BRIAN CARLTON: Now, I want to have a look at this situation. Christopher Pyne is the Minister for Education. He's on the line and this is to do with a proposed review and it involves among others Dr Kevin Donnelly who was on this programme last week.
Good afternoon, Minister. Thanks for coming on the programme.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Thank you very much for having me.
BRIAN CARLTON: So the Abbott Government will move to reshape school education by appointing strong critics of the National Curriculum to review what children are taught. That's the broad overview. Can you nail it down a bit more for us and tell us what you hope to achieve by this?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: One of the four pillars that we took to the election in school education was that we wanted to have a robust curriculum. The four pillars were that we wanted a better teacher quality, more parental engagement in their children's education, more school autonomy and a robust curriculum.
So today I've announced that Kevin Donnelly and Professor Ken Wiltshire will review the National Curriculum to ensure that in English, maths, science and history we have the best possible curriculum, that it's worthwhile, that it's robust and teaches children the knowledge that they need when they leave school, and…
BRIAN CARLTON: This is being interpreted by some as an attack on what you and indeed others see as a left-leaning curriculum. Is that a fair comment?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Look, it's not a fair comment. But I wouldn't expect some people to say anything other than that because it's easier than accepting that our students' results are poor. In the last ten years out students' outcomes have been going backwards, both relatively against other countries but also in real terms. And one of the reasons for that has been because some people have identified the curriculum as not being nearly robust enough.
Those people who have a vested interest in pretending that everything is fine in education will say things like that, but the honest truth is that we have a new Government and a new Education Minister. I'm quite prepared to say that the Emperor has no clothes when it comes to our school education.
Continuing the current policies is not obviously working, otherwise our results would not be going backwards. We spent 40 per cent more on school education in the last ten years, there are other OECD countries like ours that spend less per capita on their students and yet they get better results.
So the curriculum, teacher quality, parental engagement and school autonomy are the priorities of this Government and today I've announced one step along the road to improving outcomes, which is a review of the National Curriculum to ensure that it's as good as it can be, to put students first.
BRIAN CARLTON: Okay. Is it reasonable to say there's not enough emphasis on the basics? I'll refine that a little further. When that's thrown up as a criticism, individuals who represent teaching organisations saying yes, we're not doing so well by world standards but what we are doing is encouraging the ability of the student in the areas of critical thinking.
Then to my mind it kind of drifts off into – and just remember the hippie teachers of years ago who said if it's a poem to you it's a poem. Well, not necessarily, it may be absolute rubbish. So we've got this sort of postmodern, the truth is as you see it thinking. Is that at the heart of this?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: The curriculum has to tell the truth. Now, if we take history of course it should tell the truth about our treatment of indigenous Australians over the last 200 years, but equally it needs to tell the truth about why we are the kind of society we are today, and that's based of course on western civilisation.
Now, the benefits of Western civilisation are the reason why Australia is the kind of country that it is, and if we don't know that about ourselves how can we possibly know about our future? I want the curriculum to reflect those truisms. I don't want it to be a personal interpretation of history or maths or science or English.
BRIAN CARLTON: Well, if you want to go down the history path there's certainly fertile fields there. Have you read Hal Colebatch's book about Australia's secret war?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No, I haven't.
BRIAN CARLTON: Well, you'd probably be interested, and quite a bit of World War II according to Mr Colebatch who I regard as forensic in his research and work, would I dare say be so controversial and something that students up until now have certainly not been taught.
I mean, the kind of history that has been taught in schools generally speaking has very much come from a lefty's point of view and I wouldn't be at all surprised if your two reviewers find exactly that, but I guess we can wait until we see what they have to say. I'm just looking at the latest comments here, Minister.
The Greens and teachers condemned a review of the curriculum Julia Gillard introduced in 2010 saying the Coalition Government is trying to impose its political ideology on children. Well, I think we've pretty much dealt with that, you and I. But the review has the backing of business which says young people lack appropriate skills for work.
