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Understanding The Changes To HSC History

Fiach Smyth

Aug 1, 2016

We've talked about the Stronger HSC Standards initiative and how it impacts the teacher of English, Maths and the Sciences, and how it better supports core literacy and numeracy. There is one other change to the senior syllabus in NSW that is worth talking about because, even though it has only just been announced, it is already subject to a lot of rumour and misinformation. I'm talking about the changes to History.

Indigenous Australians, women, migrant history, and contemporary issues

And from that title you can see why this might be a topic of discussion, as these are hot-button topics in our modern society right now.

The first thing to say is that none of these topics are new to NSW History education. However, it is fair to say that they were not taught in a deep or integrated way. In junior History you might learn about famous women from Australian history, for instance, but that wouldn't extend beyond that module. In fact most of the History taught at schools to now hasn't really addressed how the issues and ideas being explored relate to the contemporary world, and that's what the real change here is. Instead of learning about the Cold War as something that happened in the past, we should learn about it as something that happened as a result of what happened before it, and we should learn how the Cold War shaped the world we live in today, how it affected global and international politics, how events happening in the world right now can be related to the history.

Now let's put this context to issues like women. Gender equality is an issue in modern Australia, but it's an issue with precedents, with antecedents. Women's suffrage in Australia was related to the suffrage movement globally. The two World Wars had an impact on the role of women in Australian society, as did the baby boomer generation, the rise of mass media and the internet, the changing basis of work from primary and secondary to tertiary industries, and a whole host of other historical periods and events.


This is the intention of the change to the way History is taught: to locate historical events in a continuum of change that reaches to the modern day and will extend into our future, and by doing so to understand the way that events shape history and shape us and our society.

Isn't this pushing an agenda? 

So a lot of people will argue that it is, but here's the thing: it's not possible to talk about the history of Australia without addressing these issues, and yet for decades that's exactly what we've been doing. As a result, our History classes have focused on other people's history. We want students to be able to discuss the effect of World War II on Australia, but some of the biggest impacts of the War were social changes in Australia as our country adapted to involvement in a European conflict.

Our history is our history. Failing to teach Australia's history doesn't help our students. Being able to situate our society in the context of the great pages of history only helps to engage students in our History, and in the study of History generally.

That said, there's a lot yet to be decided about exactly how these elements are incorporated into the teaching of History in NSW, so we'll know more when the consultation on this subject has concluded and curricula begin to be published.

So what do I need to do to prepare?

Once again, you don't need to do anything. The Board of Studies will ensure a smooth transition for students currently in Years 7 to 9, those who will be doing their junior study under the current system but their senior study under the revised system. The transition should be relatively easy, as there is already a clear break between junior and senior History in NSW, and all the essay writing and source evaluation skills learned in junior years are completely transferable to senior study.

Liked this article? You might also want to check out:

Understanding the changes in HSC English
Understanding the changes in HSC Science and Maths

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