Teachers fight to save Shakespeare


Teachers fight to save Shakespeare

By LANE NICHOLS – The Dominion Post | Saturday, 15 November 2008

Shakespeare’s plays and other great works of literature considered too difficult for some pupils will disappear from classrooms under proposed changes to the curriculum, alarmed principals say.

There are also fears that basic content in maths, history and business studies will be axed in a drive to make subjects easier, “dumbing down” schoolchildren and further undermining NCEA.

Education officials are reviewing the way secondary-school subjects are assessed in preparation for the new curriculum, to be introduced from 2010.

English teachers say some papers, such as level 3 Shakespeare, could disappear. They will discuss their concerns at a meeting in Wellington next week.

The Qualifications Authority says the world’s greatest playwright is not compulsory but stresses that the bard’s works will still be taught in most schools.

Macleans College principal Byron Bentley said reference to basic content, such as Shakespeare, appeared to have been axed under the proposals.

It meant some schools would ignore important subject material if pupils found it too hard – offering lightweight courses that deprived pupils of key knowledge.

Mr Bentley, who heads the lobby group Education Forum, said other subjects such as history had no proposed syllabus, leaving content decisions entirely to individual teachers. There was also a drive for more internal assessment at the expense of nationally administered exams. He said the changes were being bulldozed through by officials, and he called for a government moratorium.

Lower Hutt’s Sacred Heart College principal, Lisl Prendergast, feared changes that could sideline Shakespeare were already a fait accompli.

Other concerns raised include:

The study of blogs earning the same credits as literature papers

The elimination of essays in some subjects

No mention of accounting or business studies in the curriculum

“All the challenge and in-depth analysis and skills required at each level are being modified, and in my opinion, made easier,” a senior teacher said. “Is the implication that we should not dare to challenge students, or heaven forbid, ask them to engage with texts that really speak to the human condition in a superbly crafted form? Dumbing down again.”

Education Ministry curriculum group manager Mary Chamberlain said knowledge in key subjects remained important as ever, but it was no longer good enough to have pupils faithfully reproducing content.

They needed to apply their knowledge to problem-solving in the real world.

Ministry officials and national subject associations were reviewing all NCEA subject areas to ensure standards were rigorous and that pupils continued achieving well internationally, she said. Consultation was now under way.

“Schools have the professional responsibility for designing learning programmes which contain appropriate knowledge that are relevant for their particular students.

“A teacher may choose to teach students to respond critically to a Shakespearean drama, or another piece of drama depending on which is most relevant for students.”