In all this discussion of the weaknesses of the national school curriculum (tots ag, of course), we should not lose sight of the fact that a number of the state-based school curricula were complete tosh too.
The Western Australian Labor government had a good go at completely trashing its school curriculum and was on the cusp of introducing Outcome Based Education before someone – a change of government – saw the light.
Madam Russia – aka Joan Kirner – also had a good crack at degrading her state’s Higher School Certificate from what had been a pre-eminent qualification to one that was a complete joke and invited cheating on a large scale.
Certainly, the South Australian Certificate of Education was traditionally somewhere in the middle, but began to deteriorate in terms of the quality and integrity of the underlying curriculum some years ago.
Both my children studied Year 12 Chemistry, but only the younger one had Social Chemistry as part of the SA syllabus – and, wait for it, it counted for 20 per cent of the total marks.
Social chemistry?, you ask. At first, I thought it might have something to do with online dating but no – the real theme was along these lines.
Select operating factory that undertakes a chemical process, describe the underlying chemistry, conclude that the factory acts irresponsibly by polluting the local environment and recommend its immediate closure – by government fiat. Viola – top marks. Note there was no alternative acceptable answer.
I recall my daughter used the Penrice Soda Ash factory located in Port Adelaide as her case study. The staff there could not have been more helpful, sent out material, answered questions, etc. Little did they realise that the education system was playing them for complete suckers. It made me feel very uncomfortable.
Another consequence of this shift (and other similar ones) was that the curriculum increasingly favoured girls over boys. The girls ate up this social chemistry guff, handing in neat, detailed and well-written reports on their chosen factory. No doubt, the boys regarded the exercise as a complete waste of time.
When it came to Year 12 merit certificates (20/20), there were twice as many awarded to girls as boys. Now that can’t be right.
The SACE has deteriorated even further sincethe dumped education minister (she lost her seat), Jane Lomax Smith, reviewed it and watered down the Years 11 and 12 curriculum and requirements even further. English is not compulsory and Year 12 students only do three subjects plus some ridiculous project (you can just imagine).
The one plus of state-based curriculum is that the power of competitive federalism meant that the very, very bad are eventually driven out. Now we are stuck with one very bad one – at least for a while.