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A Critical Inquiry into the School Curriculum and Philosophy

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The term ‘curriculum’ is typically used to define the content being taught in a learning environment (‘The Glossary of Education Reform’, 2020). Though this is the general definition, there is no one way to establish a curriculum for schools, as it has been evolving over the years to suit different classrooms and students (Brady & Kennedy, 2014). To further investigate the educational philosophy that revolves around developing a curriculum, one will specifically look at Narre Warren South P-12 College and how they maintain their values and resolve student’s needs within their schooling system.

Narre Warren South P-12 College (NWSC) is a government school that recently started catering for both primary and secondary students in the same location since 2009. Because the students will be spending their 12 years of schooling in a familiar space, there is a strong focus on community (‘Profile – Narre Warren South P-12 College’, 2020).

NWSC’s Curriculum and Philosophy

The Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians (Education Services Australia, 2008) gives two goals of an Australian Curriculum’s policy; promoting equity and that all Australians are encouraged to learn to become confident and creative individuals. The Shape of the Australian Curriculum Version 4.0 (ACARA, 2012) further outlines the background beliefs that the curriculum is founded upon. These include:

  • Equal learning opportunities for each student;
  • Each students’ entitlement to knowledge and skills for success and life-long learning;
  • High, yet appropriate expectations depending on an individual student’s learning abilities;
  • Planning ahead for the needs and interests of different students.

In response, NWSC actively promotes the values of P.R.I.D.E in learning which stands for: perseverance, respect, integrity, dedicated teamwork, and excellence. These values act as reminders and motivators for students to “recognising and celebrating diversity, high aspirations and positive relations” to pursue their ambition after schooling years. They base importance in life-long learning as there they emphasise nurturing youths into members and leaders of society so that the goal of their schooling experience is not only their academic success but the ability to be responsible, inspiring adults (‘Profile – Narre Warren South P-12 College’, 2020). The reason behind these values and aim for the school leans towards NWSC’s focus on life-long learning and their belief in all students’ capabilities in achieving their highest, with their diversity in ethnic background, learning abilities, and social groups in mind.

Analysis and Critique of the School Curriculum and Philosophy

First, philosophy in the context of education could be defined by the method of thinking, questioning, and responding to how education affects life and the quality of life. Thus in this section, we will be discussing the attitudes towards learning and teaching within the school’s curriculum (Talawar & Kumar, 2010).

Talaway & Kumar (2010) suggest that values are key to adopting a certain lifestyle. It is important to understand different natures of values as all schools have a different value that they promote, and which they integrate into their curriculum. One of the theories as mentioned in ‘Philosophical & Sociological Foundations of Education’ is the experimental theory is the ‘experimental theory’. It acknowledges the achievements of the present, but mostly emphasise the promised success of the future. This aligns with the values of NWSC, as they greatly stress the future success and life-long learning outside of the school of their students. The ‘experimental theory’ is also seen as the pragmatic theory as it recognises that there are no permanent values, and highlights the differences in time between the present (while the student is in school) and the future (when the student leaves school to join society as an adult). This is also to be in consideration during deciphering the orientation of a school’s educational philosophy.

Because the school curriculum and the philosophy of NWSC stem from the background of which their students and their family are based off, we will be looking at how the curriculum specifically cater to their certain demographic. In this analysis, we will specifically be addressing:

  • The ‘low’ category in terms of their socio-economic status;
  • The cultural diversity of the school; including 50 ethnic groups from 64 language backgrounds where 50% qualify for the English as an Additional Language (EAL) program (‘Profile – Narre Warren South P-12 College’, 2020).

Low Socio-Economic Status (SES)

The four main philosophical approaches from ‘Philosophical Perspectives in Education’ (Leo, M.C & G, 1999) include: perennialism, essentialism, progressivism, and reconstructionism. The philosophy we will be focusing on is social reconstructivism. The root of social reconstructivism is social justice and ultimately answering social questions to provide a better education system to the students who may be suffering from inequity. Specific issues that can be addressed are problems faced in real life such as: violence, hunger, international terrorism, and inflation. In ‘What Teachers Need to Know about Teaching Methods’, Westwood (2008) recommends community-based learning as an effective strategy to combat inequality in classrooms.

During my placement, I have observed a close teacher-student relationship such as students coming to a teacher they trust to discuss their home situation. Most of the time, the teachers were aware of any hardship or financial difficulties that the student is experiencing and has been transparent with them with their fellow teachers to make sure that the student is getting the required treatment according to their ability or disability. This can also be observed during career counseling, where the students are encouraged to take VCE if their academic performances and interests match – though also, NWSC has a very strong, supportive VET program.

According to research, students growing up in a low SES area are less likely to complete year 12 compared to the more affluent neighbourhood (Curtis, Drummond, Halsey, & Lawson, 2012). This is significant to the NWSC’s low SES demographic, but at the same time, they have managed to challenge the expected through their philosophy in looking at the career path of students rather than their immediate future.

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I believe the trust system between the teacher and the student is a response to Smyth (2013)’s quote, “The core issue is really around students’ sense of justice and their sense of feeling included”. The tight-knit community has not only helped the student staying motivated for their studies, but also in finding an identity in their school.

