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View from here - A national curriculum? The novelty!

For the first time, Australia is introducing uniform teaching guidelines as part of a whole new approach to education, writes Geoff Maslen

For the first time, Australia is introducing uniform teaching guidelines as part of a whole new approach to education, writes Geoff Maslen

Australia's schools are facing the biggest change in their history. For more than 150 years, teaching guidelines have been set by each of the country's states and territories - but soon all 10,000 schools here will be required to adopt the same curriculum, which is expected to be fully in place by 2013. It will save the 80,000 or so students who move between states each year from the culture shock of coping with often radically different syllabuses.

It follows an historic agreement between the federal Labor government, which has argued the case for the same curriculum to be taught in all schools, and the states and territories that administer them.

The new curriculum was published last month to allow for three months' consultation by educationists, parent and teacher groups, and school communities. The Australian Education Union has said this is not long enough, and that there has been no sign yet of extra funding for the additional training teachers would require.

PM Kevin Rudd described the curriculum as a "back to basics" approach that will help restore grammar, history, literature and phonetics to the classroom.

The new curriculum's objective was "without apology, to get back to the absolute basics on spelling, on sounding out letters, on counting, on adding up, on taking away".

But Professor Barry McGaw, the government-appointed chair of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, which prepared the curriculum, disputed this claim, declaring that it wasn't "back to basics".

"I don't like back to basics because it implies you're only focusing on initial performance," Professor McGaw told reporters. "We need a curriculum that builds the basics but also extends students - hence the emphasis on literature. Those who worry about whether students will be taught to read will be satisfied."

In English, grammar will be taught from the first years in primary school, while reading and writing will use phonics, and "fluent and legible" handwriting will also be taught. The curriculum guidelines say the emphasis will be on the "three Ls" of literacy, language and literature.

Adoption of the national curriculum will mean that, for the first time in decades, history and geography will be taught as separate subjects in classrooms across the country.

But other aspects of the new curriculum have proven more controversial - particularly plans to put Aboriginal and Asian perspectives into almost every subject.

Under the new science curriculum, pupils will be taught the scientific knowledge of different cultures, but principally indigenous culture. The indigenous strand is part of a topic called "Science and Culture" that examines cultural groups and their perspectives on science.

Professor McGaw said Australian history would contain Aboriginal and settler perspectives. "This is neither black armband nor white blindfold," he said. "This is a balanced view of history."

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