Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Rudd steers Aussie boat back to basics

Some news in from Australia: Kevin Rudd seems to have done a John Major in promulgating a 'back to basics' approach to education.
It all sounds very laudable. The aim has partly been to get the different states to agree a national curriculum, partly so that pupils moving between states will still be following the same curriculum. At the moment it's at the draft stage and has been released for consultation.
Nonetheless, there appears to be some confusion already with Rudd saying that it's back to basics and the guy responsible for drawing it up, Professor Barry McGaw, saying it isn't! Anyway, whatever the case, according to The Age, in Australia, it shouldn't be difficult to read – it's only one page long.
The emphasis is going to be on the three Ls: literacy, language and literature. And particular attention is going to be paid to the teaching of phonics. As far as I can see from the draft English curriculum, the phonics element is mixed up with a dog's breakfast of other irrelevant nonsense that betrays the usual lack of understanding of how a writing system works*. For example, they are going to teach the children their 'sounds'. The problem is that the children already know their 'sounds', otherwise they wouldn't be able to talk or to understand what is being said when someone speaks to them.
What they probably mean is that they are going to teach pupils explicitly that words are comprised of individual sounds that can be represented in writing (the sound-spelling correspondences), but who knows. This kind of loose language is a sure sign of compromise or ignorance. When you put together a bunch of 'experts', some of whom probably haven't been near a kindergarten class in their lives, you’re bound to come up with a low common denominator. After all, that's what happened with the National Strategies in England.
However, that's not the whole of the problem. The real problem is that blanket imposition will create a bureaucracy of the sort we have here, stifle innovation and de-motivate teachers. If a new maths or literacy programme is going to be introduced, it needs to be evidence-based and trialled and teachers need to be persuaded that it works.
Still, you never know. Perhaps some of the UK's literacy consultants and advisors will apply for jobs policing the new system.
* I notice that the Australian is reporting this as a letters and sounds/onset and rime approach. Aaaaaaarrrrrrgggggghhhhh!

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