Matthew Guy vows to teach Victorian students 'Australian values'

MP Tim Smith at Kew junction. 12 June 2015. The Age NEWS. Photo: Eddie Jim.
MP Tim Smith at Kew junction. 12 June 2015. The Age NEWS. Photo: Eddie Jim.

The State Opposition has vowed to overhaul the Victorian curriculum and instil Australian values in students if it wins the state election.

And in a move that is likely to infuriate academics, the Coalition has flagged ditching sustainability, Indigenous histories and Australia's engagement with Asia as cross-curriculum priorities.

In a sign that education will be a flashpoint ahead of the November poll, the Opposition released a "school education values statement" on Wednesday that raises concerns about the stagnating and declining academic performance of Victorian students.

"Victoria's curriculum lacks academic rigour, and is consumed by ideology and educational fads," it states.

While there is no funding attached to the commitments, the documents may reignite the culture wars.

The 16-page document, which features an Australian flag on the cover, says students need a "thorough grounding in Australian values and what makes Australia such a peaceful and prosperous nation".

"Our secondary school humanities curriculum in Victoria is well meaning but fails to inspire children to understand and respect Australian history and values," it says.

"Foundational events that occurred in Europe and North America before 1788 that underpin our national and state institutions are barely spoken of. Concepts like the inherent dignity of the individual, religious tolerance, the principles of the Western enlightenment ??? such as freedom of speech, equality before the law and government by consent."

The Opposition said it would replace the Safe Schools program with a much broader anti-bullying and resilience program, give schools greater freedom to deal with disruptive students and declutter the curriculum - a gripe of many teachers.

It took aim at the three cross-curriculum priorities set out in the Victorian and Australian curriculum that are embedded in subjects when relevant - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Asia and Australia's engagement with Asia, and sustainability.

"Whilst we agree with the importance of these topics, we believe greater value would result from not having cross curriculum priorities which serve only to dilute the teaching of core competencies; namely, literacy, numeracy and writing skills".

It said the shameful treatment of Indigenous people must be taught in depth.

In a joint statement, Liberal leader Matthew Guy and Nationals leader Peter Walsh said they were the first leaders of both parties to be entirely educated in state schools.

"Three critical elements of our education system have broken down in recent years: teaching the basics, maintaining discipline and instilling sound values," they said.

"Basic literacy and numeracy skills remain the foundation for meaningful employment, and need to be the foundation of our curriculum."

The Opposition's education spokesman Tim Smith said the cultural changes outlined in the document would improve student outcomes.

"It's high time to rethink our approach to education by putting student outcomes first, or risk the second largest state in the nation slipping even further behind the best in the world," he said.

The latest NAPLAN results show that while Victorian students had some of the country's best average scores, progress has plateaued in some areas.

The latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results revealed that the maths literacy of 15-year-old Victorians stagnated between 2003 and 2015; students' reading skills have flatlined since 2000; and, their achievements in scientific literacy have remained stable since 2006.

The Andrews government campaigned heavily on education in the lead up to the 2014 election, vowing to make Victoria the "education state".

The new Victorian curriculum came into effect at the start of 2017, and incorporates the latest Australian curriculum, which was approved by all state governments.

This followed former federal Liberal Education Minister Christopher Pyne commissioning a review of the national curriculum in 2014, which recommended changes to resolve overcrowding in the primary school years.

This story Matthew Guy vows to teach Victorian students 'Australian values' first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.