A good word for the humanities

By Greg Whitby, 13 November 2019
Greg Whitby AM is Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta.


Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

Premier Gladys Berejiklian recently announced that maths will be compulsory for all NSW students. It’s great to see our leaders thinking about the learning that every young person will need in the future. I think we could all learn from new approaches that start with the skill set rather than subject choice.

There can be undue hype around subject selection in high school too often driven by attempts to ‘game’ the HSC by choosing subjects that are thought to rank well. I still think there’s a real value in students choosing subjects they enjoy because they really get stuck into the learning and the skills they learn stick too.

It has become fashionable in recent years to sing the praises of STEM. This snappy acronym stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, subjects unfairly stereotyped as ‘square’ in my school days. Sometimes you’ll even hear STEAM, a variation that recognises the importance of learning about the Arts too.

As an English and History teacher, I want to put in a good word for the humanities. Beyond the obvious value of strong communication skills, there is much to learn from becoming a reader and the wisdom gained from others through literature. At least a little knowledge about the past is learning for life too.

I’m also excited about different approaches that see the compulsory learning set out in the syllabus mapped to carefully calculated projects. Project-based learning develops skills like teamwork, problem-solving and critical thinking as well as this subject-specific learning. Seeing students connect their learning with a focus on real-world challenges is something really special.

So, does the decision to make maths compulsory add up? Interestingly, the State Government stopped short of making the HSC subject mathematics compulsory. However, if the question is whether maths is an important skill that every student should develop as part of a well-rounded education…you can count on it!

Greg Whitby AM
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta


Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Schools - Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta
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