Thursday, November 15, 2007
The New Zealand Curriculum - good news at last
I have just managed to get hold of a final copy of the New Zealand Curriculum.
I think most teachers will feel well pleased with it. Teachers ( well creative ones anyway) have always 'colonised' official curriculum's to suit their own hard earned beliefs. The day of 'experts' knowing best in any organisation s well past and, today, real change requires a creative mix of both 'top down' and 'bottom up' initiatives.
The key to the future is to establish conditions to release, and take advantage of, the creativity of all involved.To use two current 'buzz words': 'life long learners' working in 'learning organisations'. This, one would hope, would include schools. For schools to transform themselves however it will require new forms of leadership and a genuine respect for the ideas of their students.
A close read, for those who can be bothered, will show that there are a few subtle differences of emphasis in the 'new' curriculum. Naturally there is no attempt to 'own up' to the poor design of the previous curriculum with its endless strands levels,objectives and impossible accountability demands. I guess it is seen as 'organic' growth but of course it isn't. In many respects it is 'back to the future' for creative teachers who now will be able to breathe more easily.
Premised on the need to thrive in an unpredictable future the key to students success are the key competencies and the development of 'students who are creative, energetic and enterprising.' I particularly like the phrase that students are to be, 'active seekers, users and creators of knowledge. I also like a little more emphasis on issues of sustainability.
As for the key competences ( a phrase that still reminds me of a past mechanistic or technocratic era) there is an interesting rearrangement and an emphasis that they should 'not be seen as stand alone' and are both 'a means and an end' to learning. Thinking ( previously listed 5th) is now number one and includes my favourite phrase: students who 'actively seek, use, and create knowledge'. A constructivist philosophy underlines the curriculum.
The Learning Areas are also to be seen as both a means and an end and, 'while presented as distinct, this should not limit the ways in which schools structures the learning experiences offered to students'. Emphasizing connections between learning areas and integration is encouraged.
The biggest change from the past curriculum is reducing individual Learning Area books to an A3 pullout page for each level (included in the new document). I am sure this will be more than enough to ensure a core of learning requirements are achieved.
The effective pedagogy has been rearranged placing 'creating a supportive environment' first. As mentioned a constructivist philosophy underpins the this section if not mentioned directly. 'Personalised learning' ideas are also apparent but once again is nor mentioned directly.This is a surprise because it seemed to underpin the speeches of our previous minister and expresses the real difference between the future emphasis and the academic 'one size fits all' approach of the past.
An new inclusion in the NZC is a suggestion to do fewer things well - 'to cover less but cover it in greater depth'. This will be welcomed by those who have been overwhelmed by the need to cover all the previous unwieldy curriculum requirements. Those who have aways known that depth of understanding and pride of achievement can only come from such approach will feel rightly justified.
The new emphasis placed on inquiry learning will please those who believe that students awareness of the learning process is important. Not a lot is new in this section ( John Dewey wrote about this early last century) but it is most welcome.
All in all the NZC gives, 'schools the scope, flexibility, and authority they need to shape and design their curriculum so that teaching and learning is meaningful'. The change from 'delver' to 'design' is pertinent.
Schools now have a great opportunity to be creative and to make full use of the talents of both teachers and students.
If there is a challenge it is whether middle, and particularly secondary schools, can develop structures and meaningful learning contents for all students to be their own 'seekers, users, and creators of knowledge'. This is the area where exciting innovation needs to occur.
I fear a few 'mindsets' will need to change if the opportunities of the Curriculum is to be realised but, if we are to be successful as a 21stC country, we have no choice.