HTAA June 2010 Update


HTAA Interim Response to the Draft Ancient History & Modern History Curriculum Documents

13 June 2010

This is an interim response. It is the outcome of a meeting of the HTAA National Executive senior curriculum sub-committee. This discussion was informed by some substantial early feedback from members. However, with consultation extending until the end of July, we expect to refine this response and further develop the recommendations.  

General

 As with the K-10 course, the challenge with the senior courses will be to achieve balance with both topic selection and the range of perspectives and curriculum approaches that can be accommodated. It will be difficult to do this in a way that will satisfy everyone. However, as will be evident from the remainder of this response, HTAA believes that the focus needs to be on the complex practicalities of curriculum development. Speculation about attempts to promote particular causes or ideologies is an unhelpful distraction.

 Developing senior history courses that will be well-received around the country is going to be especially challenging for a variety of reasons:

  • All states and territories currently teach senior history courses but there is great diversity in what is taught, how it is taught and how it is examined.
  • History teachers are passionate about their senior courses. This, and the fact that the senior courses are associated with end of school credentialing, means that there is a great deal at stake.
  • At the moment a number of states are implementing new courses that were designed independently of the national curriculum process. Even where courses have been running for some time, they are highly valued and there is not a widespread perception that urgent change is needed.
  • It is not clear that the senior national courses have been based on a well-developed philosophy. There has been little attempt to discuss or bring together the differing approaches around the country. Nor have we been inspired with an imaginative new rationale for the study of history at the senior level. Instead, there is the impression of an ad hoc process that has attempted to cobble together existing diverse elements.

 In general, initial responses to the senior draft documents range from disappointment to an acceptance that they may be workable in some revised form. They are both relatively conservative documents and it has been suggested that there has been a missed opportunity in terms of creating exciting new courses for the 21st century. While there is significant variation in responses from different states and territories, Ancient History has gained a better acceptance than Modern History, where significant changes will be recommended.

 A six unit/module approach was originally suggested by HTAA as a practical way of addressing the challenges inherent in developing senior history courses that could be implemented in all states and territories. It is not evident that the potential of this approach has been fully realised:

  • Currently, different states and territories run senior courses over a semester, a year or two years. Some would like to allow for students to swap between Ancient and Modern. Others would like the ability to teach Year 11 and Year 12 in a composite class. All of this would be catered for in a modular approach that was flexible. In the current drafts, however, flexibility has been restricted and it appears that only two year courses are envisaged.
  • With states and territories having the opportunity to create their own courses out of the units/modules, there was the opportunity to present a range of approaches and topics. Longer term, there would be the possibility of developing the curriculum dynamically, with single modules being replaced by others that might be developed in response to teacher and student demand or developments in historiography. It is not clear that this exciting potential has been embraced.
  • An obvious use of the modular approach might be to develop at least one module in each course to address the needs of the ever-increasing number of students who are not ‘university-bound’. How to cater for these students is major concern for teachers.
  • It is disappointing that the opportunity for experimentation and freshness presented by the modular approach has resulted in a largely predictable offering of safe topics. With teachers (or perhaps state and territory authorities) free to choose a pathway of four modules through the six, there could be more opportunity for the adventurous. Puzzling, in this respect, is the failure to propose a 6th module for Ancient History.

Modern History

Strengths

While there are some serious concerns outlined below, it is important to put these in perspective:

  • The Modern History draft does propose quite a number of well-established topics that are currently well-taught, well-resourced and viewed as significant. These will be well received by many teachers and it will be important to ensure that this ‘comfort zone’ of familiar topics is preserved.
  • With the exception of Unit 1, the topic outlines have been generally well drafted and expectations are reasonably clear.
  • While the overall impression is one of conservatism, many teachers will be pleased to have the opportunity to teach topics such First Nations and Women’s Struggle for Equality. 
  • While there is discussion below about the merits of mandating it, Unit 4 presents an interesting opportunity to introduce Asian history in an accessible way and combine it, to some extent, with the study of American and Australian history.
  • At this early stage of consultation HTAA would suggest that the current draft is teachable but unexciting. While very significant refinement will be recommended, there are sound elements in the current format and it could be used as a foundation for a final draft.

Areas of Significant Discussion

 There are a number of areas where there has been significant discussion:

