When the idea of an Australian National Curriculum was mooted, many teachers and parents looked forward to the uniformity that would enable students to move from school to school or state to state without the impediments to learning posed by different curriculums. Each state had its own curriculum, its own school-starting age, its own handwriting style, textbooks, exercise books, and so on. Each state trained their own teachers in different philosophies and pedagogies, and few states gave automatic recognition to qualifications earned in another. In addition to state differences, each school had its own uniform, variation on rules, routines, and culture.
When children arrived at a school from interstate, making the decision about which class to assign them to was always problematic. Should they be placed with age peers, or with those who had been at school the same number of years, or with those at the same level of achievement? Rarely was there a neat match between even two of these, and there were just as many reasons for and against each placement.
With a change of school, particularly with numerous changes occurring frequently, children may have missed key areas of learning. Sometimes they would be challenged by work that was too difficult as they had no foundation on which to build. Other times the work would be too easy, often requiring repetition of familiar material. Such was the inconsistency from state to state.
There are many reasons for children and their families to transfer interstate, and not all doing so are itinerant. Some make a once-only move.
Some families move:
- when a parent is transferred for work, including military transfers
- because they are part of a travelling circus or show
- to obtain seasonal farm work
- to flee difficult circumstances
- for a change of lifestyle or location
- to be closer to, or further away from, family or friends
- when they lose their home and/or employment.
There are probably as many reasons as there are families. In addition to differences in curriculum and school culture, each family has its own set of issues to deal with when moving interstate. Not least among these are the emotional and social issues for children who leave behind established routines and possible friendships, and face learning new routines and making new friends.
How well children cope with the change depends upon many factors, especially the reason for the change and the parental response to it. The number and frequency of changes will also be influential and it would not be unexpected for each to require a period of adjustment.
Students who arrive one at a time for a lengthy stay, are easier to accommodate than an influx of transient students staying for just a few months; for example, for harvest season. The attitudes of the community in general, including that of teachers, parents and children, are not always positive towards itinerants. Many hold pre-conceptions of families and their children as having deficits in learning, potential, and lifestyle. These views create barriers which can be difficult to overcome, and compound rather than alleviate any problems.
Of course, while it was hoped that an Australian National Curriculum might overcome the difficulties caused by curriculum disparity, it wouldn’t necessarily be able to address some of those associated difficulties faced by individual children, their families, the schools, and their communities.
Although the national curriculum has been rolled out, it wasn’t the panacea hoped for, even in with regard to curriculum uniformity. Indeed, the imposition of uniformity of content and pedagogy has been riddled with controversy and it has not been fully embraced, with only partial implementation, in differing degrees, by each state. It has recently undergone a review from which came a number of recommendations for improvements.
It seems that curriculum disparity cannot yet be removed from the list of problems faced by children when changing schools.
What got me thinking about these issues this week is the flash fiction challenge set by Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications. Charli, who has recently had homelessness thrust upon her, wrote about some of the issues she is now facing being transient, and how she is learning to cope with them. She challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about something or someone that is transient. It can be a fleeting moment, a rogue vagabond, or ephemeral like trending hashtags. What is passing by and how can you capture the passing in a flash?
For my flash, I have decided to write about an itinerant child, one who has been on the move, and faces yet another first day at yet another new school.
“I don’t wanna go.”
“You have to.”
“I have to work.”
“I could look after m’self.”
“No. You have to go to school.”
Tears cascaded as the parent thrust the child onto the back seat littered with clothing, books, and assorted paraphernalia.
“How long are we gonna be here?”
A small hand thumped the door. Feet pushed hard into the back of the front seat.
Hands trembled on the steering wheel. Ash tumbled.
“I don’t know.”
“Where are we?”
Finally, with only a cursory glance at the sign, they approached the school office.
If you wish to do further reading on the topics of itinerant students and the review of the Australian National Curriculum, here are some links:
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.