The Queensland Curriculum Review - a letter

In October, the Association of Women Educators wrote to Professor Ken Wiltshire, who is in charge of the current Queensland curriculum review. Here is the text of our letter.

A letter to Professor Ken Wiltshire

The Association of Women Educators requests that you consider the following issues in regard to the values which should inform and guide curriculum delivery in Queensland schools.

It is our belief that provision of an education which will equip girls for personal, social, economic and political equality is dependent upon an enhanced recognition of the role of education in combating violence (particularly violence against girls and women), and encouraging in both boys and girls the knowledge, attitudes and skills for equal and responsible participation in family care and household management, as well as in the paid workforce.

Over the past 15 years, most gender equity programs have projected the issues of uneven participation patterns across various areas of the curriculum, leading to unequal educational outcomes, as the major problem to be addressed. It is now widely recognised that the participation issues are part of the larger problem of unequal gender relations based on discriminatory practices, which are deeply embedded in students’ social experience of schooling, and in curriculum and school organisational practices.

Two issues are crucial for consideration in the provision of a gender equitable education. The first is that of violence, including sexual harassment. A report published as part of the review of the National Policy for the Education of Girls described sexual harassment in co-educational schools as “endemic”. The authors state that sexual harassment “causes (girls) to be passive and docile, restricts their access to space, equipment and attention of the teachers, and undermines their feelings of safety, self-confidence and worth”. This is not simply a social problem for girls: it affects their academic choices and participation, and their sense of their status as learners.

Two recent reports have raised concern about the prevalence of rape-supportive attitudes among school-age boys, and the link between rape-supportive attitudes and traditional attitudes towards women’s role (Domestic Violence Resource Centre, 1992; Fowler, 1993). These reports contribute a note of urgency to the need for schools to take a more pro-active approach to teaching that sexual harassment and violence are a violation of human rights.

The second issue is the importance of family studies in the curriculum. There is increasing recognition in public policy that achieving equality in paid work is premised upon achieving equality between men and women in the work of family care and household management. The failure to effect significant change in respect to the latter has systematically undermined the equal opportunity project in the public sphere.

In reviewing the progress of the National Policy for the Education of Girls, Millican and Thompson reported that “girls often have a good grasp of equal opportunity policy and believe that they can do anything they desire… but equally important to them is the prospect of child rearing and domestic responsibilities which they hope (but do not expect) to share with their spouses.” The conflicting pressures on girls raised by these issues cannot be resolved unless serious and deliberate curriculum approaches are taken to ensure that boys recognise the obligations of parenthood as part of their futures, and that competent parenting and caring for other family members is skilled work.

I trust that the reviewers will take these issues into account, and ensure that any values statement includes a valuing of the knowledge and attitudes to counter violence in all its forms, and to participate equally and responsibly in both family care and household management.