OUR JUDAEO-CHRISTIAN HERITAGE TO BE GIVEN GREATER EMPHASIS IN OUR SCHOOLS
Primary schools should focus on teaching literacy and numeracy, Australia’s Judaeo-Christian heritage should be given greater emphasis, and a “tokenistic” approach to key classroom themes must be dumped, according to a proposed shake-up of the national curriculum hailed by Tony Abbott as a “back to basics” approach to education. The federal government’s review of the national curriculum, conducted by Queensland University professor Ken Wiltshire and education consultant and senior research fellow at the Australian Catholic University Kevin Donnelly, calls for “immediate and substantial action” to reduce the overcrowding of the curriculum in primary schools.
The report recommends subjects be removed or “slimmed down” and students in their first three years concentrate on learning the three Rs, underpinned by a focus on teaching phonics, the letter-sound relationships in English, in a systematic way. The report criticises the lack of emphasis on “morals, values and spirituality”, and calls for a “rebalancing” in the history curriculum to “better recognise the contribution of Western civilisation, our Judaeo-Christian heritage, the role of economic development and industry, and the democratic underpinning of the British system of government”.
“Many argue the place of religion, belief systems and values is not being addressed, and there is a sizeable degree of support for the greater inclusion and emphasis of this content in the Australian curriculum,” it says. The report also calls for the dumping of “curriculum themes” that required cross-curriculum priorities of indigenous, sustainable and Asian perspectives, and general capabilities, including critical and creative thinking, ethics, personal and social, to be taught across all subjects. Instead, it says, these topics should be embedded in subjects where appropriate to avoid “promoting a superficial checklist mentality” and “tokenistic” teaching of the issues.
“Despite the success in developing a new ‘national curriculum’, its patchy implementation by state and territory education authorities and some significant flaws in its design make claims that it is ‘world-class’ or ‘best-practice’ question-able,” the report says. The government immediately endorsed the need to reduce the content in the overcrowded curriculum, particularly in the primary years, and to embed the cross-curriculum priorities and general capabilities in relevant subjects. The government also strongly supported the criticism that the curriculum fails to adequately cater for students with special needs and learning difficulties, and the call to “rebalance” the curriculum by developing an overarching framework.
Commenting on the report, the Prime Minister said he wanted a “back to basics” school system “where we do the essentials very well”. “I want all of our young people to come out of school with the ability to read, to write, to count, to think, and I want them to know enough about Australia and the world to have a reasonable understanding of the events around them,” he said. “I don’t think it’s too much to ask. “The more focused on getting the basics right our education systems are, the better we will all be, the easier it will be for our youngsters to get jobs and the stronger and more prosperous our society will be in the years and decades to come.”
Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the recommendations would be considered by his state and territory counterparts — who run schools — at the next ministerial meeting in December, but the suggested changes required “tinkering” rather than a dramatic overhaul. “This is not an ideological document, this is a document about how to improve student outcomes,” he said. “There are certain themes in the national curriculum that the review has found appropriate in some aspects, not appropriate in others, that there may have been a tendency to try to squeeze the content into themes that were not likely to be appropriate.
“It’s hard for example to have Australia’s place in Asia squeezed into the mathematics curriculum, yet there was an attempt to do that. “This probably frees the curriculum from the strictures of trying to make the content match the themes, instead allowing the content to speak for itself.” The Labor Party’s spokeswoman on education, Kate Ellis, said while many of the report’s findings were straightforward, playing around with the curriculum would not result in any improvement in schools while they faced “the biggest-ever cut to school funding, announced in this year’s budget”. Ms Ellis said “Any talk of tinkering with the curriculum is meaningless, faced with such a huge axe being taken to every school budget.”
The national curriculum was instigated by then federal education minister Julia Gillard, with draft curriculums in four initial subjects of English, maths, science and history released late in 2008. The 300-page curriculum review report released says the “missing step” was the development of an overarching framework that considered the purpose of education, and within which each subject could be designed with notional space and time allocations. “Policy imperatives overrode educational considerations … in the words of one of our respondents who was engaged in the process: ‘It was like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle without having the picture’,” the report says.
While the consensus in education circles is that the national curriculum is better than what existed previously, the report says the design is “still too monolithic, too template-driven, homogenous and too focused on rigid content descriptors and lock-step sequencing”. “Student diversity is being seriously neglected especially as regards students with disabilities,” it says. The reviewers heard differing views on whether the curriculum was balanced, with some submissions not concerned while others expressed serious concern, “even to the point of bias, in relation to content, especially in the light of serious omissions and doubtful inclusion of content”.
A lack of independence about different teaching methods was also identified, with the report noting a preference in many subjects for a “constructivist”approach. Such an approach casts the teacher as “a guide by the side”, helping students discover and construct their own learning, rather than the “sage on the stage” at the front of the classroom leading student learning. “The main fault … was the rush to deliver the Australian Curriculum and the resultant constant compromising among viewpoints,” the report says. When compromises were rushed and not made on educational grounds, it led to ever-increasing inclusions in the curriculum, with a breadth of topics studied but not in depth.
