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'If students can't learn the way we teach, we must teach the way they learn' (Ignacio Estrada, via Tomlinson)

Keynote address History Teachers Conference: Prof Stuart McIntyre

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 3, 2011

(Prof McIntyre along with Tony Taylor, has been a Lead Writer involved in the writing of the Australian History Curriculum)

It’s three years since work on the National Curriculum began: it’s now at an advanced stage and ministers for education have agreed to staged implementation.  It’s hardly been rushed…and while it’s been making slow progress….

…the consensus about implementing it has since  weakened due to the federal election and successive state elections, and there have been discouraging statements from the opposition. 

Prof McIntyre has some reservations about some changes:  Some recent revisions have altered the underlying design of the curriculum, and some have taken no account of the consultative process.

It was initially determined that the curriculum had to start from first principles, not be an amalgam of existing curricula, have a futures perspective and so on. The issue of there being distinct disciplines is one that McIntyre agrees with, and he was pleased that History is conceptualised as it is in AC. It’s important that history be a World History, it needs to go beyond what’s familiar and dear to us. The writers also recognised that most Australian children found history classes boring and they wanted to redress this.

The AC document partially realises its aims. The primary curriculum is less than he had hoped, because it’s constrained by lack of time available, and because it’s mostly taught within an integrated curriculum.  most primary teachers are not trained historians. Remains to be seen how much time it gets given the focus on literacy and numeracy.  It’s not much about a world history; it’s about home, community, and the nation (in later primary years).  It’s very Australian – some minor comparisons e.g. NAIDOC day can be compared with Bastille Day, but it’s overwhelmingly local – given that Australia has an immigrant background, it’s remarkable that there’s no greater attempt to invoke their histories. There’s still a lot about military history, and it’s a bit Eurocentric. In later years Asian history is episodic, and there’s not enough about other countries.   No history can be fully comprehensive, but it could be better, he thinks.

Digitisation has brought history out of its previously specialised academic limitations – the problem now is not opportunity. School history needs to excite so that students have the skills to evaluate what’s online.  But many teachers want to hang on to topics they’re comfortable with, and the history curriculum has had to cede some of its topics to social science, that is, many of the big picture issues that history might excite students with, e.g. globalisation, were criticised because that was ‘current affairs’. 

So – what happens next rests with the teachers who have to implement it!

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