There has been so much talk of late about the ideals of 21st Century environmental structures for schools to aid in the improvement of student development, that I think the discussion around the learning curriculum itself, is either not-exisent or coming about tragically slow.
There has been a push in Australia, from the Australian Commonwealth Government, for performance pay for teachers. Personally, I was saddened to see that Australia has gone down this path. Though I am not adverse to the world of business offering performance pay for their employees (other than the ridiculous bonus wages given to CEOs), I must confess that the innovation that these companies can both afford and expect, is culturally not something that the education community world-wide really has wanted to promote in the past.
Just as it seems that education in Australia is pushing forward with structural improvement, BANG!, you’ve got another nail in the coffin which hampers the premise of innovation in practice. It feels like performance pay brings about a focus on curriculum that rewards knowledge acquisition and the retainment of this knowledge (see Performance Overview Independent Education Union June 2011). The government wants to promote ongoing teacher appraisals, teacher reflection, quality teacher professional development and ultimately better practice, which I am all for. However, they are going about it the wrong way, mainly because the merit pay for teachers is subjective to the results of the students in standardised tests. It makes you wonder about authentic curriculum and the learner attributes we want to promote through curriculum. Give me a student any day that knows how to go about finding information, rather than a student who can just remember and regurgitate it.
After teaching with the International Baccalaureate Primary Year Program (PYP) Curriculum, I think Australia has a lot to learn about curriculum innovation. I’m not saying that there is nothing wrong with the PYP. However, it is an attractive curriculum from; a parent, student, educator, administrator, business and stakeholder view point.
With the process well underway for a National Curriculum that centres on standardisation and continuity of learning across all states; ensuring access to resources and data, I think we need to broaden our understanding of curriculum as a single entity and see it in a multidimensional way such as:
1. Form – what do we want students to know about themselves and about the world they live in and what do they already know?
2. Function – what learning opportunities are being created by the delivery of the curriculum?
3. Understanding – how are learners situating their experiences and connecting the dots?
4. Hidden – what are students unintentionally learning about the world through culture, custom and the media?
It is interesting to note that the underpinning Key Concepts of the PYP Curriculum itself does focus on the above attributes.
I believe that if we are to innovate on our curriculum we must drive student learning from the attributes of a effective life-long learner. We also need to examine the Values and Attitudes (particularly from a Catholic perspective – the Beatitudes) to the re-imagining of the skill set of the 21st Century Learner. I believe that this is extremely achievable and is something I am trying to work towards at my current post in Germany. It will be these attributes that will become the driving forces behind our new curriculum/s, particulary for our Pre/Elementary/Primary Schools. The knowledge, as important as it is, should really be the bi-product, not the focus. Below is an image from the International Baccalaureate’s Primary Years Program Learner Profile. Food for thought….
In conclusion, I am not an advocator of chucking out the whole entire curriculum structures we have in place. I am a very big fan of protecting both a daily uninterrupted Literacy and Numeracy Block, but we really do have both the ability and the scope to move away from a curriculum based solely on knowledge acquisition. As Alex White writes in his blog that;
The ACER report (states): ‘incentives in themselves did not necessarily improve what teachers knew and could do, or lead them to teach more effectively.
I believe that improved student learning outcomes are more likely to result from skill and attitudinal based approaches to our curriculum.