What is the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration?
In December 2019, following a meeting between all Australian Education Ministers, the Education Council (which is responsible for strategic policy on school education at the national level) released the Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration (Mpartnwe Declaration). The Mpartnwe Declaration is the most recent instalment in a series of policy documents released by the Education Council since 1989. Each of the declarations aims to outline the national educational goals and commitments for the ten years following its release, at which point an updated document is released.
Under this practice, the Mpartnwe Declaration has replaced the Melbourne Declaration of 2008 and now provides the new basis for the Australian Curriculum. The Australian Curriculum is the overarching framework for all curriculums and resulting syllabuses in each of the states and territories.
The Mpartnwe Declaration outlines two goals:
- The Australian education system promotes excellence and equity.
- All young Australians become confident and creative individuals, successful lifelong learners, and active and informed members of the community.
While these goals are similar to those of the 2008 Melbourne Declaration, the Mpartnwe Declaration places detailed emphasis on addressing education gaps, as well as preparing students, from an early age, to thrive in a rapidly changing and challenging world in order to “[ensure] the nation’s ongoing economic prosperity and social cohesion”.
What’s New in the Mpartnwe Declaration?
The Mpartnwe Declaration presents a number of commitments, including, but not limited to, the following:
- supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) students
- incorporating ATSI culture and history into school curriculums
- developing partnerships between the education community and students’ parents/carers and communities, particularly for students of ATSI descent
- developing effective systems to assess student, school and nation-wide progress
- providing stronger and more comprehensive education earlier on, such as in primary school
- supporting and catering to student diversity and wellbeing
- focusing on the need to develop lifelong learning skills.
One of the most notable new goals in the Mpartnwe Declaration is the renewed and heavily emphasised focus on supporting ATSI students in their learning. As Robert Bolton writes, the Mpartnwe Declaration is a direct response to recent data that has shown the worsening education gap between ATSI and non-Indigenous students. Through commitments to support “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learners to reach their full potential”, the Education Council seems to be outlining a path to address the disadvantages that these students often face.
Moreover, the Mpartnwe Declaration also calls for the inclusion of ATSI history and cultural knowledge in school curriculums. In doing so, the Council hopes that all students would be able “to engage in reconciliation, respect and recognition of the world’s oldest continuous living culture”.
In addition to addressing this specific education gap, the Mpartnwe Declaration, in a broader sense, is also an attempt to respond to the general shortcomings of the Australian education system as seen over the past ten years. In 2019, Australian students’ maths performance dropped from “above average” to “average” in the OECD for the first time in two decades. In response to the PISA results that determined this rating, the Federal Education Minister The Honourable Dan Tehan MP called for a renewed “focus on core maths, science and reading”. In order to facilitate stronger academic performance, the Education Council has emphasised that “Australian Governments will continue to develop and enhance national and school-level assessment that focuses on: assessment for learning, assessment as learning and assessment of learning”.
This is not to say that the Mpartnwe Declaration’s new plan for Australia’s education system has been uncontroversial. Notably, Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace has expressed concern that “there was a big risk being pushed into making big changes following the PISA results while some of the data was open to question”.
Will the Declaration Be Effective?
As discussed in our previous article, the 2008 Melbourne Declaration’s effectiveness has often come under fire, raising questions of whether the Mpartnwe Declaration will make any headway in making improvements to Australia’s education system. Despite the Melbourne Declaration’s introduction in 2008, the Gonski Report found that there was a noticeable decline in Australian students’ achievement between 2003 and 2015, therefore undermining the Melbourne Declaration’s proposed goal of “all young Australians become successful learners”.
At the time of announcing the then upcoming update to the 2008 Melbourne Declaration, Don Carter, an academic in education, wrote that the new Declaration needed:
- a greater emphasis on the development of soft skills
- a rethink of the ways that teachers assess student learning in the classroom
- a strengthening of critical thinking skills
- closer attention to the language we use when talking about education.
While the Mpartnwe Declaration does place some focus on the development of some soft skills, such as “critical and creative thinking”, they are mentioned rarely and with vague language, rather than as clear goals. On the other hand, there is a much clearer focus on developing new methods of assessment to instigate better learning progress among students.
How Will the Declaration Be Implemented into Schools?
Given the recent release of the Mpartnwe Declaration, it is still unclear as to how exactly its abstract goals will be put into practice within schools. In 2009, the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) released a four-year plan to direct state governments in relation to seeking to achieve the Melbourne Declaration’s goals. It is possible that a similar accompanying document will be produced for the Mpartnwe Declaration in the near future with a similar purpose.
Recently the Queensland Government introduced Regulation 10(2) into the Education (Accreditation of Non-State Schools) Act 2017 (Qld) which requires Queensland schools to have a written statement of philosophy and aims that are consistent with the Melbourne Declaration. These will now have to be updated to be consistent with the Mpartnwe Declaration.
Currently, it remains to be seen how exactly the Mpartnwe Declaration will be incorporated into schools and the broader education community. The goals of the Mpartnwe Declaration certainly address issues that require effective resolution, such as the widening education gap between ATSI and non-Indigenous students. However, even the Education Ministers have acknowledged the ambitious nature of the Mpartnwe Declaration’s goals, which will require resources and implementation plans for effective execution.
Schools should familiarise themselves with the Mpartnwe Declaration and await further changes or information as to how these goals will be carried out.