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Woke agenda overrides critical lessons kids need for life

What is the core purpose of our education system? The answer should be simple but based upon reading the Australian Curriculum Review, those who develop it have lost sight.

We should be able to sum it up in one line — to prepare kids to lead a good and productive life as contributors to our great Australian community.

You could even add another few lines, something more radical — to teach them critical thinking skills, the ability to analyse the world in their own way, and to make up their own mind on historical events, social causes, and providing them with the tools to establish their own belief system.

But like the conversation happening in the Australian Defence Force and Department of Defence on how they need to return to their core purpose — ensuring the safety and security of all Australians we need to have a similar and hard look at our education system. Australian schools should be among the best in the world. But that’s not the case. Australia was once within the top 10 in the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment for maths, science and reading — a commonly used international benchmark.

Australia is now ranked 29th for maths, 15th for science and 16th in reading. Despite increasing investment and continued discussion about how to do better, we sit behind comparable developed nations we once outranked.

It means students across Australia leave school with a lower comprehension of the functional, basic and critical skills they need to set them up for life.

So with the next PISA rankings out next year, any reasonable person would expect that as a nation, we would have looked at previous results and are working to address them. We know the areas which need a renewed focus and we have mountains of data, analysis and test results that underpin and show what we need to do.

But the current review into our national curriculum shows those charged with putting the educational framework in place remain preoccupied with the woke agenda taking Australian institutions hostage.

It’s time to get back to basics and arrest our national education decline, not confine our kids to a lifetime of grievance and social activism.

Winston Churchill once said: “To every man there comes in his lifetime that special moment when he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered a chance to do a very special thing, unique to him and fitted to his talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for that which would be his finest hour.”

Figuratively speaking, that’s where we are now as a nation. Australia is home to so much ground-breaking science. The potential to lead the world in new industries and our economy continues to grow despite the scale and pace of challenges the rest of the world throws at it. Yet our education system needs to be better placed to prepare generations of young Australians.

The answer to this decline does not reside in becoming captive to social issues not related to the core purpose of our schools, nor is it reliant on the ability of teachers to instil historical narratives through a relative lens.

Instead, as experts in this field would confirm, it’s about getting back to basics, teaching critical thinking skills, and getting students to a position where they understand a concept, rather than just the result of it. It’s not about telling them how to think or what to think, but instead, to think.

The review into the national curriculum is a valuable opportunity to make sure we’re teaching kids skills that matter. Subjects that have them embark on a life of being curious while seeking to make a valuable contribution to society. The future of the Australian economy relies on our ability to take part in the global contest of ideas and innovation, to take advantage of new international industrial opportunities. While many factors contribute to our ability to do all this, what happens in the classroom is the foundation upon which the rest is built.

Imagine if the effect of Churchill’s quote rang true — if we continue to play catch-up with comparable developed nations and aren’t able to seize on the opportunities of future generations. What a tragedy it would be. It’s time to do something about it — and capitulating to the woke agenda isn’t it.

Matt O’Sullivan is a Liberal Senator for WA