  • It has been suggested that it is difficult to perceive coherence or an over-arching rationale for the course. While Units 1 and 4 are presented as starting and concluding units, for example, the reason for this may not have been successfully communicated. Alternatives, discussed below, include allowing teachers the freedom to construct their own pathway or developing a new concluding unit that is more appropriate to a 21st century course.
  • Some units assume that a topic will be taught for a semester. While this is the current practice in some states and territories, it is not in others. In the absence of discussion about the merits of teaching to this level of depth, an obvious option would be to allow state or territory authorities to decide whether one or two topics should be taught over a semester.
  • It is noted that there is only limited opportunity to teach 18th or 19th century topics. This will concern some teachers. Of greater concern, however, will be the limited opportunity to take students into the 21st century in a course that will begin to be taught almost 15 years into that century.
  • Currently, Australian history is studied to varying degrees at the senior level and expectations of how much Australian history should be in the Modern History course tend to reflect this experience. While the draft course does offer the opportunity to study aspects of Australian history in a number of places, this may not satisfy those who would like to see a substantial Australian stream. On the other hand, there will be resistance to any mandating of Australian history at the senior level from those who are concerned about its limited appeal, especially to students who have just completed the new mandatory history course in Years 9 & 10. A complicating factor here is a level of uncertainty about the ability of states and territories to maintain existing Australian history courses.
  • For Unit 2A it might be worth examining the extent to which each study actually lends itself to an examination of ‘national identity’.
  • The repetition of what appear to be a generic listing of skills at the start of each unit seems odd. With simplicity of presentation always a priority, it is assumed that teachers will be able to access skills elsewhere in the document. As suggested below, it may be much more helpful to replace these course generic listings with either an extended rationale for each unit or an outline of concepts/key questions/themes/problems and issues, either specific to each topic or generic to each unit.

Major Concerns

The following have been identified as major concerns:

  • There is a limited opportunity for the study of social history or ‘non-conflict’ history.
  • For a course that will be implemented and taught well into the 21st century, there is very limited opportunity for the study of contemporary history. If what is regarded as contemporary history now is not included, the course will become dated very quickly and students will not have the opportunity to investigate obviously relevant and engaging topics. With the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks fast approaching, for example, the absence of a major topic on the rise of terrorism in the modern world is a significant omission.
  • With topics such as World War I and the Cold War prominent in the draft document, there is concern about student perception of repetition. The difficulty here is that in Years 9-10 students will study Australia in the modern world from a global perspective. With this focus on the same area as senior Modern History and the expectation that there will be Depth Studies in the junior course, avoiding significant overlap, whether actual or apparent, will not be easy. At the moment, with the junior and senior courses being developed separately, it is not clear how this issue is being addressed.
  • While the dot point outlines for topics may present an adequate summary, all topics would benefit from a more developed framework to guide teachers in understanding how to navigate their way through the detail. This may take the form of an extended rationale and/or an outline of concepts/key questions/themes/problems and issues. Whether or not these were generic for each unit or specific to each topic is something that could be explored. From the point of view of developing coherence and comparability, it might be helpful to develop an approach that was generic to each unit.
  • The draft document states that units ‘have been designed so that Units 3a, 3b and 4 are more conceptually and cognitively demanding than Units 1, 2a and 2b’. This is unconvincing – experienced teachers would argue that most of the units are interchangeable and the level of treatment easily adapted. The concern is that this statement restricts the flexibility that is inherent in the unit structure. Similarly, while the designation of Unit 1 as a mandatory introductory unit makes some sense, the mandating of Unit 4 is restrictive. The resulting lack of flexibility is a concern for those states and territories that do not have a two-year course structure.
  • Unit 3 B Revolutions creates a particular problem for Victoria, where the current Revolutions course is successfully run over a year rather than a semester. There is very strong support in Victoria for continuing to offer the existing course. At the same time, the study of revolutions has an obvious place in a Modern History course and some other states and territories are keen to see this option offered in a significant form.
  • Unit 1 needs work. It stands as a mandatory introductory unit. It will give students their first experience of senior history and it will represent half a year’s work for a Year 11 student. At the moment, however, it simply does not leap off the page as being engaging and it is not clear what the intention is. The mandating of units 1 and 4, in their current form, is a concern.   

Recommendations

1. HTAA urges ACARA to accept the need for greater flexibility in the refinement of the senior drafts. This is not to suggest that we are promoting a proliferation of topics without regard for comparability, significance or the diverse requirements of assessment. It also does not rule out the mandating of some units or topics. However, we are concerned about an attitude towards flexibility that may be at odds with the history teaching profession and which may stand in the way of suggestions that follow. It is essential that a Modern History course for the 21st century contains some option for adventure!

2. Potential pathways through the units need to be made more flexible:

  • Teachers, schools or local jurisdictions should be given the option of selecting the middle four units to teach in either Year 11 or Year 12. Not only would this recognise the diversity of programming that currently operates across the country, but it could create an environment where teachers could more easily experiment with newer topics. 
  • While the mandating of an introductory unit makes some sense, the current Unit 1 needs a clearer rationale, more creativity and more specific guidance.
  • The mandating of a final unit needs to be reconsidered in the light of recommendations that follow.
  • State and territory authorities should be give the option of specifying whether a topic within a unit should be studied for a semester of half a semester (offering the option of studying two topics per unit) in units such as 2B and 3A.

3. A rationale, including key concepts or questions, should be developed either for each unit or each topic. 

4. There is a desperate need for more contemporary history and social history. HTAA recommends the development of topics around, for example: Terrorism in the 20th Century, Popular Culture, the United Nations, Technology & Globalisation.

5. HTAA would like to see urgent discussion around the issue of how Years 9-10 will articulate with senior Modern History.

