We need to teach how doubt is not to be feared but welcomed. It’s OK to say, “I don’t know”. Richard P Feynman

As has been the case all year, there are many topics covered in media items with a specific link to education. As we get close to the end of the year it seems appropriate to take a year-long view of what seemed to be major topics which arose. Some fall within specific areas. Some are linked with a specific system or even an area within a particular state or territory. As always, there are topics which have a national imprint and appear, without fail, on a regular basis often, sadly, never seeming to have arrived at a satisfactory implementation.

There are a large number to choose from and we will undoubtedly be seen as having omitted items others feel should have been certain inclusions. Twas, and is, always the way but we have done our best to ensure major topics have been mentioned.

To cover as many areas as possible, we have not attempted to provide huge detail, rather simply trying to ensure a significant range do not manage to slip past our continued awareness and, hopefully, our greater understanding.

  • We should probably begin by indicating the perennial topics which once again appeared during 2019. Some of these are relatively “young” topics such as the ATAR, and NAPLAN. The first, though it is likely to continue for a while yet, could possibly be on its last legs. There are too many options available to avoid it, while new processes are being suggested which may generate a total replacement process. NAPLAN seems to have a better potential, though with at least one major review on the part of people dissatisfied with the present position. It will prove interesting to see what arises from this and whether any significant change[s] are implemented.
  • Others have been around far longer. These encompass funding [all aspects including perceived impacts from the national election results]; reading [we thought people might hopefully have found common ground decades ago]; gifted education and its perceived impact in regard particularly to selective schools; school intake areas [and the games that are played to try and get around this process]; ensuring the highest quality selection of potential teachers followed by high quality teacher training leading to the best possible teachers, then providing employment conditions that ensure we retain them.
  • There were then other factors brought to the fore by the changing impact of technology and other factors and events. Who would have thought several years ago that students bringing mobile phones to school would become a topic of concern big enough for some states to ban their use during school hours ?
  • And as the year moves towards its end, the area of inclusive education [as one component of the Disability Royal Commission] has been brought further into the light. With the commission to run till the end of 2022, this is one area which will be around for a considerable time. Cybersecurity, not only for institutions but also as an essential for individual understanding and skill development is another. And you need to come to a clear understanding of the terms mindfulness and mental health and wellbeing as they will undoubtedly have a greater impact on all levels of education.
  • No year goes without reviews [under whatever format] even if these overlap individual years. These are not only at the federal level, but also at state level. Among state reviews were a Victoria Vocational Education Review, A review of VET for school students [South Australia], a NSW Curriculum Review and a Review of NAPLAN by three states.
  • At a federal level, we were almost swamped by formal reviews as well as inputs from a range of other sources. Major reviews included Review of the Higher Education Provider Category Standards, Australian Qualifications Framework Review, Vocational Education and Training Review, Review of the Melbourne Declaration, the Independent Review of Freedom of Speech in Australian Higher Education Providers, even International Education, 2019 [ASQA, the 2019 National Quality Framework Review [ACECQA], and this is an incomplete listing. Others, such as a Call for arts teaching review may still eventuate.
  • Many of these offer possibilities for improvement in nominated areas, but the real impact may not be felt until final decisions are made with respect to implementation, and that is something that in many cases is still to be decided and then put into practice.
  • All levels of education received attention, but in many ways the tertiary sector occupied the top position for multiple reasons. Among these were the international nature of the student body and the funding it brought, cybersecurity concerns, freedom of speech concerns, the university/vocational dilemma, concerns relating to the role of rural tertiary education, several court cases and, to some degree, the unexpected failure of a change of government at a national level that has strong links back to the funding area.
  • There has been continued speculation throughout the year of the potential impact of a decline in international students, particularly from China. However, recent data suggests this may not have eventuated to the extent predicted. At the same time, a greater emphasis is being placed on connecting with India both with incoming students and working to establish greater links in India itself. There appears to be considerable potential in this.
  • Like many countries around the world though, the monetary lifeline provided by international students, especially for some universities, will need to be monitored and maintained over the coming period, as uncapped student loan funding does not seem a possibility. At the same time, other funding also appears more specifically targetted in many instances.
  • A number of reviews were mentioned above. Many of these are still to be finalised and/or implemented. Some will have greater and longer lasting impacts than others. Most seem to have at least some degree of support from all relevant parties. Their overall impact will not perhaps be fully felt for some time and may undergo further modification as often occurs.
  • Cybersecurity as well as other suggested types of interference by outside sources is one area of real concern. Most would be aware of the cyberattack on the Australian National University. However, concerns in this domain have existed for longer than this. In some ways it was an anticipated event, though people were not certain where it would happen. It also ties in with concerns about interference by other groups, particularly in research areas. This whole area is one which is certain to expand in coming years and will require greater attention than it has possibly received in the past.
  • One area which still needs clarification is the university/vocational structure. Over the last several years the first has become dominant. A range of factors have contributed to this. The first steps are now under way to begin redressing the imbalance. This needs to continue and expand until there are clearly defined roles that utilise the best each has to offer. Each sector has great potential but this must be accepted by all involved across the sector. An additional factor needing consideration is that of training packages, now found in universities, TAFEs and private educators across the country. Some businesses have begun developing their own high-quality programs negating a specific need for some current offerings.
  • One could go into further detail about a wide range of other topics but space does not allow for this. A simple search for information on other concerns will provide more than enough information about each.
  • If one said that TAFE, and vocational education in general, had slipped out of the spotlight for some time, many would agree. In some ways, this could also be said of the early childhood sector. This does not recognise the range of things which have happened over the last twelve months in particular. Available data and reports give a mixed response [e.g. OECD].
  • There has been success in the year before school, but for those students who are three years old the figures are not as good and vary across the country. One big problem still to be overcome is to ensure those in greatest need are involved. This is still a problem and one which will need to be addressed even more strongly in the years to come.
  • The media, the government, academics, and people in general, have spoken at length about teachers and the various factors impacting upon them during this year. Everything from their training to ensuring retention of teachers once they enter the profession have been covered. Getting the best teachers into rural areas, specific training in literacy skills [also mathematics and science] and greater levels of permanency. Other specific requirements in areas often suggested as being new [sometimes not new, simply bearing a new title] have also been raised.
  • One could easily spend time and list a wide range of negatives raised over the last twelve months. Fortunately there has also been some positives raised as well. With the range of requested changes seemingly ever increasing, priorities will be essential for implementation. Even more important will be effective implementation planning. The changes and additions desired are many and varied. It will not be possible to implement everything requested in one go or perhaps at all. Some people will remain unhappy their particular area of concern is not the first or second implemented. Others will be unhappy everything they want implemented does not occur. However, only what is possible can be achieved. Satisfying every request or wish is not always possible.
  • 2020 will prove an interesting year in this regard. Numerous reviews and other proposals begun this year will reach fruition and potentially result in changes of varying degrees. One hopes they achieve the best possible outcome in each instance - for all involved. More importantly, it is hoped that people work together, and support each other in positive ways, to help this occur.
  • If this occurs, 2020 may prove a very positive year that benefits teachers, students, parents and the wider community.

