Page 4750 - Week 15 - Tuesday, 13 December 2005

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To date, I must admit, our fears have rested on evidence that was more potential than actual; that is, on evidence such as Every chance to learn—curriculum for ACT schools P-10: principles and framework (phase 1). As you can tell from the title alone, Mr Speaker, this as a small masterpiece in education gobbledegook which, amongst other things, introduces us to the brave new world of essential learning achievements, as distinct from actually learning anything. So, for example, our children will be shown how to make plans and carry them out, create products using technology, understand change and manage self and relationships. If by some fluke they happen to learn how to read and write and gain a basic understandings of maths and science, or speak another language, that will not be held against them. But it will certainly be incidental to their training as proactive, sensitive and caring publishers of multimodal texts.

Indeed, in another of Ms Gallagher’s documents, Future directions in ACT curriculum renewal, we are told that the commonly used definition of “curriculum”—that is, a course of study, in particular the documents describing the course or courses—is a fairly restricted term and that many educationalists, although only one reference is given to support this, now use the term to cover pretty much anything that happens inside the school.

As I have said before, to describe something as “a solid-hoofed, plant-eating quadruped with a flowing mane and tail” may in some ways be considered fairly restrictive, but it is a reasonable definition of a horse and gives a reasonable idea of the creature we are actually talking about. But nothing so straightforward could pass muster in an essential learning achievement. In fact, these two documents alone provide absolutely incontrovertible evidence of the truth of the old saying, “If you can, you do; if you can’t, you teach, and those who can’t teach become educationalists.”

But, alarming as these documents are, they at least have the virtue of being more or less pure gibberish. It was not exactly clear what precise damage the minister was proposing to do. Now, however, we have acquired a clear idea, and it is not only alarming; it is positively deranged. I am referring to the document Teaching and learning in the middle years in the ACT which came out last week—a study which, we are told, is meant to support schools to meet the learning needs of adolescent students. Again, the title and the subtitle give the game away. “Learning needs”—I am surprised it is not “unmet learning needs”—is again the jargon that is used. Is “education” too simple a word to be used these days?

To give this publication justice and to point out the farrago of question-begging, spurious scholarship and rampant fallacies would take far longer than the 15 minutes that I have today, so I will concentrate only on the central themes, and more importantly the practical implications of what is being proposed. The subject of the study is sensible enough: the best way to teach young people between the ages of 11 and 15, the so-called middle years of schooling. Its overall structure is unremarkable: a literature review followed by a quantitative survey of existing practices and then a proposed framework for improvement.

But then we come to the content. It starts off with what is called a “conceptual framework”, which, in the manner of these things, comes across on page 3 as a fusion of bad geometry, the Da Vinci Code and Dante’s Inferno. There are all these concentric

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