Sapping Education
'The Studies Of Society and Environment(SOSE) Syllabus' The Courier-Mail, 16/6/2000

ONE outcome of the Wiltshire review of the state's curriculum was establishment of the Queensland School Curriculum Council, given the task of preparing syllabuses to support what was intended to become a national curriculum for Australia.

However, the good intentions of Professor Ken Wiltshire to support and promote the study of established disciplines in our schools were hijacked.

Those appointed to create the SOSE syllabus were determined to interpret the Key Learning Area called Studies of Society and Environment as a new integrated social studies subject and virtually refused to listen to any opposition. It was not until former education director-general Frank Peach allegedly ordered the QSCC to prepare separate optional syllabuses in history and geography that any progress was made, and even then, the council came back with syllabuses based, not on the logic of the respective disciplines but on their own generic learning outcomes.

What is actually happening in schools? The first thing to remember is that the syllabus is mandatory only for state schools. The private and Catholic systems set their own syllabuses and work programmes. The second is that in Years 9 and 10, even the state schools have the option of teaching separate history and geography, albeit as defined by the discipline-averse QSCC team that wrote them.

In recent weeks, I have visited a number of schools with well qualified geography teachers. In variably these teachers felt that their professionalism was under threat from the trend toward integration and were anxiously trying to maintain some semblance of academic rigour in history and geography. As one senior teacher in a school that has adopted the SOSE model told me recently:

"I am a good geography teacher but an indifferent history teacher. We are doing our best to keep standards up, but it is a losing battle." The head of geography at an eminent private school referred dismissively to the "social slop" of the syllabus and said "our students and their parents expect us to teach established subjects well".

Perhaps we should be taking a serious look at our curricula before too much damage is done to our children's education, our state education system, our credibility as a destination for overseas students and our economic competitiveness in this increasingly globalised world.

Here are 10 good reasons why the current SOSE syllabus in Queensland is not in the interests of the students, the teachers or the Queensland community.

  1. SOSE enhances the "Queensland Difference". Far from making inter-state transfers easier for students, Queensland is now firmly out of step with the other states. New South Wales insisted from the start that all students study both the history and geography of Australia for a minimum of 200 hours; Victoria requires all students to study history, geography and economy and society.
  2. SOSE encourages parochial thinking. Queensland students are being fed a watered-down diet of the two Internationally recognised subjects that can help them to understand global and international trends.
  3. SOSE denies students insights into internationally recognised academic disciplines. In this global community, children will leave school with qualifications in a subject (SOSE) that is unrecognisable any where else in the world.
  4. SOSE destroys teachers' confidence in what they teach. It is hard enough to be a good geography teacher or history teacher without having to interpret a synthetic creation like the current syllabus.
  5. SOSE destroys teachers' passion for what they teach. Many geography teachers (and I am sure it is true for other subject specialists) share my enthusiasm and we are bonded as part of a culture of geographers. We want to initiate young people into that culture. I have yet to identify similar enthusiasm for integrated social studies anywhere in the world.
  6. SOSE makes Queensland teachers less marketable both interstate and overseas. When teachers are forced to accept locally and arbitrarily produced curricula, their potential for learning from their colleagues elsewhere in the world, and therefore for thinking and acting globally, is diminished.
  7. SOSE diminishes the status of history and geography (and their teachers) in schools. When a synthetic integrated subject Is Introduced Into a school, the need to employ specialist teachers is negated. If geography teachers can teach the history, and history teachers can teach the geography, then it follows that an English, physical education, music or any other teachers can be called upon to fill in. Very soon, integrated social studies is seen as a timetable filler rather than as part of the essential educational experiences of every child.
  8. SOSE, with its tendency to deteriorate into studies of current "good causes" with no internationally agreed standards of rigour, has little potential for seeding a lifelong love of learning.
  9. SOSE carries the key to its own destruction. Love of subjects frequently starts in school. Where will the teachers with strong discipline-specific backgrounds come from in the future to ensure the educational rigour that is so needed in our schools?
  10. SOSE and other schemes for random integration threaten the quality of teacher education and training.

WHAT are concerned parents to do? The first thing is for Parent and Citizen groups to ensure that schools offer both history and geography taught by specialists.

Ask the principal if the more able senior students could be entered for the International Baccalaureate or the Advanced Extension Awards of the UK Qualifications and Curriculum Authority to be offered in Queensland next year and, if so, what preparation lower down the school would be offered.