More than 200 people packed the headquarters of hard-line Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir in Sydney’s west last week to cheer as the group’s local head called for the overhaul of Australian society into an Islamic totalitarian state — while relying on the nation’s democratic traditions to achieve that goal. Despite the rallying by such groups, the Australian Imams Council and the nation’s top Islamic figure, the Grand Mufti, called for the rejection of anti-terror security legislation that would extend laws banning the advocacy of terrorism. “We are especially concerned that the new laws will broaden the definition of ‘advocating’ terrorism to include ‘promote’ and ‘encourage’, as well as ‘counsel’ and ‘urge’,” the council said.
Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is estimated to have as many as one million members worldwide, states as its aim to replace the “corrupt society” of Western countries “so that it is transformed into an Islamic society”. The group made headlines recently when spokesman Wassim Doureihi appeared on ABC’s Lateline and continually refused to condemn terrorist group Islamic State, despite repeated questioning from host Emma Alberici. Mr Doureihi dodged the question when asked whether he was “outraged” by images of a seven-year-old Australian boy “holding up severed heads like trophies” in Iraq or Syria.
At the public lecture, “The War to End a Blessed Revolution” — in reference to the foreign campaign against Islamic State in Syria — Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Australia head Ismail Alwahwah called for a “new world order” and said he was willing to “sacrifice everything” for the group’s goals. Underlying the hard-line nature of the group, the audience chanted in unison in response to regular screams of “Takfir” from an audience member throughout the presentation. Takfir is a highly evocative term used by Muslims accusing other Muslims of apostasy, or being unbelievers, because they hold less radical interpretations of Islam. It is also used against non-Muslims.
Other Muslim groups have been eager to point out Hizb ut-Tahrir is at the radical fringe of the religion and does not represent them. While last week’s lecture raised a number of reasonable concerns, such as the deaths of Muslims in the Middle East as the result of foreign actions, Mr Alwahwah’s lecture often wandered into rambling territory and much of the logic was counterintuitive. Despite seeking the abolition of democracy and the imposition of a totalitarianism Islamic state in Australia, the group relies on Western democratic concepts and railed against its perceived wind-back of freedoms under the new anti-terror laws.
The group claimed the new laws would “restrict rights”, and allow computers to be “hacked without a warrant” and for people to be stopped “randomly in the street”. Mr Alwahwah said he was open to changing his mind if presented with a convincing argument. However when presented with simple questions, Mr Alwahwah refused to respond. When Non-Muslim audience member Alison Bevege repeatedly asked what the penalty for her as a non-Muslim would be for apostasy under Hizb ut-Tahrir Mr Alwahwah refused to answer directly. Instead he spoke about Muslims killed in the Middle East by foreigners. Many Islamic scholars consider apostasy a crime, with several stating it was punishable with the death penalty.
BILL SHORTEN COMMITS LABOR TO SUPPORT SAME-SEX MARRIAGE
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has become the first Australian political leader to confront the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) on same-sex marriage, telling them he is a Christian who believes in marriage equality. “I believe in God and I believe in marriage equality,” he told the ACL national conference in Canberra. Religion should never be used as an instrument of division or exclusion, he said. “I believe our current law does exclude some individuals. it says to them that your relationship is not equally valued by the state, that your love is less equal under the law. We currently have a law that discriminates against adult couples on the basis of who they love.”
Mr Shorten read from the scriptures and said he couldn’t remain silent about those who said marriage equality was the first step on the road to polygamy and bigamy and bestiality. The ACL has campaigned strongly to prevent the passing of marriage equality laws. While delegates at the conference disagreed with what Mr Shorten had to say about marriage equality, they welcomed the Opposition Leader’s openness about the subject. In a question and answer session after Mr Shorten’s speech, ACL managing director Lyle Shelton immediately raised “the elephant in the room” and said “we really appreciate the way you’ve been fearless and frank with us”.
“Obviously there is a point of difference in our views,” Mr Shelton said. Mr Shelton then asked if there could be a civil debate in Australia that “openly canvasses” the pros and cons of changing the definition of marriage. He said the Hyatt Hotel, the venue for the conference, had been “bombarded with bile and bitter hatred towards ACL” in recent days in an attempt to shut the conference down. “Yes we should have civility,” Mr Shorten said. “Some people disagreed with me coming here to say my views. “We’re members of Parliament. We’ve got to talk to people.” Mr Shorten received applause when he told the conference “I don’t disrespect anyone who holds a contrary view on this question to me”.
Liberal Democrats senator David Leyonhjelm is working on a new bill to allow same-sex marriage, but won’t introduce it until he’s reasonably confident the numbers are there to pass it. The Liberal Party is yet to decide whether to allow a conscience vote on the matter, but Labor MPs have a free vote. Other speakers at the conference included Liberal frontbencher Michaelia Cash, Labor frontbencher Shayne Neumann and lawyer Roger Kiska from the conservative Christian non-profit body Alliance Defending Freedom.