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UC researcher finds curriculum’s city-country divide

Marcus Butler

2 October 2015: University of Canberra assistant professor of education Philip Roberts has won the 2015 Colin Marsh award for his contribution to the (education) curriculum debate in Australia.

Mr Roberts was recognised for his paper "Curriculum for the country: The absence of the rural in a national curriculum" published in Curriculum Perspectives 35(1), in which he explores the lack of a regional/rural perspective in the country's school curriculum.

The education expert said while there isn't a set Australian curriculum, each state and territory has interpreted the national framework, but the Federal Government still maintains a large influence over the content.

"Having a broad framework for a nation of our size makes sense, but the form it takes is what really matters. I question whether the existing form allows room for teachers to make the learning relevant for their students," Mr Roberts said.

"Is it any wonder rural kids may get low literacy results in NAPLAN when asked to write about a day at the beach that they have never been to, or low numeracy results when doing sums using a train's timetable which they have no contextual knowledge of?"

Mr Roberts found that children living in regional and remote areas of Australia are forced to adopt an urban perspective, which they may be unfamiliar with, to access and succeed with their education.

"There's very little opportunity for country kids to see their lives reflected in the national framework, making it difficult to understand the curriculum and achieve better results," Mr Roberts said.

He also feels that currently there is a focus within the curriculum on what kids 'need to know' and not 'how to know'.

"We are building education around the learning of facts and figures, and failing to give enough focus to how we build knowledge and understanding, which is something that can be applied to a child's education regardless of where they are located."

The Colin Marsh award was created in memory of the foundation president of the Australian Curriculum Studies Association and Mr Roberts said the educator and author played a role in developing his winning paper.

"I was having a hard time getting some of the ideas for my paper out in writing, when I recalled discussing some of the ideas with Professor Marsh at a conference in 2011," Mr Roberts recounted.

"His enthusiasm about those ideas gave me a fresh drive and I wrote a letter to him; with a little refining and polishing that letter became my paper."

Mr Roberts said the award was a great achievement and demonstrates that the curriculum community is addressing the assumption that in educational issues the rural is more or less an extension of the urban perspective.

"This award says to me that the curriculum community has heard the arguments and essentially said 'yes, there is an issue here we need to consider'."

Mr Roberts is the national convenor of the rural education special interest group within the Australian Association for Research in Education.