Professor Geoff Masters, CEO at Australian Council for
Educational Research, wrote an article a few years ago citing one of the
biggest challenges we face in school education is to identify and develop the
knowledge, skills and attributes required for life and work in the 21st
Century. There are several reasons for questioning how well the current school
curriculum is equipping students for life beyond school.
First, there has been a long-term decline in the ability of Australian 15-year-olds to apply what they are learning to everyday problems. This decline is evident in performances in the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Over the first twelve years, Australian students completed their compulsory study of mathematics and science with declining levels of ‘literacy' – that is, declining abilities to apply fundamental concepts and principles in real-world contexts.
Figure 1. Average performance of Australian 15 -year olds in reading, mathematical and scientific literacy (2000-2012)
As a nation we require adults who can engage in a discerning way with sophisticated information about a growing number of complex societal and environmental challenges. Marcellin is currently working with our Learning Leaders, teaching staff and external Literacy experts to review our current practice, which will be followed by the development of a strategic roadmap on how to embed best practice literacy strategies across the curriculum.
Professor Masters goes on to say that we have witnessed a long-term decline in the proportion of Year 12 students choosing to study advanced subjects – especially advanced mathematics and science subjects. For example, the national participation rates in physics and advanced mathematics have been declining steadily for the past two decades (Figure 2).
These declines are occurring at a time when the economy and an increasing number of occupations are requiring graduates with advanced science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills.
Figure 2. National participation rates in Year 12 physics and advanced mathematics (1992-2012)
Leadership at the College are currently researching and modelling introducing integrated courses at Breadth (Years 7 & 8) with a STEM focus. This is in addition to courses with a project based learning approach in our Depth (Years 9 & 10) program.
Currently. the Science Department are offering students the opportunity to be involved in a STEM challenge; ‘For Humanity: Designing Solutions for the Common Good’. Students are invited to select a humanitarian concern and design a solution for the common good. They are encouraged to use design thinking to plan, create and provide innovative solutions for issues related to social justice and the common good. Suggested issues include climate change, ecosystem degradation, endangered species, food shortages, disease, drug management and population displacement.
In addition, there are other reasons for questioning how well the school curriculum is preparing students for life and work in the 21st Century:
- Current curricula often are dominated by substantial bodies of factual and procedural knowledge, at a time when it is increasingly important that students can apply deep understandings of key disciplinary concepts and principles to real-world problems.
- School subjects tend to be taught in isolation from each other, at a time when solutions to societal challenges and the nature of work are becoming increasingly cross-disciplinary.
- School curricula often emphasise passive, reproductive learning and the solution of standard problem types, at a time when there is a growing need to promote creativity and the ability to develop innovative solutions to entirely new problems.
- Assessment processes – especially in the senior secondary school – tend to provide information about subject achievement only, at a time when employers are seeking better information about students' abilities to work in teams, use technology, communicate, solve problems and learn on the job.
- Students – especially in the senior secondary school – often learn in isolation and in competition with each other, at a time when workplaces are increasingly being organised around teamwork and are requiring good interpersonal and communication skills.
In my next Eagle article, I will outline how Marcellin is working to address the issues Professor Masters has raised in the above. This journey began about five years ago and we remain committed to developing academic rigour and excellence in the subjects we offer.