Saturday, January 14, 2012


I'm continuing with this topic of curriculum because it worries me. It worries me that we as teachers are rapidly losing control of curriculum. Curriculum is a jigsaw of many parts: community needs, the natural environment, children's funds of knowledge, teachers pedagogy, and the more recognised framework of the written 'official' curriculum. Things are getting out of balance: a key aspect of teacher and community autonomy has been the descriptive nature of Te Whāriki (Aotearoa's early childhood curriculum) that allows for us to create a learning environment that both reflects and meets the needs of the diverse learning communities of Aotearoa. It is meant as a guide.

Now the National Government wants to review its implementation. They say the main problem is that teachers continue to misinterpret the documents theoretical position, but really it's about the 'Learning Outcomes', that contentious section that was added by the MOE after the document was completed and trialled. The authors were not impressed. Here we have pre-determined goals, other peoples ideas of worthwhile knowledge, the schoolification of the final bastion of authentic learning.... blah.

Curriculum is a social and political construction that reflects the needs of those who hold power. In New Zealand this was/is business and other conservative groups who work quietly behind the scenes to get their members into key positions where their interests can be served. While our education system had for many decades been under the influence of liberal ideas initiated in 1939 by Prime Minister Fraser and his dream of a socialist utopia, today it is firmly in the grip of neoliberal forces – and these are increasingly international with understandably international agendas. Thus a global elite are making decisions about what will and won’t be included in the curriculum. Some subjects are considered important and others not. Art is not. This is because children are being trained to think/be a certain way so that as adults they will behave the way they consider best. Things that are in the curriculum are there for a reason; also the things that have been left out have been purposely left out. It is important to remember that the curriculum isn’t just ‘the way it is,’ someone has put it into place with outcomes in mind. It is not neutral. The school curriculum best illustrates this ideological shift with the 1991 draft strongly aligned to new-right ideology with an emphasis on education for economic growth and international competitiveness with the curriculum organised around four core areas of english, mathematics, science and technology. The final version (1993) reached a compromise by acknowledging the recent changes in society and the economy but making strong statements about equal opportunities and success for all.

Te Whāriki is of course not so prescriptive – but its language and intent is strongly neoliberal. There is speculation (by Carol Mutch; 2001) that 'the 'hands-off' approach shown during Te Whāriki's development by the Business Roundtable and other new right lobby groups came from their lack of understanding of learning and teaching in relation to young children.' Why are things changing? What is the government up to? Not much really – it's almost out of their hands.

We can split the education sector into two critical areas of control – governance and mandate. We know that the education system was established primarily to fulfil national and economic goals: unifying the country (homogenised thinkers) and building the economy (stratifying the workforce in the interests of capitalism) as a fledgling New Zealand tottered on the edge of bankruptcy. This level of control however has being superseded by globalisation and the neoliberal agenda. This is what happened:

Governance: Reforms to governance were at the heart of the reforms to education in the 1980's and their impact is obvious with the explosion of the private sector (ECE centres and schools) with almost un-fetted access to public monies. This economic ethos is continued with all schools required to operate under a business model where they compete against each other for students. The result? Inequality, white-flight, ghetto schools, stigmatised children... globalisation in action.
On a more subtle level we have the OECD seeking to make educational systems in different countries the same through the PISA assessment which is a standardised test on competencies. This test has led to the reconstruction of education systems in some countries and replaces national aims with rigid predetermined transnational targets that primarily focus on economics and the maintenance of neoliberalism. This is the most potent example of how transnational organisations leverage control over national educational systems and its demands for a homogenised standard of knowledge are disastrous for communities as diverse as ours. National Standards anyone?
Mandate, or what education wants to achieve, is another area where the state has ceded power to transnational organisations in order to better achieve national goals. We rolled over essentially. So while the goals of citizenship and social cohesion etc remain of national concern, what dominates the construction and direction of curriculum is the economic potential of learners. This has seen the emergence of parallel discourses: NZ Curriculum Framework is an example where a strong national focus through culture sits alongside the rhetoric of neoliberalism with its focus on the 'global knowledge economy'. Who is winning here? How does a young Samoan from Otara find their place in such a world?

How is this happening? Through the global dominance of the 'economic growth model' of education where quality of life is weirdly linked to a nations economic wealth. Such an education system only needs to produce workers with basic skills in literacy and numeracy with some people to have more advanced skills in computer science and technology. Equal access is not important: a nation can grow economically while the poor essentially remain illiterate. Go capitalism!

There you have it: curriculum is a tool for shaping citizens to accept and follow our masters agenda and while the control room has shifted offshore – essentially nothing has really changed. Hang on for rough ride folks.

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