How to spot curriculum problems and teach kids to hate it
Education experts have been warning about the rise of ‘cognitive bias’ in the curriculum for a long time.
But now, a new survey from the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) shows the number of teachers using ‘covariate bias’ to ‘exploit’ their students is on the rise.
The new survey, published by the Centre for Research in the Future, found that in just the past two years the proportion of teachers reporting having ‘coveted’ a particular subject or topic has risen from 8.9 per cent to 15.9.
“Many teachers are in denial about the extent to which they are biased, and the impact that their behaviour has on students.””
The primary school curriculum in Australia is a highly dynamic mix of subject matter and content, and there are very few areas where teachers can reliably be expected to consistently meet their teaching and learning standards,” said ACER chair of education, Dr Jennifer Robinson.
“Many teachers are in denial about the extent to which they are biased, and the impact that their behaviour has on students.”
Dr Robinson says while there are many factors that can contribute to the increase in bias, the key factors are teachers’ attitudes to subjects and their own personal beliefs about the topics being taught.
She said teachers who are not ‘career oriented’ may be less likely to feel comfortable with the subject matter.
“They may be more concerned with whether the curriculum is aligned with their own beliefs or the teaching values of their own profession,” Dr Robinson said.
“So they may be reluctant to tackle topics they think will be too difficult for their students.”
In the survey, researchers found that while teachers were generally very comfortable with their subject areas, they felt the need to change subjects when their teaching skills were challenged.
“Teachers are often concerned about their teaching abilities in terms of their ability to convey a specific meaning to their students, or how they are able to convey the correct content in a timely manner, which is reflected in their willingness to change subject matter in order to meet the needs of their students,” Dr Robinson said.
Dr Robinson said many teachers believed their teaching was being unfairly targeted by some of the biggest teachers’ unions.
“These teachers may not necessarily feel that their teachers are being targeted in terms the way we have seen in this survey, but we do think that the impact of bias on the teaching profession has a real impact on the profession itself,” she said.
She warned teachers against engaging in any ‘caviar-based’ behaviour that they believed was creating “cognitive biases” on their students.
“The biggest problem that we see in the teaching sector is a tendency to get overly caught up in the language that we use in class, which in turn makes it difficult for students to grasp how the subject material is presented,” she explained.
“There is also a tendency for teachers to use terms that are used by other teachers, but are not part of the standard curriculum, which can have a negative impact on learning.”‘
The future of education’The survey also found that the proportion saying they were ‘not sure what to do’ about the subject area was up from 23 per cent in the past three years to 38 per cent.
“Some of this increase in confidence in their abilities comes from a feeling that they have been taught enough in their own subject area and that they will be able to do it in a different subject area,” Dr Robertson said.
However, she said some teachers felt the issue was getting worse.
“Many teachers do not feel that they can confidently deliver their own content to students, and some feel that the teaching that they do is not aligned with the teaching and research being conducted in their subject area.”
When the teaching is not done well, the teacher feels that they cannot do their job properly, and they become defensive about the quality of the teaching they have delivered.
“Dr Robinson recommends that teachers engage in self-assessment in order “to understand their own skills, and how they have worked with other teachers”.”
Teaching is not something that can be done for free or easily.
“It is a skill that is learned over a period of time and is ultimately valuable in itself,” Dr Williams said.
But Ms Robinson warns that even though teachers may be feeling comfortable with how the curriculum has changed, they still need to take time to engage in teaching practice.
“We have to remember that there is a learning curve, and we have to work on our skills in a way that we can really benefit the children,” she added.
“And we have got to be mindful that we are not all the same.
There is a difference between the skills of a teacher who is really skilled in teaching, and someone who is just doing it for a paycheck.”