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There seems to be an unending supply of documents being produced about all aspects of education. It proves difficult at times to select only a few for inclusion [‘Life wasn’t meant to be easy’]. Several recent items are listed below that are felt to warrant at least a brief mention. See what you think about each and whether you agree or not. Most items are Australian in origin. Follow the links that pique your particular interest.

Beyond ATAR : a proposal for change
It seems appropriate at this time of the year to include an article such as this. ‘This position paper articulates an ambition for improving the education journeys of 15-19 year olds. It proposes three interlocking proposals to improve the experience and life outcomes of all young people. The proposals are aimed at supporting all young people to thrive in a changing world. We do not provide all the answers, but offer a starting point for cohesive change’. See what you think of their proposals.

Focus on VET reform
Why have one article when you can access a collection on the same topic ? ‘This issue of Focus on ... presents current research discussing VET reform and review occurring in Australia, the UK and the US. While not discussed in this Focus on ... issue, it is noted that the New Zealand Government introduced the Education (Vocational Education and Training Reform) Amendment Bill in August 2019 as part of the Reform of Vocational Education’.

Mental Health [Productivity Commission]
While not specifically linked to the education sector, their descriptor that follows makes a good case for people to become aware of its contents. ‘The report on mental health emphasises the need for better support for young people. “75% of those who develop mental illness first experience symptoms before they turn 25, and mental ill-health in critical schooling and employment years has long lasting effects for not only your job prospects but many aspects of your life. Getting help early is key to prevention and better outcomes”’.

Offshore alumni : friends to keep
International students [and resulting alumni] are somewhat crucial for Australia in numerous respects. ‘This reasonably brief paper is the first of a five-part series aimed at analysing some of the key rationales for servicing International alumni better and what underpins these’. If you find this one interesting, follow the ensuing papers to get a total picture.

Review of the Higher Education Provider Category Standards : Final Report
Many people would wonder why this report actually has considerable significance. Read it and you will understand why. ‘The Review recommends the simplification and rebalancing of the current categories of higher education providers. This involves reducing the overall number of higher education provider categories from six to four, by merging and rationalising the university-related categories from five to two, and increasing from one to two the number of categories catering to those higher education providers which are not universities. In undertaking this Review, the PCS have been examined with a range of stakeholders in mind : higher education providers, the regulator, students as consumers, employers and the broader public interest’.

Toward an Australian culturally responsive pedagogy : a narrative review of the literature
‘This review maps the national and international literature from settler colonial countries for rationales, theories and descriptions of practice for CRP [culturally responsive pedagogy]. It identifies current understandings of CRP in order to advance theorisations and consider its potential in the Australian context. While the emphasis is on the educational experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, it is argued that under the current conditions of super-diversity in Australian classrooms, CRP offers a hopeful approach to improving the educational experiences of all students’.

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