Designing a 21st century curriculum: one of the great challenges of Australian education.

In 1967 the retention rate for students staying on for the further two years of school was approximately 20%. In the mid-1990s the rate of retention to Year 12 had risen to 70%.

What if the learning we are offering today was conceived and created with this world in mind?

The world is so different today to fifty years ago and yet education, for all the access to technology and bigger, brighter buildings, much of the curriculum remains unchanged.

The language has changed. In 1967, HSC students would not have been aware of concepts such as:

  • Assessment tasks
  • Ranking
  • ATAR
  • Scaling
  • Acceleration
  • Early entry

However, many features of the school curriculum have been unchanged for decades. Most schools continue to present disciplines largely in isolation from each other, place an emphasis on the mastery of large bodies of factual and procedural knowledge, and treat learning as an individual rather than a collective activity.

As a result, students’ experiences of school subjects can be very different from the experiences of those who ultimately work in these disciplines.

Meeting this challenge requires a significant rethink of the school curriculum. Objectives should include giving greater priority to the skills and attributes required for life and work in the 21st century – including skills in communicating, creating, using technologies, working in teams and problem solving – and developing students’ deep understandings of essential disciplinary concepts and principles and their ability to apply these understandings to complex, engaging real-world problems.

What SCAS has done is to focus on the key skills of literacy and numeracy, while breaking down the silos that have often existed in schools – breaking down the Primary/Secondary schism, linking faculties in ways that allow broader learning, and focussing on a teaching style that prepares students for their future careers.

What we plan to do in the future is to look at the subjects we offer in Years 9 and 10 to ensure that the electives we offer are not relics of a bygone era but meet the following criteria:

  • Link to the skills and knowledge that underpin HSC success
  • Reflect the skills needed for success in the workplace of today and tomorrow
  • Engage the students by reflecting the world they live in and the ideas that excite them
  • Develop the skills and knowledge that allow a better transition to future tertiary study and work

We believe Stage 5, Years 9 and 10, are crucial years in education. Stuck between the enthusiasm of the junior students and the importance of the senior students we know that many students disengage from learning often becoming, at best, reluctant school attenders seeking any excuse to relieve their “boredom”. This is the time in their life when the purpose of schooling is least clear and the goal of engaging all students is the most challenging.

We know quite a bit about the neurological, physical and social development that occurs in these years. We know that for many students:

  • Traditional school activities are less likely to arouse curiosity and engage Year 9 and 10 students than students in earlier years.
  • Students’ motivation and engagement are influenced by the types of tasks and context offered to them.
  • Student academic achievement improves with improved facilities, particularly with facilities designed to create environments conducive to learning.

We know that engagement increases, and better HSC results can come, when students find themselves in a school where the curriculum is challenging, integrative and exploratory, where students are given real choices about what they learn and their subjects and lessons offer them experiences that relate to meaningful life events, experiences, and questions that are of concern to them. All of this comes as schools slowly recognise the following sometimes uncomfortable realities that researcher have found:

  • 21st century education- It’s not about the “toys”!
    “Moving towards a new pedagogy is not simply a matter of offering learners technologies they are likely to use in the knowledge society – these, like the knowledge itself, are subject to rapid change. Rather, twenty-first century pedagogy will involve engaging learners in apprenticeships for different kinds of knowledge practice, new processes of enquiry, dialogue and connectivity.”  Beetham and Sharpe, 2013.
  • Sorry, we teachers are not the sole source of knowledge anymore. (Rats!!)
    “Experts recognize that the ‘transmission’ or lecture model is highly ineffective for teaching twenty-first century competencies and skills, yet widespread use of this model continues. In spite of worldwide agreement that learners need skills such as critical thinking and the ability to communicate effectively, innovate, and solve problems through negotiation and collaboration, pedagogy has seldom adapted to address these challenges. Rethinking pedagogy for the twenty-first century is as crucial as identifying the new competencies that today’s learners need to develop” .The Futures of Learning: What kind of pedagogies for the 21st Century? Cynthia Luna Scott, UNESCO.
  • Engage them and they will learn!
    “Given the importance of fostering motivation for independent learning, research emphasizes the importance of the teacher’s role in motivating learners and  finding ways for them to build intrinsic motivation. Motivation is based on developing the interest of learners, maintaining their involvement and encouraging confidence in their abilities to perform a specific task.”  Malone and Smith, cited in Meyer et al., 2008.
  • Teach them what they want and what they need.
    “To ensure effectiveness, any curriculum must be relevant to the lives of students . Learning activities that are designed to connect student experiences to real-world problems will transform their focus. When students realise the connection between what they are learning and real- world issues that matter to them, their motivation soars, and so does their learning. Students’ experiences in school differ markedly from their lives outside school. The increasing likelihood of school becoming irrelevant to interests and issues that affect them is therefore of real concern.” Mansilla and Jackson, 2011; Perkins, cited in Saavedra and Opfer, 2012.

Summary

Parents, every time you walk into our school you will see and hear things that are very different to when you wore your school uniform. Be not afraid. What is happening is SCAS making sure that your child will not be left behind, disadvantaged or stuck in an educational model that limits their future. Different can be scary but it can also be the key to unlocking a great future.


Mr Terry Muldoon
Principal, St Columba Anglican School