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“Teachers can’t be curriculum designers as well as teachers,” says new-look English curriculum writers

OPINION/ANALYSIS: Rebecca Thomas on the proposed changes to the English Curriculum, which would recommend certain texts for classrooms.

The proposed changes to the secondary English curriculum have sparked a debate around balancing prescribed content with teacher autonomy.

While others may think that a knowledge-rich curriculum may be one way forward; some believe the claims in the RNZ article this week may well deserve further scrutiny.

Read the latest print edition of School News HERE

#1 The Unsupported Claims

Professor Rata states, “Teachers can’t be curriculum designers as well as teachers, it’s just been impossible and that’s why we’ve seen English emptied out of content.” However, this blanket assertion lacks substantive evidence. Many teachers across the country design innovative, content-rich lessons tailored to their students’ needs and interests. The engaging multimodal texts and critical literacy themes observed in classrooms belie the claim of English being “emptied out of content.

#2 Relevance in the Digital Age

The inclusion of literary classics like Shakespeare and Beowulf (‘accessible to all’) raises questions about their relevance for today’s students grappling with issues far beyond the romantic complexities of Romeo and Juliet. While these texts hold literary merit, their ability to resonate with Gen Z experiences warrants careful consideration.

Image by Tom Hermans on Unsplash

 

#3 The Social Media Landscape

The social fabric of young people today is woven with threads that previous generations could scarcely have imagined. The ubiquity of social media has reshaped interpersonal connections, introducing intricate dynamics of online identity, cyberbullying, and the constant curation of virtual personas. Relationships are forged and fractured through the exchange of texts and fleeting “snaps,” their nuances often lost in translation across digital mediums. Exploring the star-cross’d messaging mishaps of Romeo and Ethel the fridge would be more appropriate.

#4 Ethical Quandaries of the Modern World

The moral quandaries confronting today’s youth transcend the conflicts of loyalty, betrayal, and redemption explored in suggested texts. Our young people grapple with ethical dilemmas born of rapidly evolving technologies, such as the implications of artificial intelligence, the erosion of privacy in a data-driven world, and the ecological consequences of human progress. Pondering whether AI has a spirit more akin to the ruthless President Snow or the defiant Katniss would likely hold more sway and engagement.

#5 Striking the Right Balance

While the timeless themes of classic literature retain their significance, ensuring relevance necessitates a delicate balance between sanctioned works and contemporary narratives that speak directly to the lived experiences of our tamariki. Exploring literature that mirrors their complex social landscapes, ethical conundrums, and digital realities could foster a deeper resonance and cultivate critical thinking skills essential for navigating the modern world.

Lest we cruelly burden our youth with grasping texts whose modern relevance is as dubious as Count Dracula’s prospects of finding a sunset yoga class. “Alas, that love, so gentle in his view, should be so tyrannous and rough in proof!” lamented Romeo, for he knew not the anguish of being left on “read.”

The social media landscape and issues that young people face need to be reflected in the curriculum, says Thomas. AdobeStock by carballo

 

#6 The Confusion Surrounding the Book List

Contradictory statements around the prescribed book list’s status add to the confusion. Is it a ‘recommended list allowing teacher choice’, or will ‘certain texts like Shakespeare’s plays be compulsory’?

#7 The Missing Voices

Rata’s confidence that parents would be delighted with the changes seems presumptuous without data to support this claim. More importantly, the lack of student voice in shaping a curriculum meant for them is a glaring omission.

#8 Inclusivity and Collaboration Concerns

The secrecy surrounding the Ministerial Advisory Group’s work and the narrow composition of the writing group raise concerns about inclusivity and co-construction with frontline teachers. Bringing diverse perspectives to the table could have fostered greater buy-in from the outset. The process seems to undermine teachers’ professionalism and creativity, ironically the whole message seems to contradict the government’s push for ‘evidence-based impact’ in classrooms.

#9 The Way Forward

As the debate continues, it is crucial to strike a balance between prescribed content and teacher autonomy, ensuring relevance for students while respecting the expertise of educators. A collaborative approach involving all stakeholders could yield a curriculum that truly enriches English education.

#10 Decolonising the Curriculum

While the MAG educators may have experience working in ‘low decile schools’, it does not inherently insulate their opinions and curriculum design methods from being influenced by positions of privilege. An advisory group comprising primarily voices from elite institutions risks developing a curriculum that, however unintentionally, further entrenches colonial narratives and marginalisation of diverse lived realities.

It is therefore crucial that teachers retain the ability to critically adapt prescribed content through a culturally responsive lens. As they have always done, educators must be empowered to curate texts, themes, and learning experiences that authentically resonate with the unique identities, backgrounds, and sociocultural contexts of their learners.

Failing to allow this flexibility poses the risk of a one-size-fits-all curriculum that could paradoxically further “colonise” the minds of students from underrepresented communities. Only by decolonising the curriculum through localised, student-centered pedagogical approaches can we hope to disrupt systemic inequities perpetuated by educational assimilation.

For those of us who know better, this smoke and mirrors around booklists adds to the politician’s scorecard of appearing to get jobs done without doing the hard yards and addressing the real issues. It’s akin to building sandcastles on sand.

By failing to tackle systemic barriers through genuine collaboration with stakeholders, we perpetuate a cycle of top-down reforms that fail to create lasting, equitable change in our education system.

This article has been republished with the author’s permission from their blog Engaging Learning Voices. You can read the original version here. 

School News

School News is not affiliated with any government agency, body or political party. We are an independently owned, family-operated magazine.
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