Diversity in Culture and Language

Out of the philosophical approaches (perennialism, essentialism, progressivism, and reconstructionism) NWSC’s response to their culturally diverse student again has social reconstructionist approaches. Because the cultural diversity affects the dynamics of students within a classroom (for instance, name-calling and bullying stemming from their differences in race), social reconstructionism is incorporated into EAL classes as well to promote equality. On the other hand, there are elements of essentialism in the curriculum in terms of basing importance in literacy and numeracy. Leo, M.C & G (1999) suggest essentialism is an answer to practical schooling, preparing students to become valuable members of society. Since the purpose of EAL is to teach the non-English speaking students to become proficient in writing, speaking, and overall expressing themselves in English, one can see that there is some essentialist basis on the curriculum. However, not to be confused with the fact that the EAL curriculum is for academic excellence – but rather so that the students can use their English skills as tools to enrich their lives as members of society after school.

There was a distinct difference between younger secondary year’s EAL class and an older secondary year’s EAL class. The classes I have observed were year 8 and year 12 (VCE) EAL respectively. The year 12 students were less fluent in English as most of them were international students who have come to Australia for about a year or two for quality education. On the other hand, the year 8 students were able to speak confidently because they were as young as in primary school when they first started learning English. Research has found that younger brains are more effective in learning a different language from their primary one, compared to an older brain (Pliatsikas, Moschopoulou & Saddy, 2015). This has contributed to the different structure of the classes.

Though VCE is much more assessment-based and rigid in curriculum structure compared to a year 8’s EAL curriculum (‘Learning areas’, 2020; ‘English and English as an Additional Language Study Guide’, 2017) and understandably, there would be differences in teaching approaches. However, year 8 classes allowed for more discussion exploring their background compared to the ‘essentialist’ year 12 class that was mostly focused on learning key vocabulary and practising worksheets.

Overall, from observing NWSC’s curriculum and its interaction with students, one can see that the focus has moved away from a traditional school’s ideal of academic excellence, to an emphasis on building communities and empowering marginalised group of youths. Though I wasn’t able to learn much about the few students who suffer from learning disabilities from a physical, mental, or developmental level, or students of Indigenous descent, NWSC is maintaining a progressive point of view to cater to their large population of ‘minority’ students.

Implications on Teaching and Learning and Other Curriculum Stakeholders

Since low SES group students and ethnically diverse students, who especially undertake the EAL course, were mentioned in the earlier section, the same demographic and the challenges they bring will be further discussed.

Often in the case of low SES students, they may have reduced vocabulary or literacy and numeracy levels because of their lacking academic and disciplinary language. The reason could be the less literate family environment and the parents who have had less opportunity to engage with a learning environment (Baker et al., 2008; Baydar, Brooks-Gunn, & Furstenberg, 1993; Guevara et al., 2008; Morrison, Rimm-Kau, & Pianta, 2003 – as referenced by Rojas Rojas, Meneses & Sánchez Miguel, 2019). This could be resolved by teachers’ support and effective scaffolding. ‘Teachers’ Scaffolding Science Reading Comprehension in Low-Income Schools: How to Improve Achievement in Science’ has found that when students struggling with low academic abilities were provided with separate material and guidance from the mainstream classrooms, they found improvement in not only their cognitive, critical thinking abilities but also in their confidence levels.

In the case of EAL students, there’s a common assumption that if the students performed well in the subject English during schooling years, they will continue to do so in their post-schooling years. Unfortunately, this is not the case as Evans, Anderson & Eggington (2015) found that “many students’ writing skills plateau once they complete their first-year English courses”. This will be a challenge especially schools like NWSC that value life-long learning.

One of the methods introduced in ESL readers and writers in higher education: understanding challenges, providing support is to emphasise the importance of self-regulated learning. When the students understand that learning isn’t only during school years but can also be a method of self-improvement, they will continue to challenge themselves with taking risks. The key to self-regulated learning is time management. Case studies have found that giving a lesson on time management has led the students to consider and separate their hobbies and leisurely activities from their studies. This is significant to those who are high-achievers as they tend to not take on any difficult tasks to maintain their good grades. This attitude is not good for language-learners, since risk-taking, making mistakes, and being able to give themselves constructive criticism on weaknesses and limitations are crucial to maintaining good language skills. Thus it has been proven that implementing a lesson on time management allow both EAL and non-EAL students who leave school, continue to pursue challenges.

Education should be about bringing equality to the classroom so that the students who leave school, can continue to reduce inequality and spread awareness and positivity in embracing individual differences in the society (Fredman, Campbell & Taylor, 2018). And so, I believe that the philosophy of social reconstructivism incorporated into NWSC’s curriculum will further focus on closing the gaps between nations, racial, or religious groups and offering understanding and friendship. My personal belief is that the world will grow closer than ever as our future advances make other cultures more accessible. With globalisation, there will be a growth of students in their diversity and there will be a bigger demand for capable teachers who are educated in the differences in those students (Kodama, 2015). Increasing cultural sensitivity for awareness is already becoming a part of a teacher education program, and I believe that teachers should further work to provide students with equal freedom to learn.


Despite the debate on a fundamental definition of curriculum and what is needed to develop one, from my research, all educators agree that high-quality learning for students is not a luxury but a necessity in the modern world. I have learned that the philosophy of teaching and building a curriculum based on human rights will promote a healthy living of a student, with the promise of a life-long learning opportunities (Fredman, Campbell & Taylor, 2018). This reflection of my previous placement has provided me with a teacher’s lens to find equity for students while I also learn, and strive to overcome the possible challenges in the future.


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