6. There is a very strong view from Victoria that the full semester unit on revolutions should be deleted. HTAA supports this view, but also recommends:

  • Adding China and Russia to the national studies, where their revolutions could be studied.
  • Creating the opportunity for the study of revolution in other units – this would be needed to satisfy the interest of other states and territories in this topic.
  • The development of another unit – see next point.

7. If the current revolutions unit is eliminated, a new unit could be developed around either ‘21st Century Studies’ or large themes that link the 20th and 21st centuries. This would satisfy a number of needs including the desire for more broad thematic studies. It is also possible that this unit could have an Australian option. If such a unit were developed it might make a more natural mandatory unit than the current Unit 4. Alternatively, it might be better to have no final mandatory unit.

8. HTAA urges ACARA to develop a response to the needs of students who are not ‘university-bound’ and who may not be well-catered for with either of the current course proposals.     

9. The wider consultation feedback on the Modern History draft may not point to an obvious consensus. The work of refining the current draft will need to be based on some careful discussion of concerns and the re-drafting will be challenging. Regardless of any timeline that has been imposed, HTAA feels that there needs to be time given to developing a clearer course rationale that addresses and explains the approaches that have been adopted.

Ancient History

 Strengths

 While there are some concerns outlined below, it is important to put these in perspective:

  • The Ancient History draft does propose quite a number of well-established topics that are currently well-taught, well-resourced and viewed as significant. These will be well-received by many teachers and it will be important to ensure that this ‘comfort zone’ of familiar topics is preserved.
  • The topic outlines have been generally well drafted and expectations are reasonably clear.
  • While there is discussion below about differing approaches to Ancient History, the expectation is that these can be accommodated with a degree of flexibility and some refinement.  
  • At this early stage of consultation HTAA would suggest that the current draft is teachable and, assuming some refinement, may be better received than the Modern History draft.     

Areas of Significant Discussion

 There are a number of areas where there has been significant discussion:

  • ‘Human origins’ seems like a reasonable controversy to deal with in Ancient History and it is regrettable that the example nominated has attracted ill-informed interest.
  • In Unit 3 there can be two approaches to the study of an individual: an individual can be studied from outside the time period previously studied or an individual can be studied from within the time period already studied. The first approach may achieve more breadth of study while the second approach might achieve more depth. Views are divided as to what is preferable and the suggestion is that either approach be permitted. 
    • In Unit 3 there was also discussion about whether or not it was appropriate to specify the individual to be studied in relation to each period. A concern was that by setting the individual it may skew the perspective of the course. For example, for ‘Greece: Athens, Sparta and the Peloponnesian War’ the individual specified is Pericles – he is Athenian, he dies within 4 years of the war although his policy is influential throughout the war. Nevertheless, teachers may wish to study another Athenian or a Spartan individual. An alternative to specifying the individual would be to allow for a choice of individuals with the stipulation that ‘the individual studied has affected the time period being studied’.
    • At the moment it seems possible for students to study the same region (eg Egypt, Near East, Greece or Rome) for three units. This does not provide for breadth of study. This would be addressed by specifying that no more than two units of either Egypt, the Near East, Greece or Rome can be studied across the four units. An additional specification might be that in Units 3 and 4 students must study no more that one of either Egypt, the Near East, Greece or Rome.
    • As with Modern History, it is puzzling why apparently generic skills have been added to each unit.
    • The approach to Classics, Archaeology and Ancient History differs. In some states and territories the distinctions have merged at senior secondary level while in others there is a much clearer separation. As a result, some have perceived an over-emphasis on Archaeology and Literary Studies while others feel that the mix is appropriate. While some would prefer to see these elements integrated as options in all units, others would welcome stand-alone units that focused on these elements. There may need to be more discussion around this issue or, as is recommended below, there should be sufficient flexibility to allow for differing approaches.
    • There has also been some discussion about whether studies of modern representations of the past should be incorporated as a method of approach throughout the course and/or be the focus of a separate unit.

Major Concerns

 While there has been a great deal of discussion about the merits of the Ancient History draft, at this early stage there has been no identification of a consensus around major concerns.

Recommendations

1. Most of the concerns mentioned above can be addressed by ensuring that there is flexibility so that teachers, schools or local jurisdictions can make their own decisions regarding, for example:

  • Approaches to the study of an individual.
  • Whether or not an individual is specified in relation to each period.
  • The study of Classics or Archaeology within Ancient History.

 2. There should be more discussion around the issue of specifying limitations on the area of study.

 3. Consideration should be given to developing a sixth unit for Ancient History. This would make a more attractive offering and assist with meeting some of the concerns about the need for greater flexibility to accommodate differing approaches. Consistency with Modern History, and even the potential for moving between the two courses, could also be a consideration here. 

 4. HTAA urges ACARA to develop a specific response to the needs of students who are not ‘university-bound’ and who may not be well-catered for with either of the current course proposals.    

 5. As with Modern History, refining the current draft will need to be based on some careful discussion of concerns and the re-drafting will be challenging. Regardless of any timeline that has been imposed, HTAA feels that there needs to be time given to developing a clearer course rationale that addresses and explains the approaches that have been adopted.

Paul Kiem
President
HTAA