevancy is close to 20 years old. During the early 1990’s Mr Jim Spinks a prominent Tasmanian school principal and now senior consultant was extolling the need for curriculum balance. He told NT Principals this could only be achieved if we ‘dropped off’ as well as ‘adding on’ to school curriculum requirements.

We have failed to heed cautionary advice. Rather than carefully evaluating programs and projects raised for consideration, curriculum initiatives have been eagerly grasped with both hands and piled on top of an already burgeoning program. Schools and students have become the testing fields for myriads of ideas raised by theoreticians and academics. Many of these initiatives treat schools, teachers and students as little more than guinea pigs. While trial and experimentation is important, the equilibrium of existing programs should not be disrupted by the impact on schools of countless initiatives. This has happened in our schools time and time again.

Back to the past

An irony of the Wiltshire – Donnelly Review is its advocating a return to what used to be the primary focus of education decades ago. There was a time when curriculum, particularly the primary school curriculum was straightforward, uncluttered and focused on basics. Over time, programs have been distorted and timetables seriously disrupted by the adding on of everybody’s bright ideas. Curriculum has largely become fad-driven.

Everything for everybody

The primary school curriculum hurdy-gurdy has been added to and distorted by the expectation that the bringing up of children is a school responsibility. Increasingly, children enrolled in early years programs are just not ready for school. Many do not know how to dress, cannot look after their basic personal hygiene and have few social skills. Care of belongings is beyond them. Under-development of speaking and listening habits suggest minimal time has been spent by parents conversationally engaging with young family members on the home front. The development of manners, deportment and attitudes to life are also assumed to be part of the school’s educational brief.

When deficits in the development of social skills and self discipline are identified, the onus for rectification is directed at schools and rarely toward parents and primary caregivers.

Hopefully, the Wiltshire-Donnelly Review and recommendations will be applied to slimming primary curriculum, refocussing on basics and minimising extraneous demands placed on schools. If review advice is accepted and applied, school and teacher responsibilities will be meaningfully redefined.
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SUN 66

‘THANK YOU’ TEACHERS

This Friday, October 31 is being celebrated as World Teachers’ Day. Territory teachers will be recognised and thanked at functions in Darwin, Palmerston, Alice Springs and at regional centres around the NT. Individual schools and communities will also celebrate their teachers and school support staff.

Teachers and school staff members have enormous responsibilities. High-level expectations are held for them. Teachers are people responsible for a great deal that goes beyond academic teaching and learning. They are advisors, counsellors and friends, responsible for social, emotional and moral aspects of development in young people. They share a real partnership with parents and primary caregivers in the nurturing of this world’s most precious resource – our children.

Dispelling Myths

There are two perpetuating myths about teaching that need to be dispelled.

The first is that teachers work a six hour day five days a week for forty weeks each year. The amount of time teachers spend “on tasks” over and above that time means the public is only aware of the “tip of the iceberg”. There is much, much more to teaching than the “30 hours per week with 12 weeks holiday” theory.

Hours of planning and preparation go into teaching. Instruction is followed by assessment, upon which revision and extension programs are based. The system demands countless hours from teachers and support staff for the sake of bourgeoning administrative tasks. Teachers can be found at their schools early in the morning, late at night, on weekends and during holidays. Many take work home with them. What is seen of teachers’ work by the public at large is a small percentage of their total commitment.

The second myth is that teachers focus only on academics. (Indeed the recent Wiltshire-Donnelly Currriculum review suggests that is the way it should be.) Although the “3Rs” are very important there is a great deal more to the development of children than ‘Reading, Writing and Arithmetic’. They work to accommodate both system priorities and their concerns for the development of students in order to prepare them for entry into the world beyond school.

The aim of school educators is to work with parents to develop well rounded students with the confidence and skill necessary to master the challenges of preparing them today for the world of their future. They aim to offer children the chance to succeed and celebrate.

Recognising Northern Territory Teachers

The Northern Territory Government, the Department of Education, the Northern Territory Independent Schools Association’s and others will recognise teachers and school support workers for the contribution they make to our community. This once a year celebration recognises the effort, care and commitment teachers and staff bring to work every day.

This Friday will enable the NT community to pay tribute to teachers, support staff and others connected with education across the length and breadth of the Territory. This recognition is richly deserved.

There can be no greater or more significant work than what is done by staff in our schools. The destiny of our children and young people of today, the leaders of tomorrow’s world, is in their hands.

I hope our Territory as a whole takes time this week and indeed every week, to acknowledge and say “thank you” to our teachers and support staff members for the great job they do individually and collectively, in our schools. They are members of a critically important and indispensable profession.

Henry Gray

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