Now, I do know a little of where I speak. My second wife was a schoolteacher, my brother and sister are both schoolteachers, I've got to know lots of schoolteachers, and a fairly common refrain going back fifteen or twenty years, and these are the teachers who are in charge now was we're not here to turn out fodder for business. I would suggest we should be turning out students who at least have the basics to get a job.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, we need to create students who are capable of learning throughout their life, gaining the knowledge and the skills that they need to either go on to university if they choose to do that or to go into the workforce and be useful contributors to our society and to our economy.
What we have now is an argument about political partisanship in the curriculum, which is not very useful. I'm very confident that Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire will make recommendations about improving the curriculum, and then I want to work closely with the Ministers for Education from all the states and territories to try and implement a better curriculum. Because the only priority should not be the interests of stakeholders, it shouldn't be whether the union agrees with the curriculum. The only priority should be that students are getting the best possible education and the best possible results.
BRIAN CARLTON: Can I play you 44 seconds of what Kevin Donnelly said to me last week?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Sure.
BRIAN CARLTON: I was interested in a piece written by the veteran feminist Camille Paglia. Among other things she said that boys are being neutered in our schools. Here's part of the conversation between myself and Dr Donnelly.
[Excerpt from interview]
KEVIN DONNELLY: I mean, if you look at teaching, if you look at what's been happening in primary school in particular over the last 20, 30 years the curriculum has been feminised. The way they teach, what happens in the classroom, the way subjects are taught, it really is all being turned around to make it easier for girls and it's harder for boys.
There's a greater emphasis now on feelings, emotions, on, you know, talking about it, when in fact a lot of boys, especially in primary school, they're not articulate to the same way girls are and they prefer to get things done, get them done quickly and you know, they're more active. So we really need to make sure we cater for boys and girls because they do learn very differently.
[End of excerpt]
BRIAN CARLTON: What do you say?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, I'm not an expert on the curriculum or teaching in the way that Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire are and that's why I've appointed them to help me with the National Curriculum.
There's no doubt that we – our way we've taught and what we've been teaching has changed over the last thirty years. It may be a coincidence that the reduction in our results, the decline in our results has mirrored at the same time. I doubt that it's a coincidence and I want to make sure that parents who send their children to school get their children to have the best possible results that they can be.
Not lip service about it, not changing the rules because we don't like the results, not saying oh well, you can't trust the PISA results or the OECD or PIRLS or TIMSS because it doesn't reflect the things that we value in education.
BRIAN CARLTON: Or ATAR or Baccalaureate or any number of other things.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Exactly. The empirical evidence tells us that the results of our students are declining. There's no point in turning a blind eye to that fact. We need to come up with a better education system that ensures that Australian students are the best in the world because we're one of the wealthiest countries in the world. We have every advantage going for us. There's no reason we should accept second best in school education.
BRIAN CARLTON: 100 years ago we were the most literate country in the world.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: 100 years ago we had the highest standard of living in the world. We can't accept second best ever in Australia because we don't need to.
BRIAN CARLTON: What about the specific though that there are so very few men teaching in primary schools now? Is that something you think ought to be looked at?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, we are looking at the teacher education system in Australia. I'll soon be announcing a Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group. I've studied closely the results that are coming out of universities in terms of the impressions of principals about new teachers, the new teachers themselves and why Year 12s choose teaching and we want to ensure that we have teachers in areas like science and maths, engineering and science.,
And we need to make sure that we have the kind of priorities that are required in our teaching colleges and we do need more male teachers, particularly in primary school, not because there's anything wrong with non-male teachers but there needs to always be a balance in every school, in every class.
BRIAN CARLTON: Appreciate your time and comments, Minister. Thanks for coming on the program.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: It's a pleasure. Thank you.
BRIAN CARLTON: The Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne. It's 3.26. It seems to me like there ought to be some discussion in that. If you want to call me about it of course you're perfectly welcome. 13 13 32 is the number.
We're, as parents, looking at our kids going back to school in the next whatever it is, what have we got, two weeks, three weeks maybe? Not long before they go back to school. If you want to comment on that…