Australian Principals Worry About Too Much Math and Reading

In their submission to the Australian House of Representatives, principals from around the country claim that there's too much emphasis on reading and mathematics in the nation's elementary schools. The opinion was submitted as part of the feedback being solicited by the lawmakers who are currently considering a comprehensive Australian Education Bill which aims to lift the quality of the country's education system.

The paper, which was authored by the Australian Primary Principals Association, also had harsh words for the goal set out by the government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard to have the country rank in the top five of all nations in reading, mathematics and science scores by 2025. The paper said that such narrow goals will draw focus away from other subjects which are equally critical both to students' academics and country's future economic success.

APPA says the OECD group of industrialised nations is already asking what students should learn in the 21st century, and points to a recent blog discussion proposing "a much broader knowledge base; skills such as creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration; character-related traits in both moral and performance domains; and a meta-layer of learning".

While APPA says "reading is the cornerstone of literacy", it is concerned that to focus national attention on reading as under the 2025 goal outlined by Julia Gillard masks the significant role that listening, speaking and writing play in literacy.

The paper said that the education system should stay the course, and while continuing to focus on the three core subjects, it should still use a curriculum that looks beyond them to create a more enriching experience for the students. Adopting the plan that stresses mathematics, science and reading above everything else would also force teachers to prioritize lessons in the subjects, at the expense of other academic areas because those three subjects are more easily assessed than arts or physical education which are just as important.

Instead of increasing the time spent on the three core subjects, the government should be looking at curriculum that allows students to apply their math, reading and science knowledge in other areas. APPA president Norm Hart is planning to say as much when he appears in front of lawmakers in Brisbane later this week.

"I think the international view on what a good education is about will be different in 2025. What's important is things like creativity, being able to work collaboratively," he said.

Mr Hart said it was difficult to answer how to teach creativity, particularly while trying to teach critical thinking at the same time.

"It's a bit of a paradox to me personally: one is focusing on the particular and the other is as wide open as you make it," he said. "This is not going to be easy but we need to start on it now."

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