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Geoff Masters says many students in our schools can’t reach the pedals.
Geoff Masters says many students in our schools can’t reach the pedals. - Image ©Shutterstock.com/Pixel-Shot

Curriculum equality limits student progress

Comment 4 minute read

ACER Chief Executive Professor Geoff Masters AO says providing everybody with an identical solution may seem ‘fair’, but fairness depends on meeting individual needs.

In an article in Teacher, Professor Masters says the current standardised approach to the school curriculum, in which every student is assigned the same year-level curriculum at the same time and is given the same amount of time to work on it, highlights the limitations of equality.

‘In our schools, many students can’t reach the pedals. They struggle with a year-level curriculum for which they are not yet ready because they lack the prerequisites for effective engagement,’ Professor Masters writes.

‘Other students’ knees are jammed under the handlebars. They, too, are assigned the standard year-level curriculum, but require something better suited to their more advanced learning needs if they’re to make the progress of which they are capable.

‘The answer lies in recognising that fairness and individual progress are maximised by insisting on equity rather than equality.’

According to Professor Masters, the ‘equity’ alternative recognises that progress is maximised when each learner is given learning opportunities appropriate to their current learning needs – well-targeted stretch challenges that may not be the same for all students.

As per his recommendations for the New South Wales curriculum, Professor Masters proposes that teachers be responsible for deciding the curriculum each student is assigned, based on that student’s current level of attainment and learning needs.

To facilitate this, Professor Masters says year-level curricula must be transformed into a sequence of syllabuses in each learning area, providing a common path along which all students progress at their own pace. He notes that this is how students currently advance in music, language learning and swimming.

Professor Masters addresses concerns that his proposal might lead to ‘streaming’, or would be unmanageable for teachers.

‘This view of teachers as ‘deliverers’ of a centrally prescribed solution (to everybody at the same time for the same amount of time) is inconsistent with the nature of professional work. Professionals of all kinds evaluate what they’re dealing with and then provide solutions appropriate to presenting situations,’ Professor Masters writes. ■

Read the full article:
‘Equality, equity and the school curriculum‘, by Professor Geoff Masters AO, is published in Teacher.

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