PAUL BEVAN: Now it seems every couple of years there's a kerfuffle over the curriculum available and taught in Australian schools. Christopher Pyne, the Federal Education Minister, has announced a review of the curriculum, to be chaired by Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire. There's been quite a range of reactions to the announcement. We'll hear from the Teachers’ Federation shortly. But first, let's hear what Minister Pyne had to say when I spoke with him earlier this afternoon.
[Excerpt from interview]
PAUL BEVAN: Federal Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, welcome to Drive.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Thank you for having me.
PAUL BEVAN: Haven't we just seen a National Curriculum implemented?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Three years ago, the National Curriculum began being rolled out in Australia in schools in English, history, maths and science. So not just been rolled out, it's four years ago. So now is a timely opportunity to review those four subjects and make sure that they're achieving what needs to be achieved for our students. The obvious driver for this is that the results of our students continue to go backwards in every domestic and international test.
PAUL BEVAN: You're saying you want high standards in an increasingly competitive world, so what are the standards? What are you hoping for?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well the most important thing about the curriculum is that it be robust, and that it actually teach our students worthwhile things, that it extends their mind, that it means when they leave school they have all the knowledge that they need to set up the lives that they want to, whether they go on to university, whether they go into the workforce, study later in life. Now, one of the failures of the current school system is that our results are going backwards. If the results are going backwards, you have to think about why that is.
Now, we're putting more money into schools, 40 per cent more over the last 10 years. The results have still gone backwards. So it's not about money, it's about the curriculum and I'm addressing that today. It's about principal autonomy, teacher quality and parental engagement. And we've obviously had election policies for all of those, and over the next three years there'll be more announcements about those particular areas. Today is an announcement about the National Curriculum.
PAUL BEVAN: How do you – how would you like to see Australia's results measured against the rest of the world?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I can't see any reason why Australians don't have the best results in the world. We have a healthy country. We are a wealthy country. We have every advantage available to us. There is no reason why we can't have the best results possible for all of our community.
PAUL BEVAN: Looking at some overseas countries, though, and I know one of the things you've said is focusing on the legacy of Western civilisation, in places such as China, for example, do they focus on histories and legacies of civilisations at the expense of maths, science, language, computer technology and so on?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well they certainly focus very much on their history as a nation and a peoples and a civilisation, definitely. And China's one of the best examples you could raise because they're very proud of their history. But no one's suggesting that there should be a focus on history at the expense of maths and science and English. The National Curriculum covers maths, science, English and history, and the review will cover all of those four subjects.
Just for your listeners' benefit, they might like to know that one of the themes of the current National Curriculum is that there be three themes: Australia's place in Asia, indigenous Australia and sustainability. Now, for the life of me I can't work out how in maths Australia's place in Asia or the role of indigenous Australians has any place in the maths curriculum. So there are things that need to be reviewed, and a lot of people have criticised aspects of the curriculum, whether it's too rigid, too prescriptive, whether these themes are necessary in a curriculum particularly around science and maths.
PAUL BEVAN: Christopher Pyne, you've said you wanted to take the politics out of education. The two people you've asked to conduct the review, Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire, I've seen largely described today as Liberal-aligned or thought of as being Liberal-aligned. How will using two people from your side of politics help to take the politics out of education?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, the most important thing is that the curriculum is reviewed and a robust curriculum is the result. Now, it's not possible to appoint a committee of people in education to review the curriculum that pleases every stakeholder, and quite frankly that isn't my priority. My priority is putting students first. My priority is the students; it's not the stakeholders in education.
I'm not there to not offend people in the education industry. I'm the Education Minister because I want students to be our number one priority. So I've appointed two people that I believe will do a very good job at reviewing the curriculum. I never set out to appoint a committee of people who would please every stakeholder in education because that isn't my job.
PAUL BEVAN: Will those people satisfy education ministers from other states or from the states – from both sides of politics?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well I want to work very cooperatively with the states and territory ministers because they run and operate and own schools. And I'm very confident that depending on the outcome of the review, the recommendations, if there are recommendations to change the curriculum in certain aspects, I'm sure that every education minister wants the best curriculum possible for their students and I'm very prepared to work with them to make that happen.
PAUL BEVAN: What response have you had finally, Christopher Pyne, from the – your state education ministers or from other education stakeholders today?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, apart from the Australian Education Union, which has already criticised it, the response that I've received has been very positive.
PAUL BEVAN: Okay Federal Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, thanks for talking to us.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: It's always a pleasure.