Is curriculum pressure killing students' joy? - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Is curriculum pressure killing students' joy?

20 Apr 2016

Is curriculum pressure killing students' joy?
by Dr Ali Black

School has resumed after a lovely holiday break, and one of my children didn’t want to return to school. She gets good grades and engages in class, but she complains of teachers who are grumpy and unnecessarily gruff, of being subjected to never-ending assessment and testing, of daily death by PowerPoint, and a general lack of joy in the classroom.

Alfie Kohn is an author and lecturer in the areas of education, and his mind-opening ideas have been influenced by the works of John Dewey, a luminary philosopher and theorist who values learning as a living, democratic, social and interactive process. In 2011, Alfie published a book called Feel-Bad Education: And Other Contrarian Essays on Children and Schooling, and the plotline is essentially, “Why are our schools not places of joy?” 

My daughter is asking this question as well. A lover of books, and reading, and writing, she describes how she has fallen out of love in her “English and Literacy” classes. Instead of her love of learning being fostered, it is being suffocated by the prefabricated, exhaustively scripted and overly assessed C2C and ACARA lessons.

Literacy and numeracy have become a huge focus for schools, driving a myriad of tests and curriculum. Yet, how successful is this curriculum driven by “accountability and results” if a child’s love of language and words and books is actually being diminished? 

How useful is this unrelenting focus if a clever and once-engaged child is now counting off the hours until the school day is over, counting off the days until the weekend, wishing her school life over when she has another four years to go? 

Surely this is a problem requiring our attention. Surely we need to question where the joy has gone. Young children have a tremendous capacity for joy and delight in learning new things – a curiosity in cause and effect, and they are constantly engaging in discovery learning.

Yet, as Ken Robinson in his wonderful TED-Talk , “Do schools kill creativity?”, comments, “Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won’t serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children.” 

The irony is that children’s academic excellence is far more likely to blossom and flourish when children enjoy what they are doing and when they feel good about themselves, their teachers, the curriculum, and the whole experience of school.

Imagine a classroom that pulsates with enthusiasm, children and teenagers immersed and lost in their learning, delighting in new knowledge and in teachers who know and care for them Is this type of classroom being stripped away to focus on NAPLAN and other standardised tests and curriculum, to focus on meeting unrealistic content transmission deadlines so the work gets done? 

It would seem so.

This article was originally published by The Sunshine Coast Daily on Tuesday 19 April.

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