In the early years of the 21st century in Australia we have lost focus on open classroom learning and followed American education policy into adopting standards-based curricula and test-based accountability. It has forced a return to teacher-centred instruction, repetitive drills and the reduction of time given to inquiry learning or to the ‘non-core’ subjects like Music and Art. The reputation of the individual Australian school is based on results posted for the NAPLAN tests not on the quality of service they provide through relating their teaching programs to the cultural background and needs of their clientele. Hence schools are beginning to focus on a year-long build up to the testing days with high stress levels placed on students for a purpose they don’t relate to and don’t understand. And the amount of testing is destined to be increased – not just literacy and numeracy skills, but science knowledge, technology skills, plus history and citizenship tests are set to follow. Every year Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) will put more demands on schools. We are becoming obsessed with gathering and recording data because computer technology makes it easy to do it and Governments can boast about their investment in raising standards and the drive for improved test results.
Also, sadly, the history suggests that neither in Britain, America nor Australia has this open classroom pedagogy gained much support in secondary education. There is very little effort made to promote a topic-based holistic approach that integrates the inquiry strategies and scholarship of a number of subject disciplines. Even while setting assignment tasks that encourage research, teachers still tend to continue to deliver most of the curriculum through direct subject-focused teaching. There is a lack of training in student–centred approaches.
Every educationalist should know how the Waldorf and Steiner schools have set a wonderful example in valuing the arts and mentoring creative learning. Their pedagogy is based on self-paced inquiry, nurturing individual talents and the importance of ethical discussions that develop a sense of social responsibility. Every child is valued as making a contribution to the life of the school. At all levels they encourage exploration locally and beyond through educational visits to natural areas, museums and cultural centres. The family is deeply engaged with the school. Students and parents share the journey. A study of pupils drawn from the Waldorf and Steiner schools of three Australian cities found that “students demonstrated a strong sense of activism and self-confidence and felt empowered to create their own preferred futures”.