Aussie Educator

You could have a magnificent data wall, but if no one talks about it and it doesn’t have any impact - well that’s just wallpaper. Gabrielle Doyle

School systems have now completed their first term of the year. Easter has come and gone. Tertiary centres are well into their first semester. Meanwhile, numerous long term decisions that will impact multiple levels of education have still to be made.

Not the least of these is the funding for the school sector. On all indications there is still some time before this will occur with most pundits suggesting it will not happen till June. Even then, there is likely to be disagreement, with neither side willing to accept the position of the other. Be prepared for what happens.

Funds are also relevant in a second area, VET. Co-investment appears to be the new buzzword, in efforts to ensure that all bodies help to stem cost shifting. Peter Noonan spoke on this at the recent AVETRA conference and has talked at length about the vocational sector, for example in this article. Information is now also available about the changing nature of apprenticeships over the last ten years. If you’re into graphical presentations, then you could do worse than check this Infographic presentation, while those who simply want a research summary should check here.

Finally, with the Budget only weeks away, several areas will be front and centre regarding funding, or lack thereof. One can hardly wait to see what is planned and what reactions come from which groups.

Education is ... ?

In the midst of all current educational occurrences, it is perhaps appropriate to consider just what education is and, in particular, who should be responsible for some aspects of the education of children.

In doing so, we should perhaps consider the following from Judith Lloyd Yero [The Meaning of Education], “There is a dangerous tendency to assume that when people use the same words, they perceive a situation in the same way. This is rarely the case. Once one gets beyond a dictionary definition - a meaning that is often of little practical value - the meaning we assign to a word is a belief, not an absolute fact”.

Consider the following one, or two word, descriptors provided for education, education aimed at certain groups, or certain approaches and see what you think : basic, blended, flipped, classic, academic, progressive, formal, 21st century, even authentic [wonder what the others are ?], then vocational, early childhood, tertiary, ... .

Then you get a vast range of definitions from Socrates who said education was about drawing out what was already within the student through to Oxford definitions including The process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university and An enlightening experience. Consider also this Infographic from ASCD, which looks at concepts from 1934 to 1991 showing significant change. Meanwhile, don’t even start on the concept of “learning”, which probably has an even greater range of meanings depending on who is using the term at any given time.

The concept of education is constantly changing. This is nothing new. It has done so for many years and will continue to do so into the future. You only have to look at the changes of the last decade or so. When I began teaching in the mid 1960s, it was considered possible that teachers from the first decade of that century could probably walk into, and use our classrooms with limited concerns. In most respects this would be impossible today. Some aspects from the 1960s have changed dramatically, others hardly appear to have changed at all.

Technology has had a huge impact and will continue to do so. It will require many new approaches and knowledge on the part of both teachers and education bodies to be used to the greatest effect and benefit of both students and teachers. Assessment, while always there, has increased exponentially. This includes local, national and international assessment. It has taken on a life of its own. Witness the pride if we do well and the angst when we begin to drop in comparison to others.

Varying views on the efficacy of different approaches continue to be fertile ground for disagreement and/or discussion, especially in terms of what is seen as traditional Literacy and Numeracy, think phonics, whole language, etc.. Content has changed, responding to changes in not only learning requirements, but also social and cultural influences. Consideration of specific needs has increased, particularly for those with a wide range of disabilities. This includes many not previously considered for inclusion, some not even known. The list could go on and on.

At the same time, many aspects of the educational process have not changed much, if at all. Particularly at the school level, and even earlier, they are often seen as places to be used to address perceived societal problems. For example, just in recent times calls for the following have arisen. As depression and anxiety rates continue to increase among young Australians, there are calls for preventive programs to be taught in school [SBS]. Making water safety mandatory : Will schools sink or swim ?. Schools will teach ‘soft skills’ from 2017. Should emotions be taught in schools ?. Schools should teach children how to brush their teeth [this example is from England] and gender. And these are just a few in an ongoing call for schools to take things on as part of the education they provide. Some aspects have already been implemented in particular jurisdictions.

