A major overhaul of the NSW school curriculum could lead to narrowing the focus of education and fail to address inequity between students, a University of Canberra academic says.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the curriculum review would improve learning standards in key areas of English, maths and science and improve links with industry in year 11 and 12.
In response to a curriculum review by Professor Geoff Masters, the NSW government has committed to a new curriculum for kindergarten to year two by 2023, a new curriculum for years three to 10 by 2024 and new syllabuses for senior secondary courses in key learning areas by 2024.
The state government has also committed to cutting the number of school-developed elective courses in secondary schools by 20 per cent in 2021 in order to declutter the curriculum.
Associate Professor of teacher education Dr Philip Roberts said cutting courses that were developed by schools and focusing on core competencies and vocational outcomes could lead to a narrowing of students' education.
"It's a certain type of education that leads to easily measurable outcomes rather than broad-based understandings," he said.
"We've got a whole shift in what the nature of education is in this country. It's not to be educated, it's to be trained."
Dr Roberts said one of the causes of the cluttered curriculum came from the way teachers were assessed on every syllabus dot point, which were never designed to be individual measurable outcomes.
"In the HSC, teachers are worried that any little dot point could be a question so they focus on the dot points rather than covering an overarching body of work set out by the objectives. The dot points are just elaborations on that. The assessment drives them down that path."
Ms Berejiklian said there were many secondary school elective subjects, such as puppetry, leather and wearable art, that could be cut on the basis that they took up time that could be spent on core subjects.
Dr Roberts said those subjects were developed because there was a particular need or interest in the school community and students learned literacy and numeracy skills through those subject areas.
His research into curriculum in regional schools found that classic academic subjects tended to be studied by well-off students while those from a lower socioeconomic background and regional were encouraged into vocational subjects.
"We see a number of those more classical subjects tend to be studied by more advantaged students in more advantaged schools so there's actually not an equal system in the first place. It's actually removing options that keep kids in schools and makes school relevant to them," Dr Roberts said.
"I'm not clear how it is enhancing equity for the least well-off or those who have traditionally not achieved. It seems as though it's subtly reinforced in some ways the position of some subjects over other and forces the school-to-work pathway."
The NSW curriculum overhaul comes as a review has begun into the Australian national curriculum, which is just 10 years old.