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Teachers don’t just teach; they can be vital personalities who help young people to mature, to understand the world, and to understand themselves. A good education consists of much more than useful facts and marketable skills. Charles Platt

As Ian Chubb completes his term as Chief Scientist, to be replaced by Alan Finkel, one of his major emphases is gathering new headlines and support. STEM is getting recognition at last, though there is obviously a long way to go to reach the stated objectives.

For those who are still unsure as to what STEM is, a short, clear description is provided at What is STEM ? while there is also information at STEM-ify your curriculum. Ian Chubb and many others would tell you concerns about STEM teaching, standards and the numbers of students taking STEM subjects in senior years have been raised for quite a while.

For example, try 5 Great STEM Education Reads from mid 2014; STEM growth : Getting students interested in the sciences [ACER] also mid 2014; Five reasons to include robotics in your classroom ABC from later in 2014; Five challenges for science in Australian primary schools, mid 2015; up to Schools, business link up on science and Half of kids fail IT basics this month. And these are just a tiny fraction of those produced in recent times.

A change of direction from the government seems to be a catalyst to acceptance of the fact that innovation doesn’t just occur. Much of the innovation, now and into the future, will require STEM skills. In light of the reduction in numbers tackling the more complex of these subjects, concerns about the dearth of females being attracted to the area, the skill levels of those being asked to teach them, and the overall numbers taking up tertiary studies across this spectrum, concerns are rightly being expressed.

There are, however, some positive steps. Practices such as A TwistEd approach to Science, Maths education helps rural kids; a “Day of STEM” starting a program as part of Schools, business link up on science plus a range of other programs; business prepared to come on board to help develop such skills. Coding is now seen as something worthwhile in schools, at all levels. Advice, such as Nine key ingredients of an effective digital school are now being provided to schools [certainly much different to when we were there]. The new Digital Technologies curriculum offering is now available.

This, however, is only the start of a process which is essential for present and future students, and society. There is still a massive amount of work to do. It will be interesting to watch what happens. Ian Chubb’s paper, STEM in the National Interest : A Strategic Approach may be a way to go. The Prime Minister is indicated as releasing a report on this general area including innovation in early December. Let’s get serious before it is too late.

VET has again been high in the news [see Other Areas section below as well]. Finally we seem to have a good handle on actual numbers undertaking VET training and this has brought a shock. As High Wired indicated - The missin’ million.

While this is now accepted, of bigger concern is the drop-out rate as described in Scary Numbers , shonky deals, HECS-HELP payments which will never be repaid, people in debt, Overseas students slam VET with complaints to the Overseas Student Ombudsman twice as high as for the higher education sector [also High Wired], more attending private colleges particularly in some areas, … .

Steps have begun to correct a number of these problems but there is still a long way to go and neither side of politics is free of some of the taint associated with the problems, at both state and national level. These include prosecutions The Scan and Ministerial commitment.

Even the Prime Minister has bought into this [Shambolic training has to go] while there will be a Clamp on private college loans. On the other side of politics, Labor calls for national VET ombudsman. These are all part of a good start. Let’s see how effective these might be and then add whatever else is necessary to ensure the best possible vocational training for all those wanting to be involved and who are capable of completing this.

If they are not sure of what to do, perhaps they can read Australia’s VET system needs fundamental change - here’s how it can be fixed as a starting point.

Two items may have escaped your attention in the landslide of material related to “major” educational areas. These are firstly, a decision by the South Australian Commission for Catholic Schools for the Catholic education system to shift Year 7 into high schools,[though not till 2019-20 and may have some exemptions]. The State Opposition wants to move Year 7 students into public high schools, but the government does not. Pressure must be building on them to join the rest of Australia, and this might be the final straw.

The second is one that everyone going through higher education has experienced - lectures. My own memory is of some which were excellent [a few anyway] and many that, to be charitable, were quite boring. It would seem that things may not have changed except to be exacerbated by the advent of technology and other changes within the system.

Marnie Hughes-Warrington, the ANU Deputy Vice-Chancellor, has been talking about the death of the lecture for some time [e.g. see here and also here]. As she says, ‘We have the evidence suggesting the need for change and yet we still declare the death of the lecture to be a bit of larking about’.

While there seems to be a reasonable level of agreement about this fact, Stephen Fityus has indicated ‘engagement is the key’. As well, ‘The majority of students who failed a course did not regularly attend class and the proportion of students attaining pass and credit grades is similar, regardless of attendance. However, a greater proportion of the students who attained distinction or high distinction grades attended class’. He felt that engagement had helped the latter students. Which group would you prefer to be in ? And what might any effective and positive alternative be ?

Other Areas of Interest

With Vocational Education in the news, the release of the report Total VET students and courses 2014 marks a milestone. ‘Information is provided on the number of training providers, students, enrolments in programs, enrolments in subjects, hours of delivery and program completions, from all types of providers and not merely the providers receiving Commonwealth and state funding’. This link provides access to the report [and Terms and Definitions]. For other data presentations related to this topic try Total VET activity, where a range of additional material is available.

Inside Story often has interesting articles, some of which have been included here in the past. Two reports released in the last month are also worthy of inclusion. Dean Ashenden poses the question - What is to be done about Australian schooling ? which looks at ‘dealing with high and rising social and cultural segregation’ as part of the education reform process. His usual high standard of handling a topic continues with this. At the same time, Chris Bonor and Bernie Shepherd continue to support the Gonski solution in School equity : from bad to worse. They concentrate on several findings in doing so and the whole makes for interesting reading.

The Grattan Institute produces variety of reports on many areas of education. The latest higher education report, The cash nexus : how teaching funds research in Australian universities [Andrew Norton], looks at university expenditure and how it uses some of the funding. It certainly made headlines on its release and is well worth reading. A second report Targeted teaching : how better use of data can improve student learning [Pete Goss, Jordana Hunter] is a few months old but holds interest for all interested in school level education. The summary on the home page provides a good descriptor of what the report is about. It is also well worth a review by those interested in this area.

Finally, the OECD has multiple impacts on education as well as other areas. Some aspects are better known than others. Testing would fit into that category. They do, though, produce a wide range of reports. Among the latest is Starting Strong IV - Monitoring Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care. As they indicate here, ‘A growing number of countries are establishing monitoring systems to ensure quality and accountability in these programs. This publication explores how countries can develop and use these systems to enhance service and staff quality for the benefit of child development. It offers an international perspective and concrete examples’. What more could you ask ?

Site Changes

The following pages have been completely updated : links, descriptors, exclusions, additions : Research updates for Adult & Community Education, Teacher Assessment, Teacher Librarians; Site Information pages; Homework. They can be accessed through the Education and Teachers links in the main menu.

Updates have been added to the following pages : Calendar, Conferences, Journals.

17 November 2015.

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