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From COVID-19 to a new Declaration


As our society slowly but inevitably emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing is becoming ever clearer: the world we return to will not be the one we left.

Over the past 20 months or so, we have faced, individually and collectively, a host of challenges, not only beyond our experience but actually beyond what any of us could have foreseen.

COVID-19 clusters have been met with lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, witnessing not only the greatest migration of office workers from the city to the home, but also the greatest shutdown of schools and learning centres in our entire history. Literally overnight, education moved online and curriculum and high-stakes examinations were revised to not only take into account the unique at-home learning environment, but also the wellbeing of students and staff alike. As we return to face-to-face classrooms, could these very same challenges be the actual catalyst required for us to rethink education in a broader sense, for us to recommit to high-quality schooling and for us to issue a new Declaration?

In 1989, the Hobart Declaration, and in 1999, the Adelaide Declaration, committed the state, territory and Commonwealth Education Ministers to work together to deliver high-quality schooling for all young Australians. These were followed in 2008 by the Melbourne Declaration, which acknowledged major changes in the world and, in 2019, by the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Declaration, which emphasised addressing education gaps, as well as preparing students to thrive in a rapidly changing and challenging world. Although these Declarations are noble and important, and although the fundamentals of the Australian Curriculum are arguably sound, two criticisms seem universal and ever-lasting: our curriculum is overcrowded and our reliance on high-stakes examinations is not conducive to fulfilling the bold standards made clear in each successive Declaration. COVID-19, somewhat paradoxically, has created an opportunity for Australian educators to consider addressing these two criticisms.

At-home learning during COVID-19 resulted not only in changes of delivery, but also in what was being delivered. With considerations for the wellness of all, content was revised and reduced, differentiated assessments were introduced and collaboration increased. “Content-heavy” was universally understood as detrimental to both wellbeing and learning, and engagement was managed by a refocus on deeper learning, real-life learning, which made the exercise all the more worthy and worthwhile. The competitive and fast-paced nature of test results was replaced by a gentler, more thoughtful and deeper learning and teaching process that was differentiated to meet every learner’s needs. The curriculum was not slashed blindly, rather essential and fundamental elements were recognised for what they are, while other areas were jettisoned for the greater good.

It is my hope that the opportunity for deeper learning that came out of the COVID-19 crisis is not ignored, and we simply go back to what we were doing before. Educators have a wonderful opportunity to create a better learning ecosystem from the lessons of COVID-19, and truly bring to life the intent of all Declarations.

Words Mary Farah, principal, St Aloysius College North Melbourne

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