As you can see, to provide a stable or even static definition of what education is can be difficult. This is so if you are concerned primarily with the formality of what is taught. There will be continued change with this, as there has been in the past. Approaches will change and formal learning will exhibit different priorities. Demands for further inclusions will continue, though no one has yet suggested how time factors will allow this to happen, or what might be discarded to allow for such inclusions. Not all can be integrated with other subject areas, time strictures apply, and in reality some of the requests, if viewed more objectively, are not seen as the responsibility of schools but of other groups.

Rather, education needs to be viewed in respect of desired outcomes for students. In this regard, there are some givens that I believe have to be included. A commitment to achieving their maximum potential, whatever this may be, by both teacher and student is essential. Satisfactory levels of literacy [across language and technological areas at least] and numeracy. The ability to work effectively and efficiently, both individually and cooperatively. An understanding that learning [education] is not a one off, but a lifelong experience. A willingness to think creatively and understand yet be prepared to question and discuss various views. The grit to maximise their own skills. A determination to achieve the best possible result so each has maximum choice about their future, rather than finding themselves facing limited options or being offered no options at all. An understanding they are an individual with a complex mix of skills as well as accepting others may have different and/or better skill levels. I leave you to think of others you feel worthy of inclusion.

Taken together, they indicate education is a process which provides equity of opportunity for every student to achieve their potential, helps develop the commitment, skills and confidence to work individually or cooperatively as required to achieve this, and provides them with the chance to choose those paths in life which give them the greatest satisfaction, while being able to contribute in positive ways to their wider community.

Agree or not, what do you think education is ? As Judith Yero says : there is no definition of education that all, or even most, educators agree upon. No matter what your belief about education is, you should have one. It should be one you have thought about. One which is a considered view about what you believe and which forms the basis of what you do. It may, undoubtedly will, change in some way over time. There is nothing wrong with that. If you continue to learn as we all should then you will grow and change and so will your belief about this area. Indeed the most amazing thing may well occur when you realise how little you actually do know and begin to consider the concept with new understanding.

Whether you have a belief about what education is or not, I wish you well in either reviewing your existing belief, or formulating a belief for the first time. Either way, may the experience be enjoyable and illuminating and provide you with a foundation on which to achieve success for both yourself and others.

There are recently produced items that warrant at least a brief mention. See what you think about each and whether you agree or not. Follow each link that piques your particular interests.

School Daze
What My School really says about our schools. Chris Bonnor and Bernie Shepherd are always worth reading. As they say at the beginning of the piece : “This is a booklet of observations and reports fresh from the My School website, a digital wonderland which reveals far more than you might have imagined”. Dive in and be surprised. You can download the document in PDF format.

The Future of Australian Apprenticeships : Report of the Stakeholder Forum
‘The aims of the forum were to stimulate thinking and robust discussion on the future of apprenticeships in Australia and to identify the potential future activities and actions that would enable apprenticeships to continue to service industry workforce needs and contribute to national productivity and growth’. Available in PDF and .docx from NCVER.

Preparing young people for the future of work
Mitchell Institute. As the authors say : ‘Our approach to education is not equipping young people with the broad capabilities that will enable them to thrive in complex education and employment settings. It is time Australia made changes to prioritise teaching, assessing and reporting capabilities’. A particularly relevant topic in a changing world.

Teacher effectiveness systems, frameworks and measures : a review
Prepared by the University of Melbourne Graduate School Of Education. With the increasing emphasis being placed on the quality of the teacher as a dominant factor in obtaining student improvement, this is very relevant. ‘The report presents the findings of research on international approaches to measuring teacher effectiveness and their applicability to Australia’.

Peer Pressures
Inside Story. In this article, Tom Greenwell indicates that ‘New PISA results confirm that the social makeup of schools affects the performance of individual students’. Short but well worth committing the time to read fully.

The Fun They Had
Just think, this extra short story was first written by Isaac Asimov in 1951. Not necessarily an accurate view of the future as yet, but ... .

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