(The five postings already on the web site – ‘Getting on top of the ’07 Draft Curriculum’ – should be read in conjunction with the discussion that follows. Also recommended is a posting on this web site: ‘Report on e-learning programmes of inquiry’.)
If brevity be the heart of curriculum development then, with no further analysis needed, this new document can be declared successful. I know that many teachers will be quite happy to see the curriculum expressed with such brevity, to accept the branding of the document, and to leave it at that. Others may say that, with all its faults, it is an improvement on the preceding one (which in many respects it is). I believe, however, that developers of curricula should be held to a higher standard. The tendency with recent curricula is for teachers to have low expectations. This is not as it should be. Curricula should be honest and transparent; they should be cohesive and consistent; they should challenge and inspire; they should be an expression of the highest ideals of our education community. This present curriculum only occasionally manages to meet these aspirations.
Some improvements in the final document have not changed my view that the expression of the document’s vision and, indeed, the many other statements about values, have resulted in a values’ morass. The repeated goes at values beg the question as to which values, and which set of values, are most highly valued. One would suppose that the values in the competencies would be the most highly valued, if so, this is most unfortunate, because those are the most befuddled.
A theme in this final verdict analysis is summed up further on:
‘… the document is eclectic, not strongly ideological, more ingratiating, that has been shaped to reduce or avoid criticism from main education lobby groups, especially conservative and business ones, environmentalists, and belatedly Treaty advocates, while trying to brand the document in other respects, as one that gets the children to think (which is designed to appeal to teachers and teacher groups).’
The document carries over many New Right words, ideas and structures from the previous document, but it does so, probably unconsciously, with little venom. There is an agenda in the document, certain questions are being answered (about the future, inquiry learning, curriculum integration, computer use, role of knowledge), but they are not noticeably ideological. I have described the eclectic policies of the curriculum developers as give-a-dog-a-bone. These policies have disarmed criticism, but they have resulted in a diffuse and flawed final document.
Another theme in this document, characteristic of all recent curriculum documents, but particularly of this one, is the way it can be divided into two categories: guff; substance. While acknowledging that the guff parts do have some symbolic significance, they will soon be consigned to the dustbin of curricular history. The substance category is those parts of the document that teachers will unavoidably have to come to terms with, even if it is just to find a way to work around them. One of the reasons why New Zealand primary practice is so admirable in so many respects is teachers’ ability to colonise official documents, to make them their own. Primary teachers have had to move more decidedly to this practice in recent times because of the unsuitability of curricula. But why should this colonisation be needed? Why can’t curricula speak clearly to teachers in their own terms? A strong feature of this new document, however, and one of its saving graces, is the flexibility and room for manoeuvre it makes available to teachers. I suspect the curriculum developers have a good idea of the way primary teachers act toward curricula which encourages them to place great store on the professional development which accompanies a new curriculum. From my point-of-view this accompanying professional development will have the opacity of an education sandstorm. (This is not the time to go into the weaknesses of the contract professional development system.) Perhaps, because of the admirable statements about learning areas and evaluation in the document, there may be some clarity at professional development courses around these, but I think the opportunity has already been lost. The three parts of the substance category are the competencies, the learning area statements, and achievement objectives. Everything else is guff. You may have noticed that I have specifically referred to primary teachers in these matters. Secondary teachers, because they teach to exam requirements, tend to give little weight to curriculum documents (the competencies, though, to their chagrin, could be an exception to this rule).
A further theme in the document is the disentangling what is in the document, and what is said to be in it. The curriculum as presented by the ministry is described as being about the Three R’s; the values and skills employers want; ‘how’ children learn not ‘what’ they learn; inquiry learning; computers being central to learning (so-called ‘new learning’); and preparing children for the future. This disentangling is tricky because not only is the presentation of the new curriculum somewhat unfair (from an educator’s point-of-view) to what is actually in the document, there are also implications about the nature of previous curricula. For instance, what curriculum hasn’t claimed to be about the future, including the one produced for the new millennium; talk of inquiry learning was a major feature of the previous curriculum; the Three R’s are no more discussed in the new curriculum than any in recent decades; and how can ‘what’ children learn be relegated in importance by the ministry spokesperson when most of the document is taken up with descriptions of knowledge (learning area statements) and details of knowledge (achievement objectives)?
In my discussion of the competencies, two are described as passable, the other three (the values’ ones) as a mess – a mess in their internal structure, their relationship with each other, and with the numerous other discussions and listings of values in the document. In the course of looking at the competencies, I divert into a consideration of the word ‘skills’, its gross inflation in definition to serve New Right ideological purposes in the previous curriculum, and its carry-over into this one. My main concern about the competencies is that under pressure from the scrutiny of the review office they will become a major area of bureaucratic contestation.
I describe the ‘Effective Pedagogy’ section as providing an example of the strengths and weaknesses of the new curriculum as a whole. As well, it is here that I discuss the questions the curriculum developers should have addressed – questions such as how to correct the tendency towards a gross form of curriculum integration; or, ‘inquiry’ learning being universally used but with little intellectual challenge or emotional context being involved. I am critical of the tight arrow-driven inquiry model suggested for inquiry learning. This model is described as an inadequate indicator of a highly complex process; and a damaging fantasy of those who would seek surveillance power and advantage over classroom teachers. The idea of the new curriculum providing impetus to inquiry learning is easily demolished by considering the excellent statements about inquiry learning in all the seven publications from the previous curriculum. Mathematics, for instance, has a beautifully written and sensitive description of problem-solving. To contrast this with the inquiry model set out in the new curriculum is to show the new curriculum at a disadvantage. This inquiry model, though, has not been put there to help teachers handle the subtleties of the inquiry process; it has been put there to provide a process suitable for computer learning. There is a lot of this sneaky advocacy of computer learning throughout the new curriculum – so much indeed as to constitute another theme.
‘The School Curriculum: Design and Review’ section is described as an omnibus, warts and all, of all that has gone before. Special praise, however, is given to the first two paragraphs of the assessment statement (brilliant), the many encouragements for schools to shape the new curriculum in ways that suit them, and for giving the learning area statements precedence over the achievement objectives. (I advocated this in my consideration of the draft curriculum, to find it being recommended in the final curriculum was a surprising and most welcome development).
There follows an extended consideration of the learning areas, and then a movement to look at the associated achievement objectives. The first curriculum area I consider is English. The learning area statement is sound but the achievement objectives with their nonsensical learning progressions are examined in detail. All the curriculum areas are blighted by these progressions, some more than others. The developers of a few of the curriculum areas can be seen to mitigate the practice by repeating an achievement objective for a number of levels, combining some levels, and in one inspired instance (in the separate, fold-out listing of achievement objectives) providing a list of aims.
In mathematics, and out-of-left-field, the word ‘evaluation’ (‘evaluating’, actually) is used instead of the New Right word ‘assessment’. This prompts me to discuss other New Right words that have worked their way into everyday use by teachers, but which, in the metaphors implicit in them, undermine the status and professionalism of teachers.
I then comment again on the encouragement to use the document flexibly. I do point out, however, that in the case of curriculum integration no encouragement is needed – it is already the orthodoxy; what is needed instead is encouragement to ensure that quality learning ensues. To help protect teachers from the reactions of the review office when they set out to be adventuresome, I go through the document, essentially the guff sections, to identify statements that may help to provide some protection. (Yes, the guff parts do have some value in this respect.) For instance, ‘The primary purpose of assessment is to improve students’ learning and teachers’ teaching ‘ (p. 39). Admittedly, the statement goes on to qualify this bold beginning but this is the opening sentence, so it possesses special power. The statement on assessment is, overall, exceptional. The failure to highlight this education advance in media presentations and throughout the document represents a serious error.
Finally, I return to the competencies and bemoan the contestation that will surround schools’ implementation of them, and the amount of professional time expended in doing so. My main point is that the competencies are nothing special, not worth the bother, and a major distraction from the real issues in education. It is, however, one part of the new curriculum that secondary teachers are going to have to face up to – they will become hot and bothered and mightily displeased. Secondary teachers have not had the need to build up the ‘slip sliding away’ behaviours toward curricula characteristic of primary teachers, so I will watch with interest how things go.
A Vision (p. 8)
I wrote (in ‘Getting on top of the ’07 Draft Curriculum’) that for humanists the ‘Vision’ page is a bleak one, ‘The text and subtext are far more about economic than all-round fulfillment.’ And what claptrap, with the concluding sentence saying, ‘Education empowers our young people to stand tall as New Zealanders, seize opportunities, overcome obstacles, and make a difference.’ These words, I said, are resonant of New Age jargon and business motivation seminars. This concluding sentence has been omitted from the final document but the sense it was communicating is still strongly evident. For instance, in the first of four lists, under the heading, ‘Confident’ the ideas read like suggestions for a CV: ‘Positive in their own identity’; ‘Motivated and reliable’; ‘Resourceful’; ‘Enterprising and entrepreneurial’; ‘Resilient’. I know some people will applaud such a list, but I find it limiting because, to me, the metaphor in the minds of the writers was being a good employee; if the metaphor for instance had been about being successful in the arts, the words used to express similar ideas would have been very different. I could go through the document finding many instances like this. I find the document, as a result, alienating. There will be many who feel at home with it, but I feel unaccommodated. This is not a document that provides a context for well-rounded personal development. For all that the curriculum developers have tried to escape recent education experience, this document is still a child of the ’90s. The developers, however, have tried to change their frame of reference. In the opening paragraph of the draft vision page the message was nearly all about economics, in the final document, there are references as well to creativity, and to social, cultural and environmental matters. These changes have brought about a minor amelioration.
In my comment on the various pages to do with values in the draft curriculum I wrote:
‘I want to make clear that I am not a knee-jerk liberal reacting against references to business activity, but I do want values expressed to be inclusive of all positive human behaviour, not Trojan-horse words for a narrow perspective – there are lists everywhere which are contradictory, defensive, confusing and diluting. Pages 8-13 and 37-38 [‘Vision’, ‘Principles’, ‘Values’, and ‘Key competencies’] have different headings, but they are all about values.’
The previous curriculum, under the influence of the New Right ideology, introduced and emphasised the idea of skills to prepare children for the workplace. The new curriculum also emphasises these, though mainly only in what can be considered the guff parts of the document, the introductory pages. The developers have given a bone or two, in particular, to the conservative lobby groups which can be very vocal. Playing this up, as is shown in ‘Final verdict (1)’, was the ministry spokesperson. The marketplace references have been toned down a bit, dispersed a bit, and diluted a bit (with more cultural and social references). The developers will know, however, that they won’t have done enough of this to satisfy academic critics who will continue grizzle and gnash (and rightly so), but the weight they give these critics, and their degree of influence, is demonstrated in their persistence with the references.
Principles (p. 9)
Academic critics have also criticised the selection of issues included in a list for what the developers call ‘Future focus’. This list is unbalanced and idiosyncratic. The issues are: ‘sustainability’ (I can live with this one if you can excuse the pun – but it does turn up again in the achievement objectives, and elsewhere. The Greens, however, have their bone, again, and again, and again); ‘citizenship’ (which is used – unsuccessfully – as some kind of counterbalance to the economic issues that follow); ‘enterprise’ (which is defined as ‘exploring what it is to be innovative and entrepreneurial’); ‘globalisation’ (which is defined as ‘exploring what it means to be part of a global community and to live amongst diverse cultures’). I have two major disagreements with this list. The first is expressed in ‘About Networkonnet’ section of this web site. I say I am not impressed with ‘anyone claiming to prepare children for the 21st century’ as the ‘best way to do the right thing for children’s future is to meet their needs now.’ Indeed, this is an excellent example of how the use of the word ‘future’ leads educationists astray – if the list wasn’t compiled as list of future needs, there is no way the developers would have chosen such a pathetically narrow and emotionally shredded list. Where is the reference to any of the arts, for instance?
Compounding the grievous error of having a list of future needs dominated by a marketplace theme, is ‘enterprise’ and ‘globalisation’ not being presented as in anyway problematic. Did it not occur to the curriculum developers that marketplace enterprise and globalisation have serious implications for both sustainability and citizenship? Were they too busy lobbing there bones to various quarters to notice? I know these future focus references are in the guff sections, but when references in the guff section tie in with existing trends in schools (as they do here), and are highlighted in ministry presentations, even guff references have influence. I am reasonably tolerant of lobby group pandering, but the future focus references were too much for me – they are shabby.
Values (p. 10)
The developers of the section on ‘Values’ have three goes at a list, each list, introduction and explanation adding to the confusion given that many other pages also hold forth on values (pp. 8-13, and 37-38). ‘excellence’ is listed as the first value in the first list on page 10. This word became a clichéd part of the education lexicon in the ’90s when atomised, tightly organised prescriptive teaching was being bureaucratically imposed on teachers, and from which excellence we were assured would emerge. Achieving excellence in ’07 it seems is to be done ‘by aiming high and by persevering in the face of difficulties’. Leaving aside the mixed metaphor, I would like to point out that persevering has to involve facing difficulties, so the reference is redundant. But this is what happens when you are writing as if you are addressing a self-help seminar. ‘Excellence’ is better explained in the second value listed – ‘innovation, inquiry, and curiosity’ – as ‘thinking critically, creatively, and reflectively’. While this is a good description of what excellence, shed of its ’90’s connotations, might mean, I would prefer such qualities to be emphasised in the ‘thinking’ sections of the document. I am in favour, however, of ‘perseverance’ being listed as a value. (See my listing below.) The next two values in the first list are fine – ‘diversity’ and ‘equity’. I would, however, favour expressing the idea of diversity more actively. As well, why is the application of the value of diversity limited to ‘our different cultures, languages, and heritages’? The developers manage to undercut immediately the value they are promoting. Also, I prefer the simpler word of ‘fairness’ to ‘equity’. Then comes ‘ecological sustainability’ – where did this pop up from? This is amateurish and embarrassing, revealing a vulnerability to the vagaries of someone’s good idea at the time. If a list of values does not encompass concern for such an issue, it fails as a list. This first list of values (on p. 10) concludes with ‘integrity’ and the explanation that this ‘involves being honest, responsible, and accountable and acting ethically’. The value of ‘integrity’ is acceptable, though its meaning is so general as to lack bite. Better to have ‘honesty’ listed as a primary value. ‘Responsibility’ expressed as ‘accepts responsibility for actions’ should also be listed as a primary value. The omission of the idea of accepting responsibility for actions is a particularly serious omission from the list. The expression ‘acting ethically’, like the listed value of ‘integrity’, also lacks bite. And then, disturbingly, in the explanation of ‘integrity’, the New Right word of ‘accountability’ is used. The ledger-like imagery of the word is highly inappropriate in a discussion of values for schools. We are back in self-help seminar territory here. Leaving aside the inappropriate imagery of ‘accountable’, what does ‘accountable’ add that the preceding word of ‘responsible’ doesn’t?
The second list in the values’ section is an explanation of ‘diversity’ from the first values’ listing. It is not clear whether the fine sentiments expressed pertain to cultures outside New Zealand, or are restricted to only those in New Zealand. If only New Zealand, what are the value implications in this? The lack of clarity in itself is pathetic; if the restricted view is intended, then it is horrific. The third and final list is about discussing values and has potential for usefulness.
A general weakness in the values’ parts of the curriculum is that values are nowhere adequately defined. Using a play on words which adds up to valuing values (‘Students will be encouraged to value: excellence – p. 10’) is not sufficient direction. The definition given at the beginning of page 10 is a useful first step, but does not go far enough. A key idea underlining any set of values is that it encompasses a sense of knowingness – it is not simply about children behaving, say, fairly, because they have been told it is important; it is about knowing why acting fairly is important for society and our sense of humanness. There needed to be a consideration of the idea that children can discuss values, even hold them in regard, without committing to them and being fundamental to their way of thinking and general guides to behaviour. Discussing and recognising the importance of, say, fairness, is different from a commitment to it. My concern is that with values– parts of the curriculum soon to be subject to close scrutiny from the review office, superficial and simplistic learning packages will be resorted to, and evaluation techniques applied.
It is my view that there should be only two sections dealing with values: a statement of values at the beginning, with the curriculum implications being expressed as principles; and a statement of values for schools to develop with their teachers and children. Such a discharge of words occurs on so many pages (pp.8-13 and 37-38) that the power of the values described is dissipated. The expression of values on the various pages has something for everybody, but ends up being nothing in particular. Once again, the developers have tried hard to broaden their view. They have also gone to some lengths to explain why there are so many bites at the value cherry on so many pages. The result, however, is a thoroughly confusing mishmash. Schools are charged with task of integrating the values expressed into their programmes, but the developers have failed in their responsibility to integrate their statement of values and principles into a cohesive whole, making the task for schools more fraught and difficult.
Key Competencies (p. 12-13)
There are six problems with the section on ‘Competencies’ : The lack of integration with the confusion that is values expressed elsewhere in the document; the disappointing nature – except for the ‘Thinking’ and ‘Using language’ ones – of the competencies expressed; the implication that what is expressed is anything new or fresh; the certain way they will become a bureaucratic battleground with the review office; the certain way, as a result of this, there will be resort by schools to thinking, questioning, and value packages; and, finally, the distraction they will cause from attention to fundamental issues relating to teaching and learning.
First, a competency that is satisfactory – ‘Thinking’. ‘Thinking’ is described as being ‘about using creative, critical, and metacognitive processes to make sense of information, experiences, and ideas.’ It is difficult from this definition to understand how the curriculum has been skewed in its presentation by the ministry spokesperson to being about ‘skills that meet employers’ demands’ or being ‘a swing from knowledge to skills’. A suggestion, however, of skills being regarded as dominant by the developers comes elsewhere in the competencies’ section – in the introduction. ‘People use these competencies to live, learn, work, and contribute as active members of their communities. More complex than skills, the competencies draw also on knowledge, attitudes, and values in ways that lead to action.’
Skills as curriculum lake-weed
I am astounded that the curriculum developers thought we needed to be told that competencies are more complex than skills. Who in their right mind would ever think that such an assurance was needed? Apparently the developers, because they go on to say that the competencies also draw on knowledge, attitudes and values. Skills, it seems, are a given, and we need to be reassured that competencies are more complex than skills, and that knowledge, attitudes and values actually contribute to these competencies. You would have thought that the developers, having just banged on for page after page about attitudes and values, might have given more weight to attitudes and values in discussing learning; and more weight to knowledge given the many pages of knowledge statements and objectives that follow.
Don’t the developers know that a skill, properly understood, implies a specific capacity which can be perfected through practice and exercise such as handwriting or dribbling a ball? Anything more complex than this requires knowledge, and the willingness (attitudes and values) to apply that knowledge. This is where the ministry spokesperson and the document have gone seriously adrift – by inflating the role of skills they have devalued the role of knowledge (prior knowledge that is) in learning, and the role of values and attitudes, thereby giving rein to the post-modernists who reject the stability of knowledge, the ‘new knowledge’ people who really just advocate computer learning processes, and anti-intellectuals who are uncomfortable with ideas and knowledge. Skills, in my view, are curriculum lake-weed.
I recognise that the writers of the introduction probably wrote this reference to the place of skills almost unconsciously, being a carry-over from the previous curriculum with its focus on the ‘essential skills’. This matter of what skills are though, and their slightly more expansive close relative, processes, needs to be hammered out before the next curriculum so that knowledge, and attitudes and values resume their central place in learning, and the computer-focused do not use the term to downgrade knowledge, shape learning in schools to suit computer use, and reinforce the anti-intellectualism that prevails in many primary schools. I will discuss elsewhere the falsity in the claim that the new curriculum, in comparison with previous curricula, is about ‘how’ not ‘what’; is about ‘getting the children to think’; and is about ‘making them life long learners’. I will also discuss elsewhere that the curriculum, while it has discussions on the role of electronics here and there, it does so with a light, if sneaky, touch – an approach greatly at odds with the apparent attempt by the ministry in its presentation of the curriculum to hijack it to being about ‘how’ not ‘what’ and, as a result, being about skills and computer use.
I plant my pedagogical flag firmly in the area of knowledge and understanding, also attitude and values, as against skill and process. The crucial question is: What is left of skills once knowledge, and attitudes and values are taken from them? Let us imagine a molecular biologist doing research into cloning. By one school of thought, what the biologist was doing could be described as an expression of skills, but let us deconstruct this. The microbiologist would have come to the experiment with a substantial understanding of the area of microbiology; those understandings would be continually interacting in his or her consciousness and subconsciousness – deepening initial understandings, and leading to insights and creative possibilities. As those further understandings, insights and creative possibilities occurred, the microbiologist would have evaluated them for their worth on the basis of his or her existing understandings. Then, let us say the microbiologist had a hunch, akin to creativity, which formed the essence of the experiment – a hunch which came, above all, from existing understandings. The experiment is set up. What behaviours would be needed for the hunch, expressed as an hypothesis, to carry the experiment forward successfully? To achieve this, the microbiologist would need to be open-minded, honest, persevering, flexible, and continuously creative. These are not skills but attitudes and values.
What is left in all this for skills? Why is this process seen as an expression of skills? Which part is skills? Some might answer by saying the process for children is different, that they can undertake such a process cold, not be expected to have any real grasp of what they are inquiring about. The term ‘inquiry’, however, is part of the problem, and part of why knowledge, and values and attitudes have been subsumed under skills to the detriment of the place of knowledge and values and attitudes, in classroom learning. The term ‘inquiry’ sets up an image of a formal process with an issue, often an adult-centred one, to be pursued. The term comes from secondary teaching, which is more issues oriented, rather than primary teaching, which typically has favoured a series of thinking challenges in the context of an extensive teaching unit, and a building up of what is seen as a sufficient grounding in knowledge. As well, inquiry learning has become a coded term for children pursuing an issue using the internet, with the role of the teacher being modified to something called a facilitator. The sequential process set out for inquiry learning (see below) points to the use of computers, as does the implied issue-basis for what is being inquired about.
The matter being pursued here is how, for a variety of reasons and motivations, knowledge, and values and attitudes have been downgraded in importance by being subsumed into skills. The use of the term ‘skills’ has created a cover allowing the ‘new knowledge’ advocates (essentially ‘computer skill’ advocates) to dominate the direction of education, and how people interpret the new curriculum. As well as the word ‘inquiry’ these advocates have taken over other expressions for their coded messages, expressions like ’21st century’, ‘the future’, ‘teaching the children to learn how to learn’, ‘teaching the children to think’, ‘new learning’, ‘making connections’, ‘shared learning’, even ‘life long learners’. However, the antecedents to this ‘new knowledge’ advocacy go back some years to the technocratic ideology which since the ’60s has battled the liberal, humanist, progressivist one.
The Currie Report of 1962 can be seen as the harbinger of the now dominant technocratic ideology with its use of such terms as ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’, and ‘checkpoints’. Certain behaviourists such as Skinner and Gagne came into favour with some curriculum advocates, and Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives became very popular. Behavioural objectives had the effect of reducing learning to small bits and emphasising observable behaviours. Curriculum packages from the United States became in vogue, especially in reading and maths, with the teacher seen more as a facilitator. At this stage, the technocratic ideology carried more weight at the text book level than the government one. That changed in the early ’90s when the National government came to power intent on change based on the New Right ideology. Under the banner of ‘accountability’ and the need to meet what were seen as the demands of the international marketplace, all curriculum areas were divided into a large number of achievement objectives along with tightly focused assessment processes. Seven groups of essential skills were developed to be taught across the curriculum. Eight achievement levels were also developed with the achievement objectives linked to these. (Within the list of skills, it is interesting to note, there was an emphasis on self-management and competition.) Here then was the move to the inflated definition of skills, an inflation that has had some influence on the new curriculum.
Skills are a favourite focus by those with a technocratic ideology because it is believed they allow teaching to be set out in taxonomies and tight learning sequences, and children’s responses to be available as unambiguous, observable outcomes. Skills in this way lead to a reduction in the professional status of teachers, being a mechanism for control by the education elite. I would like to point out again that there are two major parts to the introduction of a new curriculum, what is actually in the curriculum, and what teachers, interest groups and the public think is in it. Because of the manner of the presentation of the curriculum, more than is in the document, there is a belief that the curriculum favours skills over knowledge, and computer learning over other kinds of learning.
In school implementation I urge schools to use the freedom generously provided in the curriculum to come firmly down on the side of giving weight to knowledge, and values and attitudes over skills or its more expansive associate ‘process’. Because skills and processes are a by-product of children gaining knowledge they will not be overlooked, just assigned their proper place.
Returning to direct consideration of the competencies (p. 12-13)
Now to return to the direct consideration of the competencies by acknowledging the other competency definition that passes muster, that of ‘Using language, symbols, and texts’. Essentially it is saying, if you teach reading, mathematics, dance, or social studies, or whatever, teach them well. The ministry spokesperson had this competency in mind, I suspect, when she spoke of the curriculum being about a return to the Three R’s. To hang that interpretation on this peg shows the degree of spin in the ministry’s tactics. This competency passes muster but is unexceptional. It is the definitions of social and moral behaviour in the other competencies that are a mess, also the introduction.
The ministry spokesperson makes the claim that the competencies are based on the best international research. If the competencies’ statements about social and moral behaviour are representative of that research, then international research must be in a bad way – perhaps they should have tried the best of local research. Which brings me to the matter of how much the work of Ivan Snook was used. Ivan Snook knows the moral education area, thinks rigorously, and writes brilliantly. None of these qualities are evident in the competencies’ section.
The introduction to the competencies’ section is trying to say something, but what it is I am not sure. Whatever it is trying to say should have been said in no more than three concise sentences. The thinking is clichéd and confused. Apparently we need to be told that ‘competencies continue to be developed over time’ and opportunities to develop competencies occur in ‘social contexts’. The real significance of the introduction is that it demonstrates that the developers are not clear about the nature and purpose of the competencies, and this lack of clarity flows through to the definition of the three social and moral competencies. The introduction seems to be an attempt by the developers to convince themselves and us that the competencies are something new and important, but are hesitant to push them out on to the education stage, fearful that that they will not be recognised as such.
The explanation of ‘Managing self’ never escapes the feeling of ideas to put in a CV following attendance at motivational seminar (‘can-do attitude’, ‘enterprising’, ‘reliable’, ‘establish personal goals’, ‘strategies for meeting challenges’). ‘Managing self’ has a narrow feel to it, a sense of trying to develop in children conscious, adopted techniques to control behaviour; whereas, an alternative expression that could have been used, ‘seeking to develop children’s autonomy’ is comprehensive, emphasising knowingness, and the complicated balancings between freedom and responsibility. The explanation of ‘Relating to others’, while touching most of the right bases, is too wordy and fails to inspire. The difficulty with ‘Participating and contributing’ is that if ‘Managing self’ and ‘Relating to others’ have been accomplished, then having a separate section on ‘Participating and contributing’ is redundant. Two key moral behaviours are overlooked, or at least not made explicit: Being fair; and accepting responsibility for actions. The omission of both is reprehensible, perhaps the omission of being fair the more, because Ivan Snook wrote a book for the then Education Department giving particular attention to this subtle but immensely powerful idea. (Being fair, though, expressed as ‘equity’, is included in another list elsewhere in the document (p. 10). Such is the tangled web that is spun.)
In the case of the social and moral competencies, and for a list of values (see p. 10) I would have preferred a short list with a brief introduction. Brevity and conciseness in this area is important because explanation is often limiting to meaning, reach and imagination. My list would have been a willingness and ability to:
Appreciate individual and cultural difference
Accept responsibility for actions
The real debate about the document is, and will be, about the purpose, soundness, and practicability of the competencies – also whether they represent anything new. I argue that the competencies will one day be seen for what they are – a bureaucratic response to perceived weaknesses (many I acknowledge as being real) within the school system. I also argue that instead of building on existing successes, undertaking the hard yards, using classroom savvy people already engaged in addressing these weaknesses, appointing more curriculum advisers (and I mean ‘advisers’ in the previous sense), the ministry has adopted the flashy approach of assembling five competency conglomerates each with a separatehead office, with no doubt a flash-in-the-pan array of contract people to follow, to explain what we already know, but we are confused about because it is presented as something new.
A major concern about the competencies is that the review office will put a lot of bureaucratic pressure on schools to come up with ‘outcomes’, which will encourage schools to buy into thinking and questioning packages, also ones to do with social and moral development. Schools need to be assured that if they are teaching to well-based teaching units, all the elements of the competencies will be attended to and the desired outcomes available for scrutiny. I hasten to add that the kinds of outcomes I am referring to are subtle and occur incrementally, not the naïve one-to-one learning experience to outcome approach favoured by the review office. I fear another bureaucratic layer and complexity to classroom teaching and a distraction from real curriculum issues.
Effective Pedagogy (p. 34-36)
The ‘Effective Pedagogy’ section highlights some of the strengths and weaknesses of the new curriculum as a whole. There are a number of headings about teaching and learning such as: ‘Encouraging reflective thought and action’; ‘Enhancing the relevance of new learning’; ‘Facilitating shared learning’; ‘Making connections to prior learning and experience’; and, ‘Providing sufficient opportunities to learn’. The explanations associated with these headings are never less than very good. There is, though, considerable overlap in content between the explanations.
New curricula are designed with developers’ perceptions of the existing situation in mind. Developers take cognisance of what they see as the trends pertaining to classroom practice – which ones need challenging, which ones need diverting, and what new ideas need to be introduced in an attempt to establish new trends. Developers, of course, need to make sure they have their evaluation of the classroom situation right so that the key questions they assemble to address these matters are also right. It will not surprise readers of these postings that I believe the key questions the developers have come up with and responded to – there seem to be three – are faulty.
Before I look at these three questions there is a need to look more carefully at what I have described as the overview part of the pedagogy section; this needs to be done because given more bite and stated more concisely, this overview part is close to answering what I consider are the key questions arising from existing practice. If the developers had stayed on theme with these, the new curriculum would have been very different, and much better.
The following are some key statements in the overview part of the pedagogy section:
‘Teachers encourage such thinking when they design tasks and opportunities that require students to critically evaluate the material they use and consider the purposes for which it was originally created.’ [As important as this idea is, I have some reservations about how it is expressed. I would prefer: ‘Teachers encourage such thinking when children are involved in activities that require them to evaluate the material they are using, and the ideas expressed, to consider the purposes of the material and ideas.’ There is the push and pull here between the inference that can be taken of teachers tightly designing such situations in a specific issues’ format, and the way they can occur in the course of more expansive teaching and learning units.]
‘Effective teachers stimulate the curiosity of their students, require them to search for relevant information and ideas, and challenge them to use or apply what they discover in new contexts or in new ways.’
‘Students learn best when they are able to integrate new learning with what they already understand.’
‘Students learn most effectively when they have time and opportunity to engage with, practice, and transfer new learning. This means that they need to encounter new learning a number of times and in a variety of different tasks or contexts. It also means that when curriculum coverage and student understandings are in competition, the teacher may decide to cover less but cover it in greater depth.’
These ideas in the pedagogy section point, in my opinion, to the key questions about classroom practice that should have guided the new curriculum. The three questions, however, that seem to have guided the developers are: How can we get the children to do inquiry learning? How can we get children to use computers more? How can we get teachers to do more teaching about values? In the ‘About Networkonnet’ introduction to this web site, I said I am not impressed with all the ‘talk of inquiry learning – it is a label so widely used as to be meaningless’. It is a great irony that the ministry spokesperson said the new curriculum represented a decided shift to inquiry learning when for long it has been the most used label in education. Indeed, the more it is used it seems, the less that lies behind it. My suggestion is to abandon the label altogether and describe what the aim of inquiry learning is – in that way the action and aspiration would become clearer. The talk should be about arousing children’s curiosity, getting them thinking, and developing new and valid understandings. There is no need on the part of the developers to encourage the use of computers, there is already strong momentum; what is needed is discussion about how the use of computers in classrooms is problematic, and how to make their use more educationally worthwhile. As for values, the developers are on firmer ground with their attention to these, but their association with the word ‘competencies’ indicates the developers did not get right the framing of whatever question they had in mind.
For me the trends in primary classrooms (and, therefore, the basis for the key questions I would have chosen) are towards a gross form of integration; skills being favoured as against knowledge; a devaluing of the importance of knowledge; the use of computers when other means might be more effective; the computer being used to create electronic ‘projects’; the use of thinking and other learning packages; single issue investigations using the computer; the term ‘inquiry learning’ being universally used but with little intellectual challenge or emotional context being involved; and, inquiry learning (such as it is) being seen as applying to social studies, and to some extent science, when it should also be seen as a strong part, for instance, of maths, and the arts. (For more information on some of these trends, please refer to a posting on this web site ‘Report on e-learning programmes of inquiry’.)
As a result of this appreciation of the trends in classroom practice, as a curriculum developer, I would have: Given support to integration but indicated ways to get the best out of the practice to avoid the messy rambling assemblage it often deteriorates into; stressed the central importance of knowledge, and values and attitudes in learning; encouraged teachers to see inquiry learning not so much as a tightly organised process, but arising from situations as they occur in the context of teaching units and the classroom; represented inquiry learning not as a circular process but as making children curious, getting them thinking, and helping them to develop new and valid understandings; in teaching approaches, stressed using the best approach for the purpose, not choosing computer learning because it is seen as representing the future; and in examples given at various parts of the document, regularly citing examples from the arts, particularly relating to ‘inquiry learning’ (though I would not have used the term ‘inquiry’).
Which brings me to the ‘Teaching as inquiry’ insertion into the pedagogy section. This did not appear in the draft. In what seems a desperate attempt to brand the document, the developers have foisted on teachers a favourite fantasy of the education establishment – an arrow-driven, tightly sequenced learning process. Such fantasies are seized on by agencies like the review office and other people in power positions to control teachers. Academics and power elites are on a career-promoting winner here – always placed in a knowledge and power advantage over teachers. It does not seem to have occurred to the curriculum developers that in the preceding parts to the pedagogy section they have provided sound and sufficient descriptions of inquiry learning.
Following this late and disappointing addition to the new curriculum is a statement about e-learning and pedagogy. It is a highly predictable statement, and highly predictable that it was felt one would have to be made. Also highly predictable is that the use of such technology is presented as wholly benign and ethically neutral. The developers begin their reference to e-learning by saying, ‘Information and communication technology has a major impact on the world in which young people live.’ So do books – if they had to make a statement about technology why not include this rather older one as well? They then refer to such things as computers supporting other ‘teaching approaches’, making connections’, entering and exploring ‘new learning environments’, facilitating ‘shared learning’, creating ‘supportive learning environments’, ‘offering resources that take account of individual, cultural, or developmental differences’, offering ‘virtual experiences’ to take children’s ‘learning further’ If these were the reasons why computers are so useful to learning, why weren’t the arts included as well. The developers know the literature, they know the existing classroom trend in which computer use is increasingly seen as an end in itself. Such an unproblematic presentation by the developers is a serious error.
The School Curriculum: Design and Review (p. 37-42)
The lengthy section headed ‘The School Curriculum: Design and Review’, is an omnibus of all that has gone before, with a few additions and extensions. It confirms that the document is eclectic, more ingratiating than ideological, has been shaped to reduce or avoid criticism from the main education lobby groups, especially conservative, business ones, environmentalists, and belatedly Treaty advocates, while trying to brand the document, in other respects, as one that gets the children to think (which is designed to appeal to teachers and teacher groups). Even the document’s support of computers in education is guarded and often left to coded words to express. For a document that has much to say about vision, principles and values it fails to inspire. The document has emphases but, defensively, has something to supportive to say about nearly every education point of view. The result is a hotchpotch.
In commenting on this section, first some aspects I liked. In my comment on the draft curriculum (5) I praised the learning area statements:
‘While in some cases, there is not too much difference between the statements [about the learning areas] and the achievement objective listings, I find the prose descriptions much more appealing. It is as though the writers have relaxed between the overwrought values’ part, and the technocratic-style achievement objectives’ one. The suggestion I make to schools is that they delegate a curriculum area to a group of teachers who use a mixture of the statements and the achievement objectives listings to develop a school statement.’
As a result, it was gratifying to read an addition in the final document referring to the learning areas:
‘These statements, rather than the achievement objectives, should be the starting point for developing programmes of learning suited to students’ needs and interests. Schools are then able to select achievement objectives to fit those programmes.’
Excellent! A statement like this, and the ones that follow immediately, do not happen by chance. These developers reveal an historical perspective, a feel for the fundamental issues of primary education, and the necessary combination of courage and cunning. You could write a book on what they are actually saying. The pity is that this work done by the developers was not a centerpiece of the document as a whole and its presentation.
The first two paragraphs on ‘Assessment’, as I have just indicated, are also excellent. (For the purpose of considering the new curriculum I sometimes put aside my strong objection to the term ‘assessment’ which is used to claim a spurious objectivity for the process it sets out to represent.) The first paragraph starts off strongly with the statement that: ‘The primary purpose of assessment is to improve students’ learning and teachers’ teaching as both student and teacher respond to the information that it provides.’
And then, if you will excuse me, I would like to quote the whole of the second paragraph, which is an inspiring description of the assessment process:
‘Assessment for the purposes of improving student learning is best understood as an ongoing process [If you use this statement in your school policy documents, and I hope you do, could I suggest replacing ‘ongoing’ with ‘continuous’?] that arises out of the interaction between teaching and learning. It involves the focused and timely gathering, analysis, interpretation, and use of information that can provide evidence of student progress. [You might consider replacing ‘progress’ with ‘learning’] Much of this evidence is ‘of the moment’. Analysis and interpretation often take place in the mind of the teacher, who then uses the insights gained to shape their actions as they continue to work with their students.’
If the part on assessment had built on this statement it would have been addressing some major issues in education – that of mitigating the bureaucratisation of education at the classroom level, the use of assessment as part of an unhealthy emphasis on surveillance, and the resulting lack of attraction of adventurous and creative people to education, and loss of people who become disenchanted with teaching. The description of assessment that follows this beginning is not too bad, but lacks the clarity and boldness of the opening paragraphs. To the curriculum developers’ credit, however, they avoid using those two words much loved by academics: formative and summative – jargon words that sound something grand but signify, in practice, nothing sensible.
Leaving aside the commendable encouragement to schools to use the document flexibly that is the end of the good news in this section. The developers (whoever these ones are) feel the need to repeat their prime examples of ‘Future focus’ (‘sustainability’, ‘citizenship’, ‘enterprise’, and ‘globalisation’ – which are discussed above), then, in a similarly skewed list, suggest for ‘broad programmes’ studies of Asia and the Pacific Rim – which is fair enough, but what about, for instance, a study of human rights. They also make another suggestion for ‘broad programmes’, developing ‘students’ financial capability, positioning them to make well-informed financial decisions throughout their lives’. This suggestion in my postings on the draft curriculum prompted an exasperated, ‘For goodness sake! Bring on KiwiSaver and drop this overboard’. Once again, looked at in isolation it is a worthy enough topic, but when looked at in combination with all the other business-type suggestions it is just too much – and look at all the other possible topics that might have been chosen to widen the vision of the document, for instance, the universality of dance, or music. (After the presentation of the new curriculum the ministry released to schools a publication on personal finances – a much better way to handle such special interest topics.)
Learning Areas (p. 16-17) and Achievement Objectives by Level (p. 45 onwards) also the separate fold-out listing of achievement objectives
This discussion now moves to consider each of the learning area statements and the associated achievement objectives. (As with all the matters covered in these postings, they should be read in conjunction with the preceding postings – ‘Getting on top of the ’07 Draft Curriculum’.) In the consideration of the draft curriculum posted on this web site I wrote about how, since the move to technocratic-type curricula in the 1990s, the emphasis was on large numbers of sequenced achievement objectives. In commenting on the 1993 curriculum, I wrote: ‘… that to establish achievement objective gradings, ridiculous progressions have been developed. They became exercises in jargon accretion. The developers of these progressions usually began with a fairly straightforward description at Level 1 and, at each stage, while the process described remained basically the same, further words were added to try to establish the idea of learning progression. All that is added was jargon overdrive, and teaching and learning confusion. In the English curriculum statement, for instance, both senior children and junior children in their own way, should be described as able to gather information from a variety of sources, and retrieve, select, analyse, interpret, and synthesise information. This could be said once (if it needs to be said in this technocratic way at all), and left to teachers to apply to the children in their class.’
In the light of these concerns, how well have the developers done with the new curriculum? The developers have tried very hard to reduce the number of gradings and soften the wording. Their heart has been in the right place, the results, however, indicate an overall lack of rigorousness and consistency.
In English the learning area statement is largely unchanged from the draft and is admirably brief and clear. The achievement objectives are fine if you take them singly but, unfortunately, the graded progressions are as ridiculous as ever. For instance, ‘uses some oral, written, and visual language features to create meaning and effect’ (Level 1); ‘uses oral, written, and visual language features to create meaning and effect’ (Level 2); ‘uses oral, written, and visual language features to create meaning and effect and engage interest’ (Level 3); ‘uses a range of oral, written, and visual features to create meaning and effect and to sustain interest’ (Level 4); ‘uses a wide range of oral, written, and visual language features to create meaning and effect to sustain interest (Level 5); ‘uses a wide range of oral, written, and visual language features with control to create meaning and effect and to sustain interest (Level 6). (I will leave it there but the jargon accretion continues.) I have highlighted the words I consider have not only a ludicrous effect but also, more seriously, a miseducative one. Children at Level 2 could also be considered to use just some language features; or considered another way, even if only in embryonic form, children at Level 1 could quite satisfactorily be described as using ‘oral, written, and visual language features to create meaning and effect’. Between the two statements so far I favour the statement for Level 2 for both levels of children. But what are we to make of the addition for children at Level 3? The implication is that using oral, written, and visual language at Levels 1 and 2, is not done to engage interest, or not done with any expectation that it should. Then, at Level 4, the implication is that engaging interest using oral, written, and visual language at Level 3 and below, is not done to sustain interest, or not done with any expectation that it should. Not only is this jargon accretion confusing, it is seriously redundant: To create meaning, which is the stated intention at all levels, is to engage and sustain interest, they are necessary qualities of creating meaning, and unavoidable outcomes. Separating engaging and sustaining interest from the process of children gaining meaning when gaining meaning is what schools are about and a characteristic and measure of our humanity, is a grievous error. The use of the word wide at Level 5 is also challenged because all oral, written, and visual language features are or can be used by school-aged children, the issue is one of complexity. Level 6 adds the words with control, and so it goes on to Levels 7 and 8.
Perhaps we should look at Level 8 where this comedy ends. The equivalent statement reads: ‘uses a wide range of oral, written, and visual language features coherently, fluently, and with control to create meaning and command attention’. More by accident than design, this changed syntax has resulted in meaning not being separated from engaging and sustaining interest. My suggestion is that just one statement be used for all levels. The statement for Level 8 could be used, or the one for Level 2 (‘uses oral and written, and visual language features to create meaning and effect’). The Level 2 statement has the power and clarity that comes with simplicity; the Level 8 one, with its greater detail, makes clearer that this is what all children are doing when involved in the language process, though at varying levels of complexity. Probably, I prefer the Level 2 statement. The important thing, though, is that if either of the two statements had been allowed to stand alone they would have been transformed from objectives to aims, and in this occurring, caused power to be transferred away from bureaucrats to teachers, and the weight of responsibility for their teaching and evaluation to the professionalism of teachers.
I do not intend to look in detail at achievement objectives for other curriculum areas, but when I describe objectives in those curriculum areas as providing further examples of jargon accretion, you will know what I’m referring to. Why have latter-day curriculum developers fallen into this jargon accretion trap. As described above, the achievement objective practice became established with the dominance of the technocratic ideology and the New Right ideology in the ’90s. With these ideologies came the accountability and teacher surveillance push. More power transferred to the education elite, most noticeably in the form of the review office. The emphasis was on school governance. That was a coded expression for principals and boards of trustees to be given, in one sense, more power, but only if they acceded to the bureaucratisation of their schools. If they didn’t accede or comply there would be public exposure, with a dire effect on principals’ career prospects, and school rolls for boards of trustees. The elegance of the present bureaucratic system is that the government, by establishing a bureaucratic culture built on fear, is able to maintain that culture with the minimum of bureaucrats. It is control by mind games (in the end, many in the system become so culturated to it, they become unaware of their compliance.) With the increase in power for the elite, there is a corresponding decrease in power for classroom teachers.
The Arts’ learning area statement is substantially changed from the draft one, and reads very powerfully in the sense that you could imagine art educationists anywhere, nodding in agreement. I have some concern, however, as to how clearly and directly it communicates with teachers who are not specialists. Given there are so few art advisers this leaves a distinct burden to the achievement objectives to communicate the detail of the arts’ curriculum. Fortunately, the achievement objectives do this reasonably effectively, with two provisos. Firstly, plain speaking arts booklets need to be published to tie expressions in the learning areas to the achievement objectives, and these to the everyday curriculum, for instance, in the visual arts, identifying and describing the selected principles and elements. Secondly, while a reasonable effort has been made to avoid the more farcical aspect of graded progressions, elements of it are still evident. What does one make of the following: ‘Initiate and refine ideas with others to plan and develop drama (Level 4); Select and refine ideas to develop drama for specific purposes (Level 5).’ Does this mean children at Level 4 do not select ideas? I could find dozens of oddities like this. I reiterate that individually the achievement objectives are good, but in their gradations often strange. It seems to me that the arts developers seem to be wanting to show that they are a regular curriculum area just like the big boys and girls of English and maths and that they can atomise with the best of them. Because I have such respect for people in the arts I was expecting more, some bold pedagogical manoeuvre, for instance, one list of objectives for Levels 1-4, and another for Levels 5-8, though with the second list a careful and logical extension of the first. A two-listing approach would mean teachers were really teaching to aims; a process which, seems to me, to be more educationally sound, holistic, and likely to encourage innovation and creativity; in turn, a process well suited to all learning, but particularly the arts.
Health and Physical Education
I am in two minds about the learning area statement for health and physical education, and the achievement objectives. From one perspective I am concerned with what has been lost in the ’07 document compared with the previous one. The ’07 document sheds most of the references to the social and cultural bases for the health ideas expressed. In other words, readers of the new health curriculum are not sufficiently encouraged to take a critical stance to the health ideas expressed – to consider critically, for instance, the degree to which the concern for weight is socially constructed. There is also a less holistic approach to the curriculum area overall. From another perspective, and one that could be at odds with my first perspective, I have difficulty with the reality of what is stated in the learning area statements and the achievement objectives when matched with what occurs in primary school health and physical education programmes. Physical education and health are such puny curriculum activities in most primary schools. For the physical side of the curriculum area, the message is not getting across or, and this is my view, the wrong message is being sent; and knowing from my social studies’ background how value challenge and change is a difficult manoeuvre for teachers to effect in children, the aims of the relationship side are just too broad, especially given the miniscule time actually spent on the curriculum area, and the hackneyed and prosaic topics chosen for consideration. This is not the time to veer off into a discussion on health and physical education, but my view on the curriculum area was made clear to John Banks and his talkback listeners some years ago – see posting 1 on the ’07 draft curriculum; and in ‘Developmental Magazine’ (No.1, 1994) I wrote an article, the main point I was making was that physical education should be enjoyable, active, and be tied intensively to what children do independently in physical activity at school and home.
The learning area statement for mathematics is commendable – to the point and effective. Perhaps more emphasis might have been given to the idea of multiple solutions and the use of different strategies. Then, there is the issue of the partial separation of statistics from the rest of mathematics. I am not clear, perhaps it would be more accurate to say, not convinced, why this partial separation has been effected. The maths’ developers provide excellent accounts of the commonalities between the two. For instance: ‘Both equip students with the effective means for investigating, interpreting, explaining, and making sense of the world in which they live’ – exactly. And there follow three paragraphs showing maths pulling in harness again. (What first class paragraphs they are.) It is left to the part giving a thumbnail description of statistics to indicate the reasons for the partial distancing. This description, though, starts with four and a half lines of commonalities, only in the last three and a half lines come the declared differences: ‘Statistics also involves interpreting statistical information, evaluating data-based arguments, and dealing with uncertainty and variation’. Statistics, it seems, is a bit too much of a wild child to fit exactly into the maths’ fold. I know, as a result of examinations, secondary schools are under pressure to drive forward in their maths, but why not accommodate statistics unreservedly within maths to ginger up the curriculum area. Paradoxically, such a gingering may have been the intention for the degree of separation – perhaps the maths’ developers thought by separating statistics and highlighting its subjective characteristics, this would more strongly ‘position’ maths as a candidate for the fabled inquiry learning the document is supposed to be about. I argue that maths would be strengthened in all respects if the statistics was maths and maths statistics, and the twain not only met but merged.
A word in this last sentence of the maths’ statement caught my attention, the only time it is used in the document, yet it more accurately describes an education process much discussed in the document which uses another term – one which is both misleading, even dishonest. Statistics, the sentence reads, involves ‘evaluating data;. Readers of this web site, and of my magazine of the ’90s (‘Developmental Network Magazine’), will know I am concerned about a surveillance culture which dominates schools leading to a stifling of creativity and individuality, and which is making teaching unattractive to those of a more adventurous mindset. Orwell, amongst many others, has taught us about the way a corruption of language leads to, and is symptomatic of, a misuse of power by the powerful. For this group, the usefulness of corruption of language is that it corrodes the moral status of society in such a way that those affected barely know it is happening, and even if they do become aware, often dismiss it as too minor to be concerned about.
Out of the New Right ideology came words that expressed images that conveyed the idea that education was a technical, business and accounting process that could be set out in sequences and checked and overseen as if coming off a conveyor belt. To use the New Right words is to accept and confirm education as that kind of process. So we use words like ‘output’, ‘input’, ‘stakeholder’, ‘productivity’, ‘checkpoints’, ‘objectives’ (as set out in sequences), and, ‘skills’ (as an embracing behaviour). The two key corruptive words, however, are ‘accountability’ and ‘assessment’. ‘Accountability’ with its management imagery replaced ‘responsibility’, and in doing so cleverly, from the perspective of the power elite, changed the emphasis from the individual responding to moral imperatives, to groups being made to conform to expectations set by the power elite – calling to account those who did not comply. In this instance in the maths’ statement, I think it has popped up because the developers, in wanting to highlight the turbulence of statistics relative to the other parts of maths, have brought the ‘value’ part of evaluation into play.
