Education policy rolls dice

Fiona Mueller

27 February 2020 | IDEAS@THECENTRE

“Both today and 20 years from now, I want Australians to be in control of their future.” At the very least,  Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s vision for the nation is ambitious.

Two decades from now, the children starting school this year will be 25, and their future is massively dependent on how well they are educated.  But the vision for education looks scarily like a roll of the dice.

The next 10 years will be guided by the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration, the fourth in a series of road maps signed off by the Federal Education Minister and all states and territories.

Some people will be happy with the Declaration’s recycled, globalist language and experimental proposals for improving student performance.

But statements like: “As the importance of a high quality education grows, so does the complexity of being an educator” offer little evidence of building on solid foundations.

Have quality and complexity only recently become the main game?

As Australian curriculum, assessment, teaching and other standards go steadily downhill, school education is now a $60 billion a year bet that pays off only for some.

Australian policymakers are embracing a 21st century learning agenda that paints the future as volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA).

This VUCA world was part of the response by the US Army War College to the fall of the former Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The futurists love it, and various interpretations have been adopted enthusiastically by educators as they try to anticipate the needs of the children of the new millennium.

But it’s a dark and pessimistic outlook — fixated on jobs lost to artificial intelligence and other technological trends — and it permeates the work of organisations such as the OECD, whose Future of Education and Skills 2030 Project is influential.

What’s emerging is intellectually and pedagogically shallow, a wholesale shift towards a curriculum focusing on skills that — as per the Alice Springs document —  “support imagination, discovery, innovation, empathy and developing creative solutions to complex problems”… these allegedly being “central to contributing to Australia’s knowledge based economy.”

The vision does at least include the occasional reference to “development of deep knowledge within a discipline … appropriate to students’ phases of development.”

The visionaries cannot have it both ways. A sovereign nation must have an effective, efficient educational agenda.

It is time for our leaders to ensure that all Australian students will benefit from a sophisticated, rigorous education delivered by highly-trained subject experts.  That is what being in control looks like.

 

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