Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Unhelpful for students and for teachers

By Kevin Donnelly - posted Thursday, 27 October 2005

Imagine a classroom where the geography teacher wants to teach children the best way to drive from Melbourne to Sydney. Based on a syllabus approach to learning, where teachers have a clear, succinct and easy-to-follow description of what is to be taught, the exercise is straightforward.

A syllabus would provide teachers with an outline of possible routes to Sydney, for example, via the Hume Highway or around the coast, and there would be details of what all students should learn and what constitutes a pass or a fail.

During the 1990s, Australia ditched syllabuses in favour of outcomes-based education. With OBE, the focus is no longer on what is to be taught or how teachers teach. Instead, the emphasis shifts to what students have learned by the end of the process. The ACT curriculum describes OBE as:


Curriculum documentation has until recently concentrated on subject matter and teaching methods. This emphasis has highlighted what teachers do in the learning process. The move to an outcomes approach attempts to recognise the importance of what students know and can do.

Based on OBE, not only are teachers denied a syllabus detailing the best way to Sydney, but children negotiate their own way in their own time, and as long as they eventually arrive, whether via Perth or Brisbane, all are considered successful.

While much of the criticism of Australia's adoption of OBE focuses on the fact that stronger-performing education systems have a syllabus approach and that OBE has failed to raise standards, equally of concern is the detrimental impact OBE is having on classroom teachers.

Given the West Australian Government's intention, beginning next year, to extend OBE upward into years 11 and 12, that state has become a battleground where teachers associated with the website have mounted a sustained attack against Australia's current approach to curriculum.

Indeed, such has been the hostility to OBE that a parliamentary inquiry has been established and state Education Minister Ljiljanna Ravlich has been forced into a series of embarrassing backdowns, including replacing the head of the Curriculum Council.

Since being established in June, PLATO has attracted some 450 members and the website's forum provides an illuminating and at times startling exposé of how educational experiments such as OBE make teachers' work increasingly difficult, frustrating and onerous.


One of the common complaints voiced is that by denying teachers a syllabus that outlines essential knowledge, understanding and skills related to particular year levels, teachers and individual schools are forced to spend valuable time reinventing the wheel by writing their own documents.

Primary school teachers, as they have to deal with a number of subject areas, are particularly concerned about the additional workload: a workload made worse by the fact OBE documents are full of hundreds of vague and fluffy learning statements that drown teachers in meaningless detail.

One practising teacher states: "Many of us have tried very hard to change our teaching and demonstrate more and more that we were implementing the department's dictates. That it has led to a disaster, gross overwork and teachers leaving (and planning to leave - I know of five in my school alone) is hardly our fault."

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. All

First published in The Australian on October 22, 2005.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

5 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Dr Kevin Donnelly is a Senior Research Fellow at the Australian Catholic University and he recently co-chaired the review of the Australian national curriculum. He can be contacted at He is author of Australia’s Education Revolution: How Kevin Rudd Won and Lost the Education Wars available to purchase at

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Kevin Donnelly

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Kevin Donnelly
Article Tools
Comment 5 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy