Thursday, February 07, 2008

Curriculum Controversy

Conservatives always look to a past golden era for answers.

The latest NZ Listener believes our students ‘deserve better’ than ‘a reliance on woolly ideas’ that they seem to believe underpins ‘new’ New Zealand Curriculum. One of their main points is that accountancy seems to have been dropped!

While I agree with the editor, that change itself is nothing new, the pace of change has increased the past decades as a result of the power of modern communication technology. The Listener seems to believe that past approaches to education provided a ‘sound broad education’ and that the answer lies in the imposition of a ‘consistent’ detailed centralized curriculum.

The trouble is the disaffected and alienated youth we worry about today have never gained much from traditional schooling and, in earlier days, left to get a job as soon as they could. If such students are to able to make a full contribution to our society, becoming ‘self managing’ (which the Listener sees as a ‘woolly idea’) then our schools need to develop innovative relevant curriculums to engage such learners.

The Listener, it seems, has done little in depth research on modern educational trends and relies on conservative secondary ‘headmasters’ who worry that the ‘new’ (and the previous) curriculum focuses to much on the assumption that process, or ‘learning how to learn’, is more important than knowledge.

This of course depends on how knowledge is defined. Traditionally it has been seen ‘stuff’ to learn for an exam; all too often soon to be forgotten. Today modern thinkers see knowledge as something students ‘create’ through their own actions and, in the process, remember

The conservative Education Forum, of whom the traditional ‘headmasters’ quoted belong to , provides another commentator, an Australian, who is pushing for tightly controlled state education guidelines as seen in Singapore and Korea.

It is agreed by all that the previous New Zealand Curriculum was a disaster, the brainchild of technocratic thinkers who wanted to control what schools throughout NZ were achieving. It was a NZ version of an accountability model that had been imposed throughout the Western World to provide information to allow parent choice. It was premised on defined outcomes, prescribed levels, and an impossible list of learning objectives. A supporter of the ‘new’ curriculum Lester Flockton comments, it was a ‘mile wide and an inch deep’

Progressive educators are pleased to see it go. It made assessing and recording of achieved content an exhausting task leaving little time for teacher or student creativity.

The suggestion of the ‘new ‘curriculum to ‘do less’ to greater ‘depth’ proves the inspiration to ensure students learn both ‘process’ and meaningful content. Surely this is preferable to ‘plodding’ through an imposed traditional curriculum as the Australian ’expert’ would have us do. Ironically his Asian models are now looking to develop a more creative education system. Content is not lost in the ‘new’ curriculum as it outlines a core of learning that needs to be covered, emphasizing literacy and numeracy in the primary schools.

In a modern democracy schools need to ‘personalize’ learning experiences to suit the needs and talents of all their students. The paternalistic critics, who still believe in the transmission ‘mass production approach’ to learning find it hard to believe that students can create their own knowledge and happily ignore all that has been learnt about how the human brain is innately programmed to make sense of experience.

The quoted critics seem worried that the ‘periodic table’, ‘Shakespeare’ and Pythagoras theorem will no longer be taught. Not withstanding their secondary academic bias there is no reason why teams of creative teachers cannot devise exiting contexts that cover such areas of learning in realistic ways. Lester Flockton gives an example in the article of ecological understanding that resulted from an intensive estuary study. The article writer herself mentions an exciting learning experience of her own based on a creative teachers production of a Shakespearean play.

The ‘new ‘ curriculum provides an opportunity for creative teachers, who in the past have either been overwhelmed by the previous ‘crowded’ curriculum, or locked into their curriculum straitjackets and timetables, to be innovative.

While the quoted critics see the ‘new’ curriculum as a ‘continuation of the previous curriculum’ more future orientated educators see as it as an opportunity for a new creative era of personalized learning to evolve; one that accommodates all students, something traditional academic education has failed to do.

The design of challenging curriculum contexts that allows students to develop and contribute their individual talents, developing in the process, not only important knowledge, but the ‘competencies’ required in a modern economy.

These ideas seem beyond the critics (who seem to be hankering for some past golden age) and the writer of the article.

Lester Flockton is right to hope that the ‘new’ curriculum, ‘will free teachers to find greater depth and satisfaction’.

Teachers will have to develop their ‘pedagogy’ if they are to achieve the ambitious vision of the ‘new’ curriculum. Creative teachers, rather than imposed curriculums, are the key to the future – particularly if we are to tap the talents of all students and not just the academic few as at present.

The ‘Curriculum Stock-take’ described several factors that influence students learning including the home environment, the capacities of the students and the quality of the teaching. The latter is within the scope of the school to develop.

Trevor McIntire, a secondary principal, proves hope that not all secondary ‘headmasters’ are nostalgic for a lost past. He supports the ‘new’ curriculum and, ‘believes good education is about good relationships…Thank goodness in New Zealand we still have predominantly passionate, enthusiastic’ teachers’

The ‘new’ curriculum provides the opportunity for school to develop students who will be able to thrive in what will be an exciting and challenging future; students able to make a full contribution to our society.

My mark for the article 4/10: ‘Could do better, very poor research. Secondary biased. Next time focus on schools achieving with students who in the past have been failed by their dysfunctional industrial aged schools. Forget the ‘headmasters’ and Australian critics


Anonymous said...

While I agree with you in principle about the NZC it does look like a committee wrote it! The snappy fold out curriculum outcomes are a little vague and 'woolly'? I give it 6 out of 10! It still looks like a draft

Bruce said...

The NZC is, as one principal says, 'a game of two halves'. The first half is, more or less, OK but the second half is a bit 'gobblygook'. In my opinion the NZF could have been a bit more specific about core knowledge required at the end of the four developmental stages - early childhood, the primary years, the end of middle school and by year 10. After year 10 schools need greater diversity to give students either academic or vocational choices. The 'second half' is very repetitive across the so called 'levels'.

But , not withstanding, the 'new' NZC gives schools both direction and freedom.

Traditional secondary schools are resistant to any change anyway - as represented by the 'headmasters' in the Listener article.