You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

New South Wales HSC syllabus gets overhaul with more complex topics

ABC News logo ABC News 21/02/2017 Natasha Robinson and Rebecca Armitage
Students Bryony Lanigan, Damian Sofrevski, and Oanh Lam said school left them ill prepared for uni. © ABC News Students Bryony Lanigan, Damian Sofrevski, and Oanh Lam said school left them ill prepared for uni.

The New South Wales Higher School Certificate syllabus has been given a radical overhaul for the first time in 16 years, with a renewed focus on "rigour, thoroughness and depth" in classic learning areas and major changes in year 12 science and history teaching.

The NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA) will today publish new syllabus materials in 22 separate subjects across English, maths, the sciences and history.

However, aspects of the math syllabus are yet to be finalised, with consultation continuing over calculus teaching after a backlash from teachers and academics unhappy with the draft new syllabus which was issued late last year.

NESA chair Tom Alegounarias described the changes as a "major shift".

"We reviewed the whole HSC, we looked at what the community is demanding for now and in the future," Mr Alegounarias said.

"The major shift is towards greater depth, rigour, and mastery of content learning."

More complex topics introduced to help prepare students for uni

The new syllabus is a move away from a "social context" approach to teaching that critics — particularly in science academia — argued had led to a "dumbing down" of subject matter.

More complex topics will be introduced across the maths and science syllabuses in response to criticism that students were ill-prepared for university studies in science, engineering and maths.

There will be a common syllabus introduced across the maths subject levels, and the marking of higher level subjects will be pegged against the lower level subjects in a marking scale designed to reward achievement at higher maths levels.

This is partly a response to a trend in which talented students undertake lower levels of mathematics study in the belief that it will result in a higher Australian Tertiary Entrance Rank.

"What we want is students to study at the right level of the course, and at the highest possible level of study," Mr Alegounarias said.

"That's the rationale, that's why we're putting all the courses on a common scale." NESA is still consulting with teachers over the new maths curriculum amid earlier criticism that there were major problems with the draft syllabus.

SCEGGS Darlinghurst principal Jenny Allum said not all of the issues with the maths syllabus had been ironed out yet.

"I think [the draft syllabus changes] are an improvement on the older drafts but they still leave quite a bit to be desired," Ms Allum said.

"I'd be sorry if we're consulting on the calculus courses but not on the general mathematics too."

Physics syllabus 'a return to the science'

There is also a major overhaul to the physics syllabus to focus on the science of physics and its mathematical bases.

It comes after University of NSW (UNSW) quantum physics professor Michelle Simmons derided the "feminisation" of physics during this year's Australia Day address.

Her comments attacked the way students were directed under the NSW syllabus to write essays about the historical aspects of physics.

Professor Simmons described that aspect of the syllabus as a wrong-headed attempt to attract more girls to physics.

The standards authority has conceded major problems in the physics syllabus.

"We think physics has been diluted," Mr Alegounarias said. "There was an emphasis in previous generations of emphasising the social context in which you studied physics. This is a return to the science of physics."

Professor Joe Wolfe, a professor of physics at UNSW, welcomed news of the syllabus changes and said the NSW Year 12 physics syllabus had been widely panned.

"I thought students had been defrauded about the nature of physics," Professor Wolfe said.

"People were telling them that physics was this qualitative subject with lots of history and social aspects, and leaving out the analysis and the quantitative calculations.

"And that made physics at university a huge shock. It left students badly prepared."

Bryony Lanigan, a third year student in the UNSW a Bachelor of Advanced Science in Physics, said she was pleased to see changes to the physics syllabus at NSW schools.

"I think the idea previously was if we cut out the maths, the girls will like it more, but funnily enough that's not the case," she said.

"I think it's an insult to women to say we'll dumb it down and then they'll like it more."

Removal of 'context' also applied to English and history

The English and history syllabuses have also been overhauled. In English, there will be a renewed focus on text, language, writing and vocabulary.

Common module areas including Journeys, Discovery and Belonging have been abolished.

"The context, the sociology if you like, around the text is being removed," Mr Alegounarias said.

"It's the text and what makes it powerful that will be the centre of the study."

The history syllabus has been amended to incorporate an "overarching narrative" about the development of modern liberalism and modern democracies.

There will be less topic options on offer but greater depth in the syllabus.

Students will also be required to study Asian history or a non-Western module, and the focus on Aboriginal history will continue.

More From ABC News

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon