The Key to ACARA’s Universe

We’re still attempting to make our way through the literature supporting ACARA’s curriculum review. We have written, and again, on ACARA’s absurd and insidious Literature Review. Next was supposed to be ACARA’s Key Findings document, and that is the subject of this post. It turns out, however, that capturing this document is close to impossible, like trying to grab fairy floss. This post will be brief.

The purpose of the Key Findings is to summarise ACARA’s four comparisons of the Australian Curriculum (AC), with those of Singapore, Finland, New Zealand and British Columbia:

[The Key Findings] summarises key insights and considerations across the four comparative studies that can help inform future advice on refinements and improvements to the AC.

ACARA puts its thumb on the scales early on:

Evidence from these comparative studies identifies how high performing education systems are incorporating 21st century capabilities/competencies into their curricula.

Yep, somehow all these countries just happen to be singing from ACARA’s songsheet. And then, another song:

Recent developments in these curricula also include increasing emphasis on essential/core concepts at the expense of detailed statements of mandatory content, catering for student diversity, and emphasising the importance of equal access for all students including First Peoples and those with additional needs. [emphasis added]

Perhaps this is referring more to the humanities — where it still sounds like a very bad idea. Of course, the idea of decreasing mandatory content in mathematics is ridiculous. As is any suggestion that Singapore, for example, might be doing this.

After this five-part harmony introduction, the Key Findings goes onto to consider differences in the curricula. The comparison is made in terms of three characteristics: breadth, depth and rigour:

Breadth refers to the number or range of content or topics covered in the curriculum, often referred to as ‘coverage’. 

Depth refers to the detail or amount of knowledge that leads to the development of deep understandings of key concepts, principles and knowledge, and the ability to apply these understandings to real-world contexts. 

Rigour refers to the cognitive demand in the curriculum required for students to engage in higher order thinking. 

None of these definitions is remotely close to being sufficiently tight. This permits ACARA to fish for whatever it wants and, whatever it finds, to declare it to be a fish. Thus, ACARA’s subsequent conclusion is predictable, and predictably silly:

Across the four curricula compared, there was general consistency in the levels of breadth, depth and rigour within and between learning areas/subjects.

Fascinating. We’re used to people arguing, or simply assuming, that Singapore is different but that Australia should not compete. It’s new to hear that we’re all doing great together.

Is there more? Yes, of course: there’s a total of nineteen pages of vague or trivial distinctions, and fluffy God-knows-what. All pretty much impossible to read, and pretty pointless. Except for the occasional ACARA nudge, which, after all, is really the point:

In comparison to the other curricula, the AC was found to be a more prescriptive curriculum, characterised by disciplinary knowledge, skills and understandings … .

The international curricula all give a more prominent role and function to the development and implementation of core competences/capabilities/skills than could be argued does the AC.

So let’s have less of that what-do-you-teach-when stuff, and more of that let-the-kids-be-creative-and-ethical-with-their-techno-toy. You know, like Singapore.

This document really is a key to ACARA’s universe. And it really is an alternate universe.



2 Replies to “The Key to ACARA’s Universe”

  1. What are “21st century capabilities”?

    If we transport ourselves back to 1900, could we have predicted what will be required to cope with the 20th century? Would we have taken into account two World Wars, the Great Depression, the rise and fall of Communism, international air traffic, supermarkets, revolutions in Russia and China, the contraceptive pill, the impact of feminism, autism, space travel, computers, or the internet? Probably not.

    Are we any better placed to predict what will be required to cope with the 21st century? Are we preparing students for a world dominated by robots, major wars, anti-globalisation, life on Mars? We should ask science fiction writers.

    1. Terry, they have actually have an answer to that. This uncertainty about the future is exactly the basis of the “21st century skills” push. The idea is to teach less specifics about the world — since it’s gonna to change to who knows what — and teach more “high order thinking”, how to be flexible about thinking about anything. (As if this was somehow absent from a traditional education.)

      There are many problems with this idea, but the main problem is that, to the extent one can teach thinking, it can only be done by getting kids thinking about something. You can have kids “problem-solve” solve until the cows come home, but if they’re not solving using appropriate skills applied to appropriate knowledge, to properly understood information, it is simply playing games. Nothing will stick.

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