Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

National Curriculum: A Political-Educational Tangle

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

National Curriculum: A Political-Educational Tangle

Article excerpt

The politics of national curriculum in a federated system

This is not a good time for a country to be entering into national curriculum. Not only is the global policy context inimical to the necessary debates about curriculum but the use of the already politicised field of education as a vehicle to reform commonwealth--state relations in a federated system is likely to lose the substance of the issues in the glare of politics. Globalising economic processes have been accompanied by cultural, technological, media, people and other movements (for example, Appadurai, 1990) such that most nation states are inextricably tied to developments and changes elsewhere, as can be seen in recent global economic 'crises'. This frames educational policy in particular ways, with government attention in Australia, as elsewhere, focused on education sectors mainly for their contribution to national economic productivity: that is, to human capital concerns (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010). Governments in OECD countries undertake new kinds of steering through competitive league tables across and inside countries, a focus on measurable outcomes through high-stakes tests and formal accountability requirements via the application of standards. National curriculum, I suggest, is both a symptom of such governance developments and a means by which new forms of governance of the education can be put in place.

Curriculum policies are always contentious, as they should be: any new policy for the official curriculum represents a set of decisions and enshrines particular values and purposes. People with a stake in curriculum--teachers, parents, politicians, students and school authorities--are likely to fall into different camps on the decision. Some may feel marginalised or excluded by the decisions made, others may not care particularly or may see the official curriculum as largely irrelevant to what occurs in classrooms, while still others may endorse the curriculum as a needed redirection of existing curriculum. The move in the past few years to establish a national curriculum in Australia is no exception to the expectation of contestation but that contestation has largely been muted by its move into the federal domain from its traditional home in state education authorities and by the lack of either public political debate or public expression of professional contributions. In this article, I argue that the particular form of politicisation of national curriculum in the past decade has not served the schooling sector well, undermining the development of high-quality curriculum and making it hard for alternative contestation about curriculum to be heard.

This article I present as a 'meditation'--a space of quiet consideration of issues that matter but are still in formation. It is not possible to consider the development of the Australian curriculum in hindsight, as most policy analysis would do, since the focus is still in process of development. Methodologically, my work is informed by critical policy analysis (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010); this paper deals with questions raised by Ball's analytic framework for policy: attention to text, to context and to consequences (Ball, 1994). This study of national curriculum is focused on elucidating the relationship of the production of emerging texts with the broader context through a recent historical lens. It then juxtaposes educational concerns with the political, particularly the problem of federalist government. I briefly provide a historical overview of national curriculum for the purpose of understanding the present developments as connected into longer-standing historical developments before moving into a discussion of the significance of the current proposal in the context of different previous official approaches to curriculum design. Moving on from more educational concerns with curriculum, I then discuss the particular approach to federalism underpinning this model of national curriculum before concluding with a discussion of the continuing problem in educational and political terms of the governance of curriculum. …

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