By David de Carvalho, CEO of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA).
The Australian curriculum, which underpins the teaching and learning in all Australian schools, is currently under review.
The review aims to declutter the curriculum to make life easier for teachers – which will make the curriculum more accessible for students.
Teachers will be able to linger longer on topics, to make sure students understand what they are taught and are given the opportunity to deepen their understanding of core concepts.
As part of the review, ACARA is doing some work to clarify the relationship between the three dimensions of the curriculum; that is, the learning areas, the cross-curriculum priorities, and the general capabilities.
There has been a lot of misunderstanding about the cross-curriculum priorities and the general capabilities.
They are not ‘add-ons’ to the learning areas but in fact enrich the content that is taught.
The eight learning areas – English, mathematics, science, the humanities and social sciences, the arts, technologies, health and physical education, and languages – are what is taught. They have primacy of place in the curriculum.
The centrality of the learning areas – what parents might know by the more traditional terms of ‘subjects or ‘disciplines’ – cannot be emphasised enough. The Australian Curriculum is a knowledge-rich curriculum and it will stay that way.
It is through the teaching of the learning areas that students develop the general capabilities (such as literacy, numeracy, critical and creative thinking, information and communications technology (ICT) capability, intercultural understanding, ethical understanding, and personal and social capability).
Likewise, it is through the teaching of the learning areas that students are exposed to ideas from the cross-curriculum priorities – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Australia’s engagement with Asia, and sustainability. Similar to the general capabilities, they are not distinct subjects that are taught separately.
What we have learnt is that not every cross-curriculum priority and general capability can be addressed in every learning area. Some learning areas are better suited to the development of particular general capabilities than other learning areas, and each of the three cross-curriculum priorities find more natural homes in certain learning areas.
The priorities provide national, regional and global dimensions, which will enrich the curriculum through development of considered and focused content that fits naturally within the learning areas.
For example, the elaborations for the Australian curriculum: Science (F–10) demonstrate the connections between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures and core science concepts in the Australian curriculum.
Aboriginal Peoples and Torres Strait Islander Peoples have worked scientifically for millennia and continue to contribute to contemporary science. By using these elaborations, teachers can deepen their students’ understanding of scientific concepts and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. These elaborations also have the potential to make learning more relevant for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and, as a result, to help increase their participation in STEM subjects.
In the Australian Curriculum, the general capabilities are addressed through the content of the learning areas. For example, literacy and numeracy are primarily, but not exclusively, developed through the teaching of English and Mathematics.
Critical and creative thinking is developed in any subject that builds knowledge through a process of getting students to generate possible explanations and then decide between them as to which is most likely to be true. Science, technology and the arts are the learning areas – but not the only ones – where the ICT capability is developed. Geography as a subject within the humanities and social sciences, and languages are well suited to the development of students’ understanding of other cultures.
Good teachers can integrate the cross-curriculum priorities and the general capabilities appropriately into their teaching of the learning areas. The revised Australian Curriculum will make this easier by improving the quality of the content descriptions and the elaborations by embedding them only where it is most authentic to do so.
This way, teachers should feel confident that when they teach the content of the learning areas, they are developing their students’ general capabilities and enriching their understanding of the cross-curriculum priorities.
We have done the hard work to make it easier for teachers to do the real work – educating our next generations.