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What's the problem? Pausing to reassess the reasons for a national curriculum

Ditchburn, G. (2010) What's the problem? Pausing to reassess the reasons for a national curriculum. In: 25th West Australian Institute of Educational Research (WAIER) Forum, 7 August 2010, Edith Cowan University, Mount Lawley Campus


Many changes in Australian education over the last five years have captured the national interest (national literacy and numeracy assessments, the MySchool website, national professional standards and evaluation, funding for school building programs). And yet, amid these other changes in education, it is curious that schools appear to have accepted the idea of a national curriculum with a certain degree of inevitability. So, why aren't we as a profession pausing to fully interrogate the reasons for, and the organisation of, the proposed Australian curriculum - and not just the details of content? Why are we largely accepting of the changes to state based curricula that are being imposed? What has happened to our voices?

The reasons for this apparent acceptance of national curriculum will be explored in this paper in terms of a critique of four overlapping agendas. The first agenda is the overt agenda provided by ACARA and Federal politicians who frame the reasons for a national curriculum in terms of pragmatics. The second agenda is about the impact of the 'globalisation and knowledge economy' agenda on education (Vidovic, 2004; Kenway, 2008) and how a 'neo-liberal' agenda positions this curriculum within a politically conservative context (Apple, 1979, 2006; Reid, 2005, 2009; McLaren, 1994); the third agenda is what I call the 'impetus agenda' where the introduction of a national curriculum has been overlaid by a sense of 'crisis' (Down, 2008) that is connected with a number of issues, including Australia's international ranking for PISA results; the fourth agenda is concerned with 'meaning making' in the implementation process (Fullan, 2001) where, I argue, there is the semblance, if not the substance, of participatory consultation and engagement with the implementation process.

Taken together I argue that these four agendas have provided a mantle of credibility around the introduction of the national curriculum. I conclude by proposing that the interplay of these four agendas, and the sense that a national curriculum might be defended on a range of levels, may go some way to explaining the overwhelmingly conciliatory responses by the teaching profession to the national curriculum.

Keywords: national curriculum, neo-liberalism

Item Type: Conference Paper
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
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