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Mary Parry writes about the development of the ‘Teaching Heritage’ website

Parry, M. ‘Teaching Heritage’, Heritage NSW, NSW Heritage Office, Vol. 7, No. 1, Summer 2000

Heritage has always been popular with teachers and learners. For teachers, it is an effective way to encourage their students in the development of knowledge, skills and attitudes. Students can improve their visual literacy, for example, learning how to read a building and to appreciate landscapes, views and vistas. For students, heritage is fun and participatory. It allows those from different ethnic backgrounds to gain a sense of belonging as their own heritage stories are told and valued. For those of us at the Heritage Office, educating our young citizens about heritage issues is an integral part of our objective to return heritage to the community.

The development of the new Teaching Heritage website fills a gap in heritage education in secondary schools. The idea for this highly original project evolved as a result of a new focus in curriculum and consultation with the Heritage Office's Heritage Education reference group.

In order to understand how the idea for the website evolved, it is useful to review the rationale for the development of the new syllabi in History and Geography.

Changes in curriculum represent the political and cultural concerns of both educationists and politicians. Recently, there has been concern that students completing year 10 had insufficient knowledge of 20th century Australian History and almost a complete lack of understanding of our political system. There was also considerable overlap between Australian History in primary and secondary school. This duplication resulted in students being bored and disinterested in learning about their own nation's past. Students often felt that they had studied convicts in every shape and form, for example.

A complete rethink of the Human Society and it's Environment Key Learning Area (HSlE) was needed. The result was a new HSIE syllabus for kindergarten to 6th grade and a new History and Geography syllabus for years 7 to 10.

The issue of duplication of topics was dealt with in one move: for primary schools the focus would be on 19th Australian history, while from years 7 to 10 Australian History would be based on 20th century history. To ensure that students completed year 10 with a sound understanding of the political system, a new topic titled Civics and Citizenship was incorporated into Australian History. It is now mandatory for students to study 200 hours of Australian History and Australian Geography.

The writing of the new History syllabus was accompanied by considerable controversy. For those of us interested in heritage issues, there was concern over the elimination of explicit heritage content that had characterised the previous syllabus. The former syllabus contained a section devoted exclusively to heritage questions. It contained topics such as 'How do we preserve the past?', 'What can we learn from the history of the local community?' and 'Why is some of the past preserved and some lost?'

The concern of the Heritage Office regarding the elimination of explicit heritage content was certainly taken into consideration by the Board of Studies who engaged in consultation with the Office, as well as other interested groups. The addition of a mandatory site study was one result of this consulcation process.

What, then, were the implications for teaching heritage in secondary schools? Although there was now limited explicit heritage content, there were ample opportunities for teachers to consider more complex approaches to heritage issues. Heritage concerns were there implicitly throughout the new Australian History and Geography syllabi. The issue was how to update teaching practices by showing teachers how to be more experiential in their teaching method.

Thus the idea for the Teaching Heritage website was born.

Professional development programs are an important means by which teachers can gain professional assistance and update their teaching skills. It is even more pressing when new curriculum has to be implemented.

One of the key concerns of the Department of Education and Training and the Heritage Office is to ensure access and equity to any resources developed. In a recent study on the state of history in NSW, teachers particularly asked for assistance in moving away from the 'chalk and talk' approaches and towards the use of more cooperative and interactive teaching and learning strategies.

As a professional development resource, the Teaching Heritage website aims to inform teachers and students of the range and diversity of educational programs and materials that link heritage with the history and geography syllabuses. The website will be an vital tool for secondary teachers and will include sample lessons, resources and links co other sites and teaching ideas. It will be highly navigable and simple to use so those teachers unfamiliar with the Internet can 'learn while learning'.

Development of the Teaching Heritage website has been undertaken by the NSW Board of Studies Interactive Design group led by Lyndon Sharp. It uses a variety of audio, visual and textual material. The website will create a sense of workshop participation and inclusiveness by adopting a conference style. A cross section of the community will present different and sometimes controversial views about places and sites. Oral interviews will be accompanied by a range of heritage readings.

The website project builds on the resources developed last year to support heritage education in primary schools. It will make a unique contribution to heritage education and to education in general, as a major new professional development resource for teachers delivered over the Internet.

The aim of the NSW Heritage Office is to educate students to think critically about heritage issues and to develop skills which can be used to influence heritage issues. Heritage needs to be understood by students and the community as an organic process of exploring ideas of belonging and identity, as well as one which is subject to change. Knowledge and skills, as well as values and attitudes gained in this holistic fashion, will enable students to contribute to debate on heritage issues and participate in the shaping of their environment.

Reproduced with permission of the NSW Heritage Office

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