Page 4762 - Week 15 - Tuesday, 13 December 2005

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But when did education not get connected with ideology? I would like to know how you categorise the kinds of changes that Dr Nelson is trying to impose on state and territory education systems. He is calling for continual testing and he is calling for a very prescriptive kind of teaching of reading, for instance. He has not got onto maths yet. He has not got onto geography and the other topics. Given that reading is so important to children, his changes are really of concern.

I believe that one of the things that Dr Nelson is suggesting is that we test children from kindergarten, every few months, to see how their reading is going. If that had happened to my daughter, for instance, she would have been branded a failure from a very early time because, like many young children, she did not start reading until she went to school. I know that there are students who were reading before they went to school. My mother was one of those. I know that my other daughter could have been one if I had decided to hothouse her like that, but I did not. The federal government is trying to require the states, using the power that it has through funding, to set a benchmark and then to tell children whether they meet that benchmark. Most of our children need successes, not failures.

This topic of education is one that we can all talk about, whether or not we know anything about it. Just the other day I heard someone bemoaning the fact that today’s teenagers know nothing of history. Which generation has not said that about teenagers? I used to teach politics to university students and I found that most students, even though they were doing politics, which would lead one to assume that they were a bit interested in the topic, did not know who was the Prime Minister before the one in the time that I was teaching them.

We are all going to moan forever that teenagers do not know a lot about history. I remember sitting through six years of history in high school. It was a compulsory subject then. Now, of course, history is not, because the curriculum requires so much that it is not possible to teach the depth of every topic that we would like our children to know about. Choosing curriculum is a really difficult thing to do. That is why it has to be based around ideological issues. By choosing one thing, other things are of necessity left out.

I was not interested in history, but I was passionate about geography. I was not that interested in maths, but I was very interested in English. When I went to university, I was free to choose to follow the subjects I liked. That is how it was for students in my generation. Now, students are getting a bit of a choice earlier. They certainly get it when they go to college, and they get it to some extent within their English and SOSE courses in high schools now.

That is necessary because, unless students are engaged with their learning, they are not going to learn. There is so much in the curriculum that has to be chosen about. I assume that Mrs Dunne, who brought up this topic, will read the things that I am saying later, although I feel that, having introduced the debate, she is not really interested in other people’s responses to it.

Students learn when they are engaged and anyone who has been in a high school as a teacher or had other close contact with one know that a very large problem today is keeping students, who have so many stimuluses from so many places, engaged so that

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