Designed Learning

What is a GREAT curriculum? Knowledge, Skills or BOTH?

by Dr Gail Brown | April 1, 2022
What is a GREAT curriculum? Knowledge, Skills or BOTH?

This post is reflects revisions to curriculum, here in Australia and a white paper in the United Kingdom,  both released today, April 1, 2022.

My interest has been prompted by reading a 2019 book, by Ed Hirsch, and its title begins with “Why Knowledge Matters”? This book has both inspired and confirmed for me what curriculum is really about – it’s about the knowledge we want all students in our educational system here, in Australia, to learn, to know and to use throughout their Australian lives, as informed citizens.

Yes, Hirsch’s book is American – and he’s about knowledge – and so am I. This book is critical of curriculum documents that don’t spell out a clear scope and sequence of the knowledge that American students need to be American. He presents France as an example, that followed the American way of “progressive education” rather than teaching common curriculum content (knowledge about France and being French). Over 20 years of following a new curriculum, where every school taught something different (local curriculum), France has fallen from being one of the highest performing education systems in the world, to being in the lowest group. This should sound familiar to many teachers, who are being asked to design their own content to meet our sometimes vague curriculum outcomes.

Tom Sherrington’s post today shared the release of a new white paper for the UK curriculum, which Tom calls a “triumph” because “teachers will be required to teach actual proper knowledge”. Thanks so much Tom, this is totally consistent with Hirsch’s Core Knowledge Foundation, which shares its free curriculum sequences, with their American focus.

The level of detail of the knowledge, as a clear scope and sequence, to be taught is amazing, and Core Knowledge is free downloadable content. Some of this could be used here, in Australia, because it is about global knowledge – knowledge of our world and our planet and all our cultures and histories from around the world. Be clear, I think we still need strategies and skills and I also know these rest on what we know – our knowledge. This knowledge is not something we look up on the internet, it’s knowledge that we have in our memories, that makes us who we are - Australians

Australian educators could take some notice of this consistent curriculum revision work focusing on knowledge, from both America and the United Kingdom. Core Knowledge has done some of “Australia’s work” in building a knowledge-based curriculum – ONLY some!

What makes us Australian? What is the common knowledge that all Australians should learn and know to be informed citizens? We have two great starting points, using evidence-based research and reworking parts of the Core Knowledge content – to reflect Our History, for ALL Australians and Our Geography for Our Country and all the cultures we have here in Australia.

I wonder whether will this happen in the curriculum revisions released today by our government and ACARA? I want all our students to leave school with knowledge of what it is to be an Australian citizen, literate and numerate and globally informed. Has anyone already started adapting Core Knowledge Curriculum Content – I’d love to support them in any way I can! Please email me on  

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