The NSW Education Standards Authority’s (NESA) new curriculum for year 11 and 12 includes changes to core and elective subjects, and features a new case study on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history before 1788.
Claudianna Blanco

24 Feb 2017 - 2:49 PM  UPDATED 24 Feb 2017 - 2:49 PM

The new HSC curriculum announced this week has made sweeping changes to 22 core and elective subjects, including English, Mathematics, Science and History, updating it for the first time since 2001.

The fresh NSW education authority syllabuses are part of the NSW Government’s ‘Stronger HSC Standards’reforms announced last year. Year 11 students will study the new curriculum from 2017, and those in year 12 will do so from 2018.

The drafting process included consultations with more than seven thousand teachers, academics, experts and students, to look at ways to make them more relevant to current needs.

Education Inspector Darren Taylor, who worked in the consultation and drafting process of subjects such as history and geography, told NITV News: “One of the things that came up in relation to the syllabuses is that [we needed] scope to engage in the study of areas beyond just Egypt, Greece and Rome.”

The education authority hopes the new elective history syllabus offers students the possibility to deepen their understanding of different aspects of ancient and modern history, beyond what is already covered in the mandatory history syllabus offered to all students up to year 10.

New HSC history units include the Shang Dynasty, Troy, Alexandria, Teotihuacan, the Celts and Ancient Australia, among others. Over the course of the HSC, students who choose history must complete 120 hours of history, and a minimum of 10 hours on each case study.

With the inclusion of the new Ancient Australia case study, NESA hopes students develop an understanding of Aboriginal Australian history, before they move on and study other parts of the world.

My Taylor told NITV News that the case study will include “an overview of ancient Australia for students to understand the diversity, but there also would be opportunities for students to look more closely at specific sites and locations.”

NITV News understands the idea behind the new unit is that teachers also get the opportunity to find a specific local site or area of interest that is particularly relevant to students. 

“For example, they could learn about diversity of Aboriginal language groups across Australia. They also look at the range of sources of Ancient Australia, they also learn at what they reveal. They also have some content there that makes the connection not just between the study of ancient history, but with cultural, spiritual identity. And also with some of the issues that concern the preservation or protection of sites that relate to ancient Australia, so it’s more holistic study in terms of the approach to it,” Mr Taylor says.

“The teachers need to have deeper qualifications to be able to present the facts in the curriculum in a way that it enhances their [students’] understanding of Aboriginal people.”

Indigenous educator Pastor Ray Minniecon, council member of St Andrews Cathedral School Founding Member of Gawura Aboriginal School, told NITV News he welcomes the new case study.

“We’ve got a long way to go yet. But it’s good to see that they’re starting to take a much deeper interest in the history of our own country,” he says.

“It’s only in the last 10 or 20 years that we’ve seen some changes in the ways in which our issues or Aboriginal studies have been included in any of the primary and secondary schooling.”

However, Pastor Minniecon expressed concern regarding support and training for teachers.

“If you’re going to do an Aboriginal Studies program, at any level, on any topic, it has to be of the highest quality to be able to make sure that the students get the depth and understanding from the Aboriginal people themselves.

“The other challenge and issue with it is who’s going to be teaching it? Who is going to be teaching the teachers how to teach it? What particular group or nation are they going to be teaching about? What about the language of that particular nation or groups? There has to be a little more detail in it. In the details too, there needs to be a lot more interest from the students,” he says.

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Pastor Minniecon also observed that there is a big difference in the scope of studying history subjects such as Teotihuacan or Alexandria, which are specific sites that relate to defined moments in history, when comparing them to 40 to 50 thousand years of Aboriginal Australian history.  

Mr Taylor has told NITV News the idea “is to leave it a bit open so that way teachers can identify [sites] that are particularly relevant. It’s not the case necessarily of just spotlighting one particular site. It’s about that flexibility.”

When asked about this, Pastor Minniecon expressed concern.

“The teachers need to have deeper qualifications to be able to present the facts in the curriculum in a way that it enhances their [students’] understanding of Aboriginal people.”

However, he believes there are advantages to be embraced.

“So the benefit would be that they’d [the students] be much more accustomed to the situation and the conditions of Aboriginal people, to make much clearer decisions on how [to proceed] if they come into a position of power, to be able to make better policies on behalf of Aboriginal people.”

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Pastor Minniecon hopes that schools also provide contemporary context and analysis to the Indigenous history they teach in their programs.

“I hope that the ancient history that they’re going to be teaching also includes our modern history to help students understand the realities of what it means to be disposed, of what colonialism means for Aboriginal people, what it means to have your children removed, whether it is the ancient policies of the XVIII or XIX century that lasted until the 1970s, or the recent policies in which our children are being taken at a much more alarmingly higher rate.”

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