From the President: When more means less
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 123 No 2, 9 March 2018, p7
The start of the 2018 school year has seen a flurry of demands for the inclusion of more programs as mandatory components of the school curriculum.
The maths is simple. What teachers and principals know is that the school day is finite and forcing schools to take on more programs on social and community issues will mean less time for core curriculum.
Australia’s priorities for all children are surely to achieve the best possible life outcomes, keep them safe, prepare them for a future of work and life-long learning, provide the skills and knowledge to be active citizens and do our best to ensure that they are happy and fulfilled.
Increasingly, any emerging social issue leads to calls for mandatory inclusion in what is taught in schools. Each issue is of concern to students, parents, teachers and principals, but it is simplistic to assert that schools can or should take sole responsibility for educating students on these issues.
The default position from some commentators, particularly in the media, is to look to schools to provide the solutions to the vast array of challenges facing young people and their families.
Of concern is the growth of commercial entities peddling “silver bullet” solutions to governments for many of these issues. Rarely is there a simple answer to such community concerns, and purchasing a program for delivery in every school at enormous cost to the taxpayer will invariably be a waste of precious resources.
Other commentators have, in contrast, sheeted the responsibility for such education outside of the formal curriculum to parents and families. In truth, the proper course of action lies somewhere in between: an acknowledgement that schools and families share responsibility for the education of the whole child. In fact, every group or agency that children come into contact with can influence how those children interpret and react to the world around them.
Legislation requires schools to deliver the National Curriculum. The recommended allocations of time for the key areas of the National Curriculum (English, maths, science, humanities and social science, health and physical education, arts, technology and languages) account for 90 per cent of the total number of hours available in the school year.
Co-curricular and extra-curricular activities, such as sporting carnivals, school leadership camps, arts performances, religious instruction and commemorations such as ANZAC Day, easily account for most of the remaining 30 minutes per day or two and a half hours a week.
Religious instruction alone can account for up to one hour per week, and has long been targeted by the QTU as an area that does not belong in secular schools and that, if removed from legislation, would provide a greater capacity within the school week to focus on core curriculum.
What must now happen is proper community engagement to reach a conclusion on who will be responsible for what. If schools are to focus on the work of formal education, balanced with appropriate attention to the wellbeing of the child, other parts of the community must take on the role of providing some of the other areas of life education.
We know that as we have become more connected through technology, we have become more isolated as individuals. The status of community and the sense of belonging that was once a core feature of human existence has been eroded. The combination of these factors makes growing up in the modern day just that much harder.
Let’s make everyone’s responsibilities clear so we can all get on with job of doing the best for students in every school.