Many times at courses and in my writing in ‘Developmental Network Magazine’ I have stated that all judgements are value-based, therefore all ‘assessment’ is value-based, and so the more honest word to describe the process is ‘evaluation’. Teachers, their representatives, and academics, many of whom express concern about the bureaucratisation of education and the spiritually-crippling effects of Foucault-type surveillance on teachers, persist in using the word ‘assessment’, despite it being counterproductive to their aspirations. But ‘assessment’ reigns. The idea it conveys is that someone knows how children learn, the sequence in which they learn, the specific behaviours which will indicate they have learnt – all reminiscent of quality control of a car coming off an assembly line. And the people who know, it seems, are to some extent certain academics who supply massive lists of criteria for ‘assessment procedures’, but in particular the review office who go around schools demanding proof – scientific, objective proof, as conveyed in the imagery of the word ‘assessment’. Associated with this fantasy fixed on schools is another fantasy, the idea of tightly sequenced learning based on behavioural objectives. The elegance of all this for the power elite is that because the style of teaching is a fantasy, and the associated ‘assessment’ procedures are a fantasy, they are never able to be realised, so teachers are at a permanent disadvantage to those in the power elite – to those who know. All teachers can do is appear to meet the demands of the elite while, below this façade, teaching in a way that treats children as human, in other words, approaching teaching as a process of glorious complexity.
As for the achievement objectives in mathematics, redundant grading progressions are still evident, and some grouping of levels would have been desirable, but the clear thinking of the maths’ developers and the nature of the curriculum area mitigate the most serious effects.
The science developers also do well with their learning area statement. There is an impressive account of the nature of science in the opening paragraph, and in one further on. This paragraph says ‘scientific knowledge is durable, it is also constantly being re-evaluated in the light of new evidence’. The nature of science knowledge is then further clarified. Good stuff. Perhaps the way science can be problematic could have been more clearly expressed, but the statement does say that the scientific perspective needs to take ‘into account social and ethical considerations’. I do not like the use of the word ‘World’ in naming of the parts of science, it conveys a feeling of an enclosed system which, to me, is anti-scientific. Much better, in my view, even if it does sound a little stark, is to call those parts by their common scientific name, for instance, Biology, Physics, and Chemistry. For Planet Earth and Beyond, perhaps, Earth, Solar System and Beyond. Young children, I think, would be quite chuffed to think they were studying, say, physics or chemistry, and it might take some of elitism and mystery out of science. I do not favour the expression ‘Planet Earth’ unless there is another entity called Earth.
As for the achievement objectives the science developers have done a good job and, in the course of this, sprung a welcome major surprise. There are still some unnecessary gradations in the achievement objectives, but in the first column (only in the separate, fold-out listing of achievement objectives) the developers have written some beautifully formed aims for all the Levels. I am moved and gratified by this listing of aims. In this one action they have unified the science curriculum area, provided a model for teachers and curriculum developers in all curriculum areas, and struck a blow for teacher professionalism. I urge teachers to cast an eye at the columns of achievement objectives, but work from the first column, that is, the one listing the aims. Teachers, I suggest, should teach to these science aims, using selected achievement objectives as criteria – in this way teaching and learning becomes holistic. And having done this in science, undertake the same process for the other curriculum areas (unfortunately, though, teachers won’t have a set of aims readymade). But there is more, the developers have also brought Levels 1 and 2 into one column. The only disappointment is that this could just easily have been done for Levels 3 and 4, and I suspect the developers are well aware of that. The achievement objectives are also refreshingly free of jargon.
The social studies developers have tried hard for clarity, logicality and cohesiveness, and have wrought some useful improvements (from the draft), but they are far from pulling it off. In the learning area statement, the developers fail in the necessary and fundamental task of unifying the curriculum area; from that failure come flaws that are evident in the learning area statement, and in the listing of achievement objectives. There is an absence of a genuine social studies main aim. The message communicated by the developers is that social studies is not a structured curriculum area, but a loose arrangement of social studies issues, ideas and matters which children should learn about. The main aim provided in the list of main aims (though they are not called aims) for curriculum areas (p. 17) is that: ‘In the social sciences, students explore how societies work and how they themselves can participate and take action as critical, informed, and responsible citizens.’ This is not a satisfactory main aim for social studies because it is not fundamental (there are a number of questions to be asked and answered before a dynamic, fundamental main aim can emerge). It is more akin to a general aim for school education as a whole. The closest the developers come to a satisfactory main aim for social studies is when they explain how, when children ‘… explore how others see themselves, (they) clarify their own identities in relation to their particular heritages and contexts (p. 30)’. This is an important step in the process towards a main aim because it highlights the cognitively and affectively powerful and crucial comparative process. Further steps, however, needed to be taken before a dynamic and fundamental main aim can come to hand.
Then there is the nomenclature of calling the curriculum area ‘social sciences’ as against ‘social studies’. Clearly, the social studies curriculum in the document was devised for the disciplinary studies from Level 6-10, then Levels 1-5 tacked on. I could immediately rail against the downward curriculum pressure from secondary schools, but this should not be done as a matter of course because the pressure might be for the better. For instance, the secondary school concern with knowledge shows in the way knowledge is kept in good focus throughout the social studies learning area statement and achievement objectives. I should also add here that, compared with the draft document, topics beyond New Zealand are given a more assured place. I somehow sense this change came as a result of pressure from secondary teachers. I do have two objections to the name ‘social sciences’. If the name makes any sense at all, it only does so at Levels 6-8; and the social sciences aren’t science – if they were, an attempt would have been made to define the development, validation and renewal of ‘social science’ knowledge in the way it has been done for science. Calling social studies a ‘science’ is an administrative convenience, and a spurious way to gloss over the lack of a decisive main aim throughout.
An improvement from the draft is the greater emphasis on the world beyond New Zealand (New Zealanders need to be outward looking but, even more important, a powerful way for children to learn about themselves, and to learn cultural tolerance, is through comparison with the lives of other people.) Other than that I am left disappointed by the abstractness of language and expression in the learning area statement, and the way the ideas, for me, don’t hit the nails on the head. What do you make of the following?
‘Societies learn about society and communities and how they function. They also learn about the diverse cultures and identities of people within those communities and about the effects of these on the participation of groups and individuals.’
You sort of know what they mean, but are you uplifted? After all this is the suggested definition of that crucial area of ‘Identity, Culture, and Organisation’. The ‘Continuity and Change’ definition is culture-centred because it does not in the first place accept people who lived in the past as examples of how people live (in this case ‘lived’). The two main ideas in the definition provided are how interpretations of the past change, and what it tells us about the children’s past, present and future. These ideas are fine, but in the first place, it should be made clear that the children should study people in the past, for the same reasons they study them in the present, as valid ways of life – in other words, people who lived in the past, even the children’s own cultural past, should be approached as being another culture (even if, as indicated, it is continuous with their own culture). If social studies had been provided with a cohesive, dynamic main aim, this point, while appearing somewhat tenuous here, would be obvious. I do not like the name ‘Economic World’ for the same reason I did not like the word ‘World’ in science, conveying as it does the idea of an enclosed set of phenomena. Economics, as well, is not presented as problematic. Changing interpretations of the past are stated as an important consideration in the ‘Continuity and Change’ definition, but not in the economic one.
The process for single issue inquiries has been transferred from the achievement objectives’ section to the learning area’s one. As discussed above, this approach to social studies is characteristic of secondary quick bite social studies. It tends to lack particularity to people and a strong affective context.
The social studies’ developers (excuse me for not using the social sciences’ name), as they did for the learning area statement, have made an effort with the achievement objectives, but as for learning area, it has not come off. To their credit, because the developers have used the same lead into the objectives they have avoided one aspect of the graded progressions, but they have indulged in a haphazard eclecticism in choosing the objectives. The lead into the objectives each time is: ‘Students will gain knowledge, skills, and experience to: Understand how …’. The use of one lead in is commendable, but the nature of the lead in is seriously astray. Reference to attitudes and values is missing, supplanted by the empty but dangerous word – skills. In my lead in to aims and objectives I always include the words ‘willingness and ability to’, for instance: Students’ willingness and ability to ‘ make valid comparisons about human relationships, and so on. (‘Willingness’ encompasses attitude and value; ‘ability’, knowledge and skill.) As for the eclecticism, there is some kind of a link between some of the objectives, but it looks as though the developers had one big list of achievement objectives which they then dispersed, with little discernible theoretical justification, through the various levels. Rules and laws, for instance, are allocated to Level 3. Apparently, at Level 1, that somehow links with an objective about belonging to groups being important to people. And yet we all know that rule and laws is a great topic for young children. Level 1 has no apparent economic-type objective. At Level 3, the children are to understand how interpretations of the past vary, but this is not picked up before or again until Level 6.
I could go on in this vein for some time, but I will, except for one more example, leave it there. This example is an egregious error. At Level 3 the achievement objective reads: ‘Understand how cultural practices vary but reflect similar purposes.’ This idea is not referred to before or again. Jesus wept! Readers of ‘Developmental Network Magazine’, postings on this web site (for instance, ‘Essence: Evaluation and social studies’), and those who have attended my courses over many decades will know that, in my view, this aim (though worded differently) lies at the heart of social studies because of its powerful affective and cognitive consequences. Even if the developers don’t share this view as strongly as I do, I cannot believe they don’t see it at least as highly significant. Indeed, ‘Why study the social sciences?’ in the learning area statement seems to be describing this very process. I do want to say I understand how the achievement objectives’ part of recent curricula is a trap in waiting for all developers and, in trying to avoid it, tortuous detours have been taken, some, however, more tortuous than others.
As well as the social studies’ developers getting into difficulty with their response to the graded objectives’ issue, I find the wording of the objectives clumsy and opaque. The developers should have grouped the objectives for a number of levels, and formed clear, fundamental ones. The first science objective for Level 4 reads: ‘Recognise that there are life processes common to all living things and that these occur in different ways.’ This idea is to the point and easy to recognise as fundamental. The first social studies objective for Level 4 reads: ‘Understand how the ways in which leadership groups is acquired and exercised have consequences for communities and societies.’ This objective about the acquisition and use of power and control is clumsily expressed, detracting from the ability to see it as fundamental.
A comparison: Science and social studies
A further comparison with science, this time with how the nature of the curriculum area is explained, also shows social studies at a disadvantage. In the learning area statement, the social studies’ developers acknowledge that there are a number of approaches to social studies, but this does not stop them featuring, as I discuss above, the so-called inquiry model. This model has been shifted from the achievement objectives’ section in the draft curriculum to the learning area statement in the final document, which is not on its own grounds for criticism. A consideration of the way the science developers have worked overall, however, does serve to highlight the unsatisfactory portrayal of the nature of social studies we are left with. First, in science (as discussed above), a list of achievement aims is provided. Is this the first time in recent curricular history that aims have featured in a curriculum area? As you will have picked up from reading these postings and other writings over the years, I have been urging developers to group achievement objectives for a number of levels, and in doing this, turn them into aims by function if not necessarily name. But for the science developers to come straight out with it and provide a list of aims for science education as a whole, clarifies the nature of science in a few strokes, and by the way, leaves me deeply moved.
I know I am repeating myself a bit here, so I will get to the main point of these two paragraphs. Along the top of the science achievement objectives’ section the developers have, in groupings of two levels, put a number of achievement aims and objectives (they are all really aims) for the nature of science. The developers have done this under four headings: ‘Understanding about science’; ‘Investigating in science’; Communicating in science’; ‘Participating and contributing’. They have not been trapped into featuring or implying one model, the random way science creativity occurs is hinted at, ‘Identify ways in which scientists work together and provide evidence to support their ideas’; and when they refer to models, it is always in the plural, and there is an attractive informality, ‘Ask questions, find evidence, explore simple models, and carry out appropriate investigations to develop simple explanations’ (Levels 3 and 4). The nature of science is laid out in a way to appeal to teacher professionalism as a key step to engaging the interest of children. On the basis of what is provided about social studies in the new curriculum, the nature of social studies remains as confused as ever, but I am not going there here.
The technology part of the draft curriculum was incomplete, an indication, it seems, of a ‘curriculum area’ in trouble. What appears in the final curriculum adds weight to that suspicion. Technology, as presented here, is not a curriculum area, it is an ideologically-slanted hotchpotch. The ideological slant suggests, like other slants in the new curriculum, that it is a hangover of events from the ’90s. Even though the ‘curriculum area’ is contradictory to some other parts of the curriculum document, lacks a disciplinary basis, and won’t achieve its stated aims, I suspect it is near untouchable because the name ‘technology’ seems to be deterministically associated with such ideas as progress, modernisation, production, vocational opportunity, being entrepreneurial, and economic growth.
First, the learning area statement. Technology is defined as ‘… by design: the use of practical and intellectual resources to develop products and systems – that expand human possibilities by addressing needs and realising opportunities.’ This definition on the surface seems to be benign, but it isn’t. Technology is a value-laden activity, a reality which should have been acknowledged in this opening definition. The main aim for technology in the listing of main aims for curriculum areas (p. 17) is starker: ‘In technology, students learn to be innovative developers of products and systems and discerning consumers who will make a difference in the world.’ What sort of difference is not made clear. Substantially in this and the previous curriculum, and dominantly in practice, systems’ theorising has replaced the practical activities that used to characterise technology. I could use any one of these practical activities as an example of my point, but I will choose home economics.
The emphasis in home economics has shifted from the preparation and cooking of food, to the production and marketing of food. The emphasis has shifted from healthy food and life skills, to the marketing/consumer nexus. The definition, and this is exemplified even more strongly in the achievement objectives’ section, makes it clear that technology is mainly about the process of transforming natural products into goods that can be marketed. Sustainability is put forward as a major concern in the new curriculum, yet here is a curriculum area at odds with that message. And it should be remembered that along with this food production and marketing comes advertising for consumption, possibly encouraging people to make unhealthy choices. All this at a time when obesity and unhealthy food choices is a major issue. Food is taken out of the family setting, away from the empowering characteristics home economics imparted, to the production line. Quality control in the curriculum is not about healthy food for families, it is about meeting regulatory standards for the market.
I need to make a few quick points in case you consider I’m taking the argument little too far. You might be thinking, even if you can see some merit in my concerns, that the idea of preparing children for technology-based employment should have some place in schools. I agree. But three points in consideration: As this preparation occurs, the problematic, value-laden nature of technology should be ever present; for younger children, at a time, when they are still learning everyday life skills, the curriculum (which is not much changed from the previous one) is inappropriate; and, most important of all, I have seen such technology in practice, and leaving aside its ideological slant, and just considering its vocational intentions, it is failing miserably. Technology should be returned to its practical roots of home economics, and commercial and trades activities – with greater availability and intensity as the children get older. Any useful theoretical parts of the technology curriculum should be dispersed amongst those activities, and social studies, science, and economics. Indeed, I find in social studies, for instance, that detailing processes, say, of organising a dairy farm, is good social studies and good technology.
The new curriculum (in the learning area statement), compared with the previous curriculum, does take more account of the social context of technology but they come across as a series of add-ons. The learning area statement sets out the idea of technology comprising three parts: ‘Technological Practice’; ‘Technological Knowledge’; and the ‘Nature of Technology’. These statements prefigure the jargon-laden achievement objectives set out in that section. A sentence in ‘Technological Knowledge’ says, ‘Students learn how functional modelling is used to evaluate design ideas and how prototyping is used to evaluate the fitness for purpose of systems and products as they are developed.’ The technology developers are trying too hard to cover up the ideological bias of their curriculum area and its lack of disciplinary basis by spinning a web of jargon. Technology has all the appearances of a set of education activities in search of credibility and legitimacy.
The achievement objectives’ section is even more relentlessly an example of economic rationality. Any problematic effect on society is only very faintly alluded to. There is no hint of the problematic nature of technology in any of the ‘Practice’ objectives (or is that the merest references at Level 5); none in the ‘Knowledge’ ones; and, very faintly in the ‘Nature of technology’ ones. In this ‘Nature of technology’ part, Level 1, an objective reads, ‘… technological outcomes are products or systems developed by people and have a physical nature and a functional nature.’ It is not until Level 6, that the idea is made more explicit, but not in a problematic sense – ‘these outcomes impact on other outcomes and practices and on people’s views of themselves and possible futures.’ This technology curriculum is highly dubious. Curriculum activity, as made clear in the introductory sections to the new curriculum, should have an education purpose, with morality an inherent part of that purpose. Claiming an education purpose as the main justification is not sufficient. Because all curriculum activity has a moral effect – the moral effect of the technology curriculum in theory and in practice (remembering that many of the publications supporting the curriculum are industry-sourced or influenced) needs to be debated and laid bare, so that a decision on the suitability of a technology curriculum of this nature can properly be made.
The encouragement to flexibility, and some useful statements for school policy documents
A commendable characteristic of the new curriculum is the encouragement to flexibility it provides. In the area of values, for instance, it acknowledges that the ‘specific way’ values ‘find expression in an individual school will be guided by dialogue between the school and its community (p. 10)’. As well, the document states that the values, for teaching and evaluation ‘can be expanded into clusters of related values (p. 10)’. The developers of the new curriculum have bought in strongly to the primary school orthodoxy of curriculum integration, in effect sanctioned and provided protection (from the review office) to what is already in effect. This is, on the whole, a good thing because it provides considerable latitude for teacher decision making. My qualification is that curriculum integration can become routine, undermine curriculum validity, and be a source of imbalance and a cover for learning ordinariness. I would have liked a strong caution saying that no matter the way learning experiences are organised, teachers should always be vigilant to protect the main aims of curriculum areas and the quality of learning. In other words, integration, by the act of putting activities from a number of curriculum areas together, and doing it in the name of holistic learning, does not lead inevitably to quality learning. Nevertheless, I welcome the flexibility made available in a series of curriculum statements.
‘While the learning areas are presented as distinct, this should not limit the ways in which schools structure the learning experiences offered to students. All learning should make use of the natural connections that exist between learning areas and that link learning areas to the values and key competencies (p. 16).’
‘When teachers deliberately build on what their students know and have experienced, they maximise the use of learning time – and avoid unnecessary duplication of content. Teachers can help students make connections across learning areas as well as to home practices and the wider world (p.34).’
These two statements are welcome ones, but the four that follow have a sharper edge. I recommend schools highlight these statements in their school policy documents. The first statement reads: ‘… when curriculum coverage and student understandings are in competition, the teacher may decide to cover less but cover it in greater depth (p. 34).’ The second: ‘… each school’s curriculum should allow teachers the scope to make interpretations in response to particular needs, interests, and talents of individuals and groups of students in their classes (p. 37). The third: The new curriculum is ‘a framework rather than a detailed plan. This means that while every school curriculum must be clearly aligned with the intent of this document, schools have considerable flexibility when determining the detail (p. 37).’ The fourth: In discussing achievement objectives, a statement says that in choosing these, teachers should select them across learning areas ‘to fit the learning needs of their students (p. 39).’
The admirable statement about the use of learning areas, which has been discussed above should also feature in school policy documents. ‘These statements, rather than the achievement objectives, should be the starting point for developing programmes of learning – Schools are then able to select achievement objectives to fit these programmes (p. 38).’ As commented above, this is an outstanding statement, allowing schools to base teaching and learning on aims, with selected achievement objectives being used as criteria. (Also in the school policy documents should be a reference to the way, as discussed above, the science developers have provided (in the separate fold-out) a set of aims beside the listings of the science objectives, once again setting up the achievement objectives to be used as criteria. This could be put forward as a model for other curriculum areas.) Another statement about the learning areas supports an orthodoxy in primary schools ‘ that of allocating strands or emphases in strands on the basis of a yearly rotation policy. The statement says, ‘… none of the strands in the required learning areas is optional, but in some learning areas, particular strands may be emphasised at different times or in different years. Schools should have a clear rationale for doing this and should ensure each strand receives due emphasis over the larger term (p. 38).’ (Yeah, right!)
With the review office ever-present in principals’ consciousness, the matter of evaluation is always a fraught area. The developers make some tentative moves to free matters up. They start, however, with an outcomes’ view of teaching and learning, and thus provide some support for the review office New Right ideology. Teaching and learning ‘expectations should be stated in ways that help teachers, students, and parents to recognise, measure, discuss, and chart progress (p. 39).’ This rather chilling statement, however, is tempered by the declaration that ‘The primary purpose of assessment is to improve students’ learning and teachers’ teaching ‘ (p. 39). ‘The statement is another one that should feature in school policy documents. As should this sensitive and delightfully expressed one, ‘Analysis and interpretation often take place in the mind of the teacher, who then uses the insights gained to shape their actions as they continue to work with their students (p. 39).’ Overall, though, a question is left unresolved: What if stating ‘expectations’ to be able to ‘measure’ learning to ‘chart progress’ obstructs the ‘primary purpose of assessment’ improving ‘students’ learning and teachers’ teaching’. The perennial dilemma remains, but it has to be said the new curriculum provides some powerful arguments for a defence of a child-centred and progressive view of evaluation.
The main contestation in the new curriculum will be over the meaning, significance, teaching, learning, and evaluation of the competencies. As discussed above, this contestation will be a major distraction from the real issues of learning, teaching, and evaluation. The competencies provide an acceptable but unexceptional description of thinking; urge good teaching of curriculum areas; and put forward some dull, vaguely stated values. But the competencies will become a major focus of the review office and courses and advisory support for years to come – what a bore. As far as educational experts are concerned, the beauty in the ordinariness of the competencies, is that teachers will look at the competencies and find fault in themselves for only seeing ordinariness, pushing them to look to experts to help them identify what they are obviously missing. However, the statement does encourage a flexibility in the teaching and learning of the competencies, and of the values. The statement (pp. 37-38) goes through a number of ways the competencies and values could be undertaken. It ends by saying, in what is emblematic of the new curriculum, ‘Wherever possible, schools should aim to design their curriculum so that learning crosses apparent boundaries.’
The ’07 Curriculum is a mixed document. It is amiable, generous, mainly non-ideological, ingratiating, rambling, confused, flawed, and ultimately disappointing. The document continues with some of the faults from the past, nevertheless, is heading in a more productive direction. It has moments of amateurishness, and moments of inspiration. The developers are proud of the brevity of the document, but have failed to realise that this brevity, to get an education pay-off, required a different writing and presentation approach. There needed to be a say-it-once and say-it-well approach, which would have communicated the necessary confidence to the reader, instead we get a lot of musings here and there. And there needed to be models and symbolic references of extraordinary power and reach.
The handling of inquiry models in the new curriculum is illustrative of its flaws. The social studies inquiry model described on page 30, and shifted from the achievement objectives’ section in the draft, is a curious affair. Why is it included when there is another model, obviously intended as generic, in the ‘Effective Pedagogy’ section (p. 35)? The generic model by definition is intended as the comprehensive one; however, the social studies one has the good sense to refer to ‘a range of approaches’. But both models are unsatisfactory – neither catch the complexity of ideas and children’s thinking, nor a sense of encompassing the curricular gamut. The social studies’ developers are closer to it than the developers of the generic model, but why did all curriculum area developers not have the opportunity to develop a model for getting children thinking in their areas (there are some excellent models in the previous curriculum); or, alternatively, and better, why weren’t the best minds set to work to construct an elegant generic model? Such a generic model would have needed to be flexible and constructed in such a way as to catch the nuances of all the curriculum areas and allow for the range of complexities inherent in them.
Knowledge has an assured place in the curriculum; that is not the problem. The problem is that it is seriously awry in the way it suggests knowledge be approached, gained, and used. The model that should have been followed is one of providing activities that establish in children a sufficient level of knowledge for a topic to proceed, then activities to test cognitive flexibility and affective depth, then opportunities to apply what has been learned to new situations.
A useful start is made to shedding the New Right ’90’s ideological baggage. In the draft document there is a section devoted to ‘outcomes’ and the way these are important to ‘assessment’. This section in the final document has been dumped and a much more sensitive discussion about ‘assessment’ presented. Such a change means less comfort is given to the shallow and simplistic evaluation techniques used and advocated by the education review office. The substantial reduction in the number of achievement objectives, the combining of some these objectives into levels, and a tentative movement to a use of aims (most notably in the separate, fold-out listing of science achievement objectives), means the document is more manageable for teachers. The improvement resulting from the reduction in the number of achievement objectives, however, has not been matched by an improvement in the quality, cohesiveness, or transparency of the objectives provided. In particular, the miseducative implications of the bizarre attempts at learning progressions inherited from the ’90s still feature. Though there is a reduction in references to ‘outcomes’, it is disappointing that the word ‘competencies’ has been used because it derives from the largely discredited process of task analysis and demonstrable behaviours. That sense of outward, demonstrable behaviour does indeed linger in the description of the competencies and how they can be developed and evaluated. A theme throughout this consideration of the new document is that labels and their connotations and metaphors do matter because labels in education, as bearers of whatever ideology, persistently shape the thinking of those who hear and use them. In that respect the developers of the new document have at least been careless – a kind of careless eclecticism.
I am not in this conclusion discussing at length the sorry story of the presentation of the new document (and the draft). Initial ideas of a new curriculum are often powerful ones because for that moment teachers and people are paying attention. Curricula, however, are primarily for teachers and children; never again should public relations be put ahead of being absolutely straight about the nature and intentions of the documents.
The question needs to be asked whether the document will provide impetus for any particular parts of New Zealand education. Secondary education can be considered first. The main and well-established routine for secondary teachers will be to force the curriculum area requirements in the new document into the existing exam prescription formats. In other words, for secondary teachers, a new curriculum is mainly a non-event. There is one part of this document, however, which will give them pause for thought – the competencies. How to get around the competencies, which are a feature of the document, and a certain focus for the review office, is likely to be something of an issue for both primary and secondary teachers. Primary teachers will make a valiant effort with them but, in the main, will have recourse to various thinking and values’ packages. In secondary schools, to the irritation of some teachers, a few principals will take the values’ part of the competencies seriously. However, teachers and their departments will prevail and this part will be engulfed in indifference, to end up as another problem for principals at education review times.
Even though the values’ part of the competencies is a mess, primary schools are predicted to salvage something – but this will not be startling in achievement. That leaves the ‘Thinking’, and the ‘Using language’ parts. The ‘Using language’ part simply means do what you do do well, so that doesn’t add up to much as inspiration (though fine as a homily). The ‘Thinking’ part interests me to some extent, and I predict that this will encourage some primary schools to hear children’s voices more. It is important that schools work out there own inspiration for this, certainly ignoring thinking packages, even what other schools are doing. The value will be in the journey, not the destination. Having said all that, though, the main challenge in thinking is to get children thinking – really thinking – in a sustained cognitive and affective context. Surely, good thinking is a precondition for anything that occurs in the name of ‘metacognition’.
Overall, though, I cannot take the competencies seriously. They are a way of avoiding the difficult task within teaching of getting children thinking, really thinking, within curriculum areas, and with that achieved across curriculum areas. Most of the discussion to do with the competencies will be about generalised thinking approaches.
As for values, whether in the competencies or elsewhere in the document, their expression is a muddle.
None of the curriculum areas, even the ones for whom a good job has been done in the circumstances, will get much impetus from the document. This is because those developing curriculum areas for primary education need to be freed from the achievement objectives’ straitjacket to be allowed to use a format of aims and associated criteria.
The excellent statements on evaluation, and the suggestions for how to use the learning area statements, if they had featured in the media presentations and been symbolically represented in the guff sections, could have been a highlight of the new document. It will be very difficult to rescue them now to be the focus of the professional development courses. These statements are a victim of the give-a-dog-a-bone tactic so shamelessly employed by the ministry. It is difficult to get across in media bites a humanistic approach to evaluation – any approach to evaluation that empowers teachers is likely to alarm conservative sections of the public and education community. On this one, the ministry probably thought, better to leave sleeping dogs lie.
There is one curriculum area which in schools was ready to be set alight but, in my view, was shafted. There is in the guff sections of the new curriculum, and in the technology curriculum, an obsessive business and consumer/marketing orientation. Talk of entrepreneurship is much more noticeable than of equity and social justice. This might have been marginally acceptable if there had been a counterbalancing with strong references and examples throughout from, say, the arts, science, health and physical education, or mathematics. (While most of the introductory parts of the new curriculum have been described as guff – which is the norm for curricula – the guff parts can have significant symbolic power.) In the curriculum as a whole, some curriculum areas have been adequately catered for, and some by nature better suited by the set-up, but the curriculum area that did not get a fair go, and was not suited by the set-up, was the arts. The structure of contemporary curricula does not suit the arts, nor is it given a fair go in the guff sections. At the very least, throughout the document, the arts needed to be in the forefront of the dialogue – it needed to be explicitly mentioned in, say, ‘Future focus’, and the ‘Vision’; the vocabulary used throughout and the nuances contained needed to fit the arts; it needed an inquiry model and evaluation process that suited; it needed to be made clear that the arts provided excellent opportunities for inquiry and problem-solving; and in the setting up of the actual curriculum area, the arts’ developers should have been given free reign. I do want to add that given all the disadvantages the arts’ developers faced, they did an admirable job in the writing of the arts’ learning statement and achievement objectives.
The position of the arts has emerged as a theme in these writings. In the absence of clear and practical overall curriculum expectations, primary teachers make compromises which they then mask with certain manoeuvres – integration being a prime one. The main curriculum losers from this at the moment are health and physical education (trivialised or non-existent); science (thrice-yearly non-event); social studies (generalised schmaltz). The arts are now in a perilous situation. There are less than a handful of advisers, and they, by force of circumstances, spend most of their time in secondary schools. But even more worrying is an ideological divide. I am interpreting some teachers as saying the arts were important back then, in Beeby’s time, as an understandable stage in the development of our national identity – but that things have moved on, this being the computer age with computers the new arts.
As a counterpoint to suggesting the arts have been shafted by the new document because of neglect in the general parts of that document, and the nature of contemporary curricula, there is one curriculum area too suited by the curricula and the temper of the times – technology. As I request in the body of this posting, would somebody please shaft it?
Teachers, before they move to make something of the new curriculum, should look at it clear-eyed, not be beguiled by the mythology so tumultuously devised and presented by those involved in its development (for instance, that it is about inquiry learning). Compared with its predecessor, the new curriculum is heading in more educationally rewarding directions, but the developers still fumbled an opportunity to produce a cohesive, powerful and inspiring statement. In the benign educational context that prevails, the developers should have reached for more. The document represents a lost opportunity. The tone of my comments have been coloured by this point-of-view. At the school level, teachers will have to step up to correct significant omissions and commissions. To fail to do so would only serve to compound that feeling of opportunity lost.