Australia’s “Christian heritage’’ will be taught in schools in a slimmed-down national curriculum that focuses on phonics to improve children’s reading.
History and geography have been scrapped as stand-alone subjects, in a back-to-basics return to traditional teaching.
But 21st-century computer coding will be taught in primary school, starting in Year 5, in the new curriculum endorsed by Australia’s education ministers yesterday.
Indigenous issues have been cut from parts of the curriculum, and students will no longer be taught about Harmony Week, National Reconciliation Week, or NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) week.
Students will continue to learn about Australia Day, Anzac Day and National Sorry Day. The Year 6 study of the contribution of “individuals and groups” to Australian society will no longer include a reference to indigenous people or migrants, and will be confined to the post-Federation period.
The existing requirement to study Australia’s connection to Asia has been deleted from the new curriculum.
Australia’s “Christian heritage” will be taught for the first time, in lessons on “how Australia is a secular nation and a multi-faith society’’. Teachers will instruct students that Australia’s democratic system of government is based on the Westminster system, although specific references to the monarchy, parliaments and courts have been removed from the curriculum.
For the first time, children in Years 1 and 2 will be taught to “practise strategies they can use when they feel uncomfortable or unsafe’’.
Students in Years 7 and 8 will be taught to “communicate their own and others’ health concerns’’.
But education ministers agreed yesterday to change the curriculum again, to introduce teaching of “respectful relationships’’.
Teachers will also be given training to identify students who might be victims of family violence.
Queensland Education Minister Kate Jones, who proposed the domestic violence strategy, said a recent spate of violence against women showed that children needed to be taught about respectful relationships at school.
“We believe there’s a real opportunity in the health and physical education curriculum in regards to teaching about respectful relationships, to reduce domestic violence and give young people a greater understanding of gender equality,’’ she told The Weekend Australian after the phone hook-up yesterday.
“We also want to provide teachers with additional support in recognising signs of family violence.’’
Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne said the changes would resolve “overcrowding’’ in the primary school curriculum, boost the teaching of phonics and strengthen references to Western influences in Australia’s history.
He said state and territory ministers would develop a national strategy to get more students studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects at school.
Ministers yesterday endorsed a digital technologies curriculum, that will start teaching students about computer coding in Year 5, and have them programming by Year 7.
But Ms Jones said the states and territories had not agreed to make STEM subjects compulsory in high school. “Even if we wanted to, we don’t have the teachers to do that in Queensland right now,’’ Ms Jones said.
A national curriculum for languages — Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Modern Greek, Spanish and Vietnamese — was signed off by ministers yesterday.
They also endorsed historic reforms to teacher education, prepared by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership.
From next year, new teaching graduates will not be allowed into classrooms until they pass a test ranking them in the top 30 per cent of the population for literacy and numeracy.
Universities will also be forced to publish the academic and other “backdoor’’ requirements for entry to teaching degrees, to raise standards in the teaching profession.
AITSL chairman John Hattie — who took part in the ministerial meeting — said the changes would bring teaching closer in line with professions such as engineering and medicine.
“We have to make it very clear to people considering a teaching career that if you’re dumb you can’t be a teacher,’’ he told The Weekend Australian.
“We need to worry considerably about the students in the classroom and the quality of the person standing up in front of them.’’
Mr Pyne said he was “absolutely delighted’’ the states and territories had backed the reforms, which have been driven by the federal and NSW governments.
“The national literacy and numeracy test will provide greater employer and community confidence that beginning teachers entering our schools have the literacy and numeracy skills necessary to carry out the intellectual demands of teaching,’’ he said.
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority chief executive Robert Randall said the new curriculum would give teachers more time to teach the basics of maths, literacy, science and history in primary school.
“We’ve strengthened the focus on the basics and put in detail about phonics in the early years because of its importance to developing young people’s reading ability,’’ he told The Weekend Australian.
Mr Randall said the existing curriculum had so much detail that “teachers were feeling they had to do everything’’.
“It’s important to be able to focus on the content and teach it in depth — we don’t want cramming,’’ he said.
“This gives teachers the flexibility to identify what young people need to know about, and what they’re interested in.’’
Mr Randall said the new curriculum had a greater focus on Western civilisation.
“Historically, the influence of the Christian church has been important,’’ he said.
Mr Randall said that references to indigenous culture, environmental sustainability and Asia — which are included throughout the existing curriculum, including in maths — had been cut back to “where they naturally fit’’, with an emphasis on history, geography and art.