Curriculum Review Completed

Australia’s school curriculum is overcrowded and needs to refocus teaching in early childhood years on literacy and numeracy, according to a Federal Government-commissioned report released on Sunday. The review diligently considered Religion in the Australian curriculum, with input from the ACARA review into Religion in the national curriculum, but made no recommendations.

The review of the education system, which received more than 1,500 submissions, noted that teachers of “years five and six are expected to teach, assess and report on 16 different subjects”.

Reviewers Professor Kenneth Wiltshire and Dr Kevin Donnelly said many submissions argued the depth of information being taught was compromised for breadth of subjects.

The report also noted problems with teachers being required to integrate the themes of Aboriginal studies, sustainability and Australia’s engagement with Asia across the curriculum.

The review recommended “rebalancing the curriculum” to ensure what students were being taught was appropriate and there were no gaps in content across key subjects.

It also called for a bigger focus on phonics when teaching reading during early childhood years and teaching traditional literature, like poetry.

Citing from the Review where it addresses Religion, the review makes the following introductory comments:

One of the more contentious issues related to the Australian Curriculum is the place of values and beliefs, especially moral and spiritual values and how religion is dealt with.

As noted in Chapter One, no curriculum is ever value free as it either implicitly or explicitly embodies or gives voice to a particular set of values and beliefs. It is also true, when defining the purpose of education that along with more practical and utilitarian ends education, by its very nature, deals with the transcendent, including morality and spirituality.

It also needs to be understood, while the major religions of the world deal with the transcendent and emphasise moral and spiritual aspects of existence, many secular beliefs systems also explore and deal with similar matters.

The Melbourne Declaration, the blueprint for Australian schools, recognises this when it refers to ‘moral and spiritual’ when detailing the role schools play in promoting students’ wellbeing. The Declaration also defines active and informed citizens as exhibiting ‘moral and ethical integrity’ and commits itself to a curriculum that will enable students ‘to understand the spiritual, moral and aesthetic dimensions of life’.

The review cited many local authorities on teaching religion in the curriculum (REENA and AARE), and from the citations, we may infer that there was a coordinated campaign (the review does make this comment) to drive teaching of the Judeo Christian traditions into the curriculum. It is observed that the final report made no mention of the Abrahamic traditions (Judeo, Christian, Islamic); teaching from these traditions was not mentioned in the final report.

The Melbourne Declaration, the Toledo Guiding Principles, REENA, the Singapore and Finnish declarations and the brilliant UK program on teaching religions in the curriculum as a separate subject were all cited and in some cases, expanded upon. It seems that the review panel adopted the lead of ACARA to integration of religion across other subject areas (history, civics and citizenship). On the surface of things it does seem that multicultural Australia will have to wait for the time and place before there is more receptivity to including religion in the curriculum.

No such thing is true. The report repeatedly makes points similar to these:

“firm foundation that will enable them to understand, appreciate and engage with differences in society that relate to religious, spiritual and secular beliefs systems and world views”

It is clear that multicultural and multifaith Australia is being considered, and that the need for multi-faith education in our school curriculum will reap benefits for social cohesion, harmony and understanding in our future. The review rightly points out that there are plethora of issues with regard to the Constitution and the different states legislation which need to be accommodated. The report finishes with the recent Pathways initiative of “wide range of religions and philosophies and ethical issues within a secular (neutral) pedagogy” via presentations to schools.

You can read about the report on ABC News.

Media Release on Review of the Curriculum and Report

Direct Link to download the Report: