It took all my strength, when reading Daniel Hurst’s article “New broom Pyne ready to reshape the curriculum,” appearing in this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald News Review, to not beat myself over my head repeatedly with my morning cup of green tea. Mr Pyne is ready to take on education in Australia, and woe-betide any authority, teacher, or student that gets in his way.
Of particular concern was Pyne’s intent to effect change, purely so everyone knew there had been a change of government; his misguided views on pedagogy; and apparent disregard for ACARA making any kind of decision regarding education.
After raising concerns about individuals in positions of power, with no background in education, making huge decisions about education in my article about firing teachers on the basis of NAPLAN results, my fears have yet again surfaced.
Like Klein, Chris Pyne is a law graduate and has worked as a solicitor. Pyne has served the coalition as a Parliamentary Secretary from 2003 to 2007, and was appointed Shadow Minister for Education, Apprenticeships and Training in 2008. Pyne has had a long time to consider what he wants to achieve as Minister, and is evidently keen to let everyone know “there is a new management in town.”
Pyne believes ”The Westminster system of government requires ministers to take a hands-on approach to matters within their portfolio.” Hands-on is one thing, but ignoring the expertise of others in order to stamp one’s authority is irrational, egotistical, and potentially devastating.
Pyne has signalled he will take a “hands-on” approach to education, as he considers that the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authoriy (ACARA) are “not the final arbiter on everything that is good in education.”
Apparently, if you want the authority on education in Australia you go to the lawyers, not the teachers, because a law degree makes one better qualified to make significant decisions on education in Australia than an executive of experienced, well-qualified, educators.
This does not mean that I necessarily agree with every decision of ACARA: rather that I disagree more with the consistent arrogance of society in assuming that everyone knows better than teachers. Despite most members of Australian society having no background in education, formal qualifications or teaching experience, a ‘society is the expert’ attitude typifies education in Australia and general attitudes towards teaching.
Pyne believes that a ‘back to basics approach to education is what the country is looking for, what the parents feel comfortable about.’ There is so much inherantly flawed with this statement.
I’m sure that many parents feel comfortable with a ‘back to basics’ approach: back-to-basics is how they were taught. Individuals tend to be more comfortable with what is familiar. However, if we are satisified to stick with what is familiar, what is comfortable, what is easy, we will fail to meet our potential.
It is through trying new approaches, being open to creativity and innovation, that improvements are made. It is not enough to be satisfied with the status quo.
Pyne is opposed to child-centred instruction, typified by hands-on learning and engaging with material (often referred to as constructivism) and instead favours direct instruction. Direct instruction essentially views children as giant buckets, with teachers’ jobs being to impart as much information as possible to fill this bucket.
What Pyne apparently fails to recognise is the distinction between obtaining information and learning.
Constructivist (student-centred) approaches have been the predominant epistomology in mathematics education since the early 1990s. Constructivist approaches to learning emphasise the role of the individual student in making sense of information new information. Constructivism considers that learning is an active process, and that the transmission of facts does not constitute learning. The teacher is not considered to be the bearer of all knowledge: rather, they facilitate each students’ learning process.
The hallmark of quality learning is not the number of notes written on a white board (as Mr Pyne seems to believe): rather quality learning is evident through depth of understanding and engagement.
It is important to note that student-centred learning is not opposed to learning ‘the basics.’ There is no reason to believe that students that have experienced student-centred learning have somehow completed their schooling with a far insufficient knowledge bank.
Rather, student-centred learning actively encourages a far wider skill set than simply memorising facts. Current curriculum, including the Australian Curriculum, emphasise the importance of developing skills in problem-solving and communicating. Student-centered learning recognises the importance in fostering a classroom climate conducive to developing independent, self-regulated learners, where academic discourse is the norm.
In an age where a plethora of information is instantly accessible via our smart phones and tablets, there is an increased emphasis on skills required for learning and making sense of information: being able to memorise facts doesn’t cut it any more.
Information is important, yes, but learning is about more than information.
Mr Pyne, your archaic notions of what constitutes ‘good teaching’ will be at the expense of students acquiring skills necessary to be active, informed, capable members of the 21st century. Persisting with changes, simply for the sake of change because you want everyone to know there’s been a change in government will have devastating consequences for students in Australia.
I will leave the harangue of Pyne’s criticism’s of the Australian history curriculum to the history teachers.