Back to basics is just backwards

Back to basics is just backwards

It’s time to overhaul Australia’s education system. Rather than a “back to basics” approach, I believe that we need to prepare our children for a radically different looking future, where critical and creative thinking will become a basic requirement for many jobs.

“Schools are currently using 19th Century school systems, 20th Century teacher pedagogy & 21st Century technology, and that recipe is increasingly heading for an iceberg while everyone sleeps on.” – Mark Treadwell

At one time, 80% of school-leavers would go on to work in factories or unskilled labour. In a time where these jobs are continually being replaced by automation and robotics, there is a desperate need for us to change the way we are teaching our students. We can’t keep teaching students the same old ways and expect things to change. Why are we working against technology and not with it?

Do our children really need to remember complex maths formulae, when they walk around with computers in their pockets? No doubt I am enraging some of you at this suggestion. What I am proposing is that while a basic competency in reading, writing and maths should be taught, what is more important is that we create learners, not just students.

Students taught to learn by rote usually forget the information they have acquired for tests in the days or weeks afterwards. Let’s teach them how to research and to be adaptable, resilient and agile – all the things employers are increasingly asking of workers.  Let’s find ways to encourage digital citizenship instead of fearing the technology that they will be using daily in their future lives, so that Australian industry and our economy can keep up with the rest of the world.

Our children are smart enough to chew gum and walk at the same time. They can learn the basics that are required, and then take this knowledge and apply them to learn technologies, software and systems that will ensure the prosperity of our nation for years to come. Let’s be ambitious – we’re not going to improve our children’s future resting on our laurels.

Education Minister Dan Tehan says he wants to simplify our “cluttered” curriculum. Is that really the problem, though?

I believe that advocating for a “back to basics” approach is akin to telling struggling sports teams to just concentrate on simple skills and ignore data, strategies, tactics, nutrition, personalised exercise plans and all the new techniques elite sportspeople now utilise. We wouldn’t tell them to just lob the ball towards the goals whenever they got possession, or to just run their bodies into a state of atrophy.

We laud training smarter, not harder, but while many countries are spending money on specialised coaches, we are leaving our children at a disadvantage in a continually digitised future.  Maybe if we recognised academics as much as we do athletes in this country, we would come at this argument from a different perspective.     

Let’s teach children how to use modern technology at their disposal to solve increasingly complex problems. It doesn’t mean their minds are lazy, it just means they are learning something different than schools taught 50 years ago. Of course they need to be able to read and write, but instead of going into a library and using a hand-written card catalogue, children nowadays have access to almost all the information, in all the libraries, in the all the world at their fingertips. We need to teach them skills that weren’t necessary for older generations like how, for example, to judge reputable news sources from propaganda, and to use critical thinking to assess the relevance and quality of an argument.   

Between emails, social media, 24-hr television, mobile phones and other forms of communication and technology, it is said that the volume of information our children are exposed to every day is nearly 200 times more than we were exposed to 20 years ago. Students need to learn how to process this information in ways that make sense. We shouldn’t be telling them to go back to walking, when the rest of the world is driving cars.

Five years ago, the Committee for Economic Development of Australia told us that more than five million, or almost 40% of Australian jobs, have a moderate to a high likelihood of disappearing in the next 10 to 15 years due to technological advancements. It doesn’t mean the future for our children can’t be a great one – it’s just going to look different to what we could possibly imagine.

“You really want bold, audacious, curious, creative problem-solving kids that embrace ambiguity.”Ted Dintersmith

Gone are the days of the 3 Rs. We need to adapt our education system to be one that produces students who can take basic skills and apply them to the 4 Cs: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Creativity. It’s what employers demand of their workers these days, and we owe it to our students to prepare them for the changing world.

What are your thoughts – do you think that we should go “back to basics” or look at innovative new ones to reform our education system? Let us know, below.


  1. Very thought provoking article Margie – from an educators perspective, the way I which I teach (Junior Primary) has radically shifted over the last 15 years. A different curriculum which encompasses many of the components you have mentioned (critical and creative thinking, problem solving, ICT) has played a large part in this. I think this is a highly complex issue that encompasses professional and societal demands/changes on teachers as week as mainstream medias negative narrative around teacher ‘performance’. The performance/effectiveness of teachers is not solely quantitative.

    1. Thanks for your perspective, Amy. I completely agree with you. We all pontificate about the effectiveness of teaching methods, but you are in the trenches, and we would love to get some teachers guest blogging as we grow, to give us their very important perspectives. It’s not lost on us that the public climate right now is to blame teachers, many of whom do an incredible, thankless job. I just hope we can raise the discourse and find solutions so that all members of school communities can feel supported, appreciated and heard. Your voices are so important to us and I’m grateful to you for taking the time to comment here.

  2. Back to Basics! The current crop of school leavers seem to be ignorant and incapable of simple RRR. Really, how many jobs require the 4C. Oh, I know, there is lots of talk about it, but in reality, I’d suggest that for ninety percent of more of employment, they are actually not used except at a very basic level. Most private employers don’t seem to be interested in innovation (worse in government), just do your job and if we can pay you less, bonus. Margie, “all members of school communities can feel supported, appreciated and heard”, seriously, parents (you know, those responsible for their children) are now a marginalized group. Schools and teachers are able to ride roughshod over their wishes. Consider the current fad of supporting gender confused, by re-inforcing/encouragement, regardless of parents’ views. I work with many young people (yes I’m that most disgusting of individuals; male, white, old, heterosexual, married, Christian), they seem to be incapable of reasoning, ignorant of everything except what they were taught (and then mostly capable of only parroting). Learn to read, learn to write and learn some basic maths.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.