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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has chosen the Melbourne Graduate School of Education (MGSE) to lead a large-scale transformation of the curriculum for its 36,000 schools, to begin this year.

Professor John O'Toole discusses the purposes and the current progress of the National Curriculum.

Professor O'Toole is the Chair of Arts Education at the University of Melbourne, and lead author of the arts subject area of the National Curriculum.

 

There are important efficiencies to be won for Australian school-children through the implementation of a national school curriculum, says Chair of the National Curriculum Board and Director of the Melbourne Educational Research Institute (MERI), Professor Barry McGaw.

Professor McGaw, who led the team of experts reviewing the structure and content of a new curriculum for Australian schools says that being a relatively small country, we would do schooling better if we did everything together.  He said it would be done more efficiently, and we would be able to draw on a better skill base of teachers and curriculum creators, if we do it nationally.

"Even though we have separate systems in the states and territories, they are not all that different.  There was a recent study looking into some of the content in physics, maths and chemistry for example, and it was found that 90 per cent of the content is largely the same - yet it has been developed seven times."

Professor McGaw says it is often argued that we need a national curriculum to better support the 80,000 students who cross state borders each year.

But he says: "Increasingly in education practice the comparisons we’re interested in making are those across international boundaries - it’s another aspect of globalisation really."

Professor McGaw says the new curriculum will specify what is that students should be able to know, and understand, and do, and will detail content, however one of its main benefits will be that is allows for a genuinely common assessment of student outcomes and school performance.

"We do have in Australia now a common assessment of literacy and numeracy, but that’s a common assessment designed in the absence of a common framework - with a national curriculum we have the prospect of a common framework to shape the tests."

Professor McGaw says standout features of the curriculum are the attention paid to Indigenous traditions, both in their own right, and in relation to settlement cultures, and a renewed emphasis on the teaching of grammar.

"In English there will be three strands: literature, language and literacy.  Traditional grammar is important to learn but not in a decontextualised way.  The reason we gave up teaching it was because it was taught in such a boring way.  We need to have reasons why we learn grammar - we need to make grammar have a point."