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A discussion paper (1995) on secondary education in South Australia: The changes in 'Society and Environment'

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by Nicholas Klar


There has been a plethora of changes in secondary schooling in South Australia during the 1990's, particularly in senior secondary education. Likewise with the technically 'new' subject of Society and Environment. Therefore I will answer the questions posed by covering three basic areas. Because of the breadth of each area much of the analysis will tend to be brief and summative in nature.

The first and major area covered shall be an overview and history of the new national curriculum, including statements, framework and profiles. Also included shall be discussion of SACE and it's requirements. We shall also look at the discipline of Society and Education, including the now compulsory subject of Australian Studies. New methodologies (or teaching strategies) shall be discussed by specifically looking at four areas - Critical Analysis, Decision Making, Debate, and Small Group Discussion.


In April 1989 all Australian Education Ministers moved against disparate curriculums by agreeing upon ten common national goals for schooling in Australia. This was tied to the larger agenda of micro-economic reform. [Grundy, p.1] By 1993 there had been released a series of sixteen documents covering eight areas of learning - society and environment, English, maths, science, technology, languages other than English, health and physical education, and the arts. These are the most significant collaboration in the history of Australian education. [Statement, Foreword] The documents consisted of two areas known as,

1) 'Statements' - These provide a framework for curriculum development in all Australian schools and describe the range of experiences a student should have. They were designed to define each area of study, outline its essential elements, show what is distinctive about it, and describe a sequence for developing knowledge and skills.

They are structured into four bands which reflect the different levels of schooling: lower primary, upper primary, junior secondary, and senior secondary. Bands A and B generally cover the first two levels, C years eight to ten, and D years eleven and twelve (generally referred to as post- compulsory). [Statement p.1] There are also 'strands', usually the same as described in Profiles.

2) Profiles - These are divided into 'strands' which reflect the major elements of learning in each of the eight agreed areas. Strands are best described as the groups of content, concepts or learning processes. Within each strand there has been ascertained eight levels of achievement which have been validated by the Australian Council for Educational Research. [Ibid] These are not age or year level related and enable achievement to be charted.

Strands are designed to provide a national commonality in student assessment, and assist in the improvement of both learning processes for students and teaching methods for educators. In the profiles assessment is judged on both a comparative and non-comparative basis. All of these processes were exhaustively researched and canvassed by project teams throughout Australia and included wide community consultation. [Ibid, p.2]

Profiles and Statements are intrinsically linked. The profiles show the typical progression in achieving learning outcomes while statements are framework of what might be taught to achieve these outcomes. Statements also allow for the substantial parental participation in a childs learning experience.

SACE (The South Australian Certificate of Education)

SACE was introduced to the South Australian education system in 1992. It was not without many detractors and did cause some upheaval in the education system in SA. SACE was designed with flexibility and the national curriculum in mind and covers the senior secondary (or post-compulsory) school years. SACE is administered by the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia and allows for students to undertake a balanced course of subjects over two years. [SSABSA]

To qualify students must reach a level of at least 'successful achievement' in 16 of 22 units of approved study. A student must also satisfy the writing-based literacy assessment (colloquially known as the WBLA or 'wobbler') which is based on a folio of written work. This covers four designated categories and each piece must consist of at least 250 words. The wobbler was designed with the idea that every teacher should assist in developing the students standard of writing/literacy. [Ibid]

Stage 1 is generally undertaken in Year 11 and Stage 2 in Year 12. In stage one students must include a minimum of four units of compulsory subjects. These include Australian Studies (which shall be discussed in more detail later), English or English as a Second Language, and Maths. In stage two they must undertake a least one full year 'quantitative/experimental' subject and one full year 'language rich' subject. [Ibid]

Society and Education (S&E)

The area of S&E covers a diverse range of subjects and encompasses the relationship between 'society' and 'environment'. The inclusion of environment recognises its new and vital importance in the process of education. Traditionally the subject areas of S&E have been separate subjects (e.g. history, geography), studies (e.g. religion, environment), or integrated studies (e.g. humanities, social studies). [Butler p.1]

The study of S&E in South Australia is influenced by two sources. The first of these naturally enough is the national statements and profiles. The other is the report "Educating for the 21st century - A charter for public schooling in South Australia", released in 1990. This report outlines a common curriculum framework, nine essential skills, and seven required areas of study.

The area of S&E has been divided into six strands which provide a coherent structure for curriculum development,

€ Investigation, communication and participation

€ Time, continuity and change

€ Place and space

€ Culture

€ Resources

€ Natural and social systems

The study of S&E is designed to bring about certain outcomes in the form of knowledge, skills, and appreciation of values such as democratic process, social justice, and ecological sustainability. Other criteria include curriculum content, skills, values and action based on gender, indigenous, global and multicultural perspectives (amongst others).

This allows for a more holistic approach and ensures issues of equity and social justice are addressed. Also included is essential learning about Australia. This often comes in the (compulsory) form of Australian Studies which shall be discussed next. [Butler pp.3,4]

Australian Studies

A firm knowledge of Australia through the subject of Australian Studies was deemed vital to a students learning experience. Therefore it was made a compulsory subject in Stage 1 of SACE. The National Goals for schooling in Australia includes as one of its goals, curriculum that will, '...develop knowledge, skills, attitudes and values which will enable students to participate as active and informed students in a democratic Australian society within an international context. [Lecture 28.2.95]

Three goals were set out for students,

€ An gain an understanding of Australia's environment, heritage, culture and social processes.

€ To develop a framework for using the knowledge and understandings to appreciate and critically analyse a range of points of view about issues in Australian society.

€ To develop a positive approach to using and applying the knowledge and these abilities as participants in society. [Ibid]

How these are set up is up to the individual schools as long as the statements, profiles, framework and goals are adhered to.


The methods (or strategies) of teaching have undergone many transformations from the old days of 'talk and chalk', even though this style can be and still is utilised by many teachers. Different methodologies offer more variation in teaching styles in order to keep a student interested and learning at an adequate level. Methodologies also offer a better way to meet various objectives. We will briefly examine four of these methods.

1) Critical Analysis - This is where a source (usually secondary) is subject to analysis by students and the central features of an argument identified and evaluated. This kind of method is useful in breaking the 'teaching by rote' syndrome where there is no critical awareness instilled in the student. Students can be taught empathy - to look at the 'other' side and realise that different people have different perceptions of the same issue. [Lecture 21.3.95, ? p.52]

2) Decision Making - This is where students may work in groups to examine issues and options before making decisions. Particularly useful in teaching politics is the 1-3-6 (consensus) model where students must reach consensus in increasingly larger groups, or the web charting method looking at the inter-connectedness of many decisions. [? pp. 52,53]

3) Debate Method - This is a more structured or formal way of looking at opposing views on an issue. [? p.53] Students must prepare logical, well argued positions whether they agree with them or not. Helps students to understand rational thought processes as compared to emotional argument.

4) Small Group Discussion - Here students discuss topics or questions and record their comments to find out the various views that exist within the group. This method is very useful in assisting planning and promoting empathy. Unlike Decision Making it is not necessary to actually reach a decision. Issues such as the republic are good in these type of groups. [? p.55]

In such a brief paper it is very hard to discuss the many changes that have occurred and are continuing to occur. I have but briefly touched on a few but it is quite clear that in school curriculum we have seen boundaries collapse and dissolve on a massive scale. The national statements and profiles seek a middle ground between modern approaches and postmodern approaches. [Wilson p.?] This has caused attack from both the left and right of the political spectrum. The next few years should prove interesting.


David Butler "Society and Environment as an Area of Study" - (Draft), May 1994

Curriculum Corporation "Statement on studies of society and environment for Australian schools", Melbourne 1994

Curriculum Corporation "Studies of society and environment - a curriculum profile for Australian schools", Melbourne 1994

SSABSA "SACE requirements and subject selection: A guide for students and parents", August 1993

Shirley Grundy "The National Curriculum Debate: Discordant Discourses" in South Australian Educational Leader, May 1994

Bruce Wilson "Against the postmodern curriculum" in EQ, (issue unknown)

© 1993-2008, Nicholas Klar, PO Box 280, Brighton SA 5048, AUSTRALIA 

May be reproduced for personal use only. Any reproduction in print or in any fixed or for-profit medium is not allowed without written permission. If any of these pages are copied, downloaded or printed the copyright statement must remain attached.

Any use of this or other works for academic and/or other research must be duly acknowledged by bibliography or reference.

REF: Nicholas Klar, 1995, "A discussion paper (1995) on secondary education in South Australia: The changes in 'Society and Environment' ", + date accessed

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