LAUNCH OF SOCIAL STUDIES CURRICULUM STATEMENT

  • Wyatt Creech
Education

Introductions

cI am very pleased to have the role today of officially launching the final curriculum statement for social studies. It is also great to be making a national launch in my own home town. I would also like to acknowledge Martinborough School's Jubilee and say what an appropriate occasion it is to coincide with the release of this curriculum.

Seeing the young faces of the students here who are learning about days gone by and what life was like when their contemporaries 125 years ago were here is the sort of thing reflected in this social studies curriculum document.

One of the first things that landed on my desk as Minister of Education 15 months ago was a report from the Ministry of Education asking me to sign off the final text of the social studies curriculum. At the time, the issue of teacher workload was the key concern, and the rapid pace of introduction of new curriculum statements was seen as a major part of the cause. I therefore decided before any further statements were released, more consultation and discussion was needed. I wanted to get a better idea of the workload concerns of teachers and have time to familiarise myself with what this curriculum was about and issues surrounding it.

Social Studies in the New Zealand Curriculum is the culmination of considerable debate by teachers, educational groups and other members of the public. In what was seen as a bit of an unusual move we produced two draft documents - I wanted this to happen because I wanted as much feedback as possible to help shape the document we have here today.

Today's launch of the document "Social Studies in the New Zealand Curriculum" is the first final curriculum to be published since the decision was made to start again after the end of the pause in the implementation of the curriculum reforms. It is good to get it out there. The new curriculum will now fit in to the process that was agreed to as part of the workload working group. Each curriculum statement will be phased in over two years to enable teachers to get the necessary training and support before the document has to be implemented.

I believe that this statement will help our teachers to plan and deliver sound programmes for teaching and learning social studies well into the next millennium.

I have to admit that I have been fortunate that the final social studies curriculum was still being developed after last year's election. It has meant that I have been able to turn to my Associate Minister, Brian Donnelly to get his expertise and advice about what is being planned. Brian was up until last year still at the coal face in the classroom and I have really relied on his practical experience to guide me on the final content of the curriculum statement.

It has been a long time getting to today - but I think the extra analysis, discussion and consultation has produced a more robust document that will deliver better educational results for our young people.

While there has been a bit of a time lag, the statement is the fifth to be released as part of the curriculum reform programme. This is an exciting development for schools, particularly for primary schools. The old social studies curriculum was way out of date; it was developed 35 years ago - society has changed considerably since the early 1960s and what we teach in our schools has to reflect that change.

Back then you needed a doctor's prescription to buy margarine. In those days Bob Dylan wrote radical protest songs, the Beatles were long-haired ragamuffins, the Rolling Stones dangerous and wild. I remember being told firmly by our music teacher that this uncivilised noise was not music. Recently I visited a school and had the pupils sing for me in a mini concert: first, "Here comes the sun" - a Beatles number; then "Blowin' in the wind" - a Bob Dylan anthem, and "Ruby Tuesday" - a now standard from none other than those wild radicals, The Rolling Stones. How the world has changed.

A fundamental principle of the curriculum reform programme is promoting an outcomes-based education, while the word itself may seem jargonistic, all it means is that we identify what it is we want students to know and achieve so that there is no mystery or misunderstanding. It is based on the premise that there are certain things that all students should learn as a result of attending school and that this is clearly stated.

I think the final social studies curriculum statement we have now contains the right balances. I know it won't satisfy everyone - but at least it is not at the extremes. It clearly states the Government's expectation of student achievement for years 1-13 and provides clear direction for teachers on what it is we want students to achieve.

One of the Government's objectives for education is to secure our economic and social future. New Zealand needs an education system which fosters fairness, tolerance, self-reliance and informed participation in New Zealand society. The new curriculum statement will be of central importance in helping schools c ontribute to this objective.

Through this curriculum, students will learn about New Zealand and living in New Zealand society. Social studies will equip students with the knowledge, understanding, skills, values and attitudes to participate actively and responsibly. They will find out how individuals, groups, cultures and societies interact in their different environments. It aims to enhance students' understanding of their cultural heritage and to develop respect for cultural diversity.

School programmes based on this statement will help students gain knowledge and understanding about events, places, and people of significance to New Zealand, both historically and in the present. The sorts of activities the students here at Martinborough School are doing today to mark the school's 125th jubilee fit nicely in with the curriculum statement. Students will also study communities and societies in places beyond New Zealand, including the Pacific, Europe and Asia.

Young people will find out about economic processes, such as how people produce, exchange and use goods and services. They will gain an understanding of economic activities, including those important to New Zealand, such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and tourism, and an awareness of New Zealand's dependence on marketing and trade. They will also develop an awareness of the present and future role of work in their lives.

Students will be taught to critically question the world and the way it works. They are not asked to memorise dates and Capital cities, but are instead taught skills and the processes of thinking through issues and understanding the reasons for doing things. Social studies is about helping students to develop analytical skills that let them examine the world and the information that surrounds them in a critical way.

This statement tackles head on the issues of values education including it as an essential component of learning and skill development. Students will examine and clarify their own values, and those of others, in relation to social issues. They will also examine collective values upon which social structures and systems are based, and gain knowledge about the duties and responsibilities of citizenship.

The social studies statement will be released to schools beginning next week. Its structure has been simplified and is smaller in size than either drafts or other statements. This was in response to calls, particularly from primary teachers, for more manageable and user friendly statements.

After considerable feedback from the education sector about the extent and pace of change more funding has been allocated to help teachers with implementing curriculum statements. The budget contained additional expenditure of $54 million to give current teachers further training and resources.

There will be a transition period of two years before the statement is mandatory from the beginning of the year 2000. This transition period will provide schools with time to trial the statement and plan for its full implementation. Whilst considerable professional development has been provided to support the two draft social studies statements, a further $5 million will be allocated. Teaching and learning resources are also under development and I understand a handbook to help teachers plan their social studies programmes, is currently under development and due for release in early 1998.

I wish everyone involved in the process of putting the curriculum in place every success. We have a document to be proud of, and one which will help educate our children well into the new millennium.