Aussie Educator

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. Alvin Toffler

Welcome to the latest version of this page. It comes as there is a wide range of educational topics coming to the fore [or re-surfacing in some cases]. Some have gained quite an amount of attention [e.g. rejection of an offer to fund a particular course at the Australian National University] and reviewing whether the Schooling Resource Standard [SRS] is the most appropriate basis for decisions [Gonski funding]. Others relate to de-cluttering curriculum, new descriptors for teachers, changing the school year, ways of opening up a more effective use of schools, regional and rural education, the ATAR continues to be of interest, various changes to degree structures and the list expands on and on. Several of these are covered in greater detail below.

  • Universities Australia appoints new Chief Executive provides details about Catriona Jackson who will take up the position following on from Belinda Robinson. While it is possible to find background information on her, a recent article may actually prove more enlightening about her beliefs than a simple compilation of facts.
  • Wikispaces has been around for some time and been used by numerous education personnel to produce quality resources used by many in the profession. Regrettably, Wikispaces is about to close. Classroom and free wikis will end on 31 July 2018, while other types will end at later dates. More information from the site. [This is the final reminder about this change.]

We have also included new articles in the relevant section. Some of these may also be referred to in the commentary. There seems to be an unending supply of documents and articles being produced in this area and it often proves difficult to select only the few that appear. As someone said - ‘Life wasn’t meant to be easy’.

Among interesting talking points were ...

Feeling lonelier and left out

While not a new concept, recent research has brought this topic to the fore once again. Many Australian school students feel they ‘don’t belong’ in school : new research is a report by ACER based on information from PISA data from Australia. They further state - ‘We also examined [a] sense of belonging among a number of different groups within Australia’.

Interestingly enough, ‘Students who are Indigenous, female, Australian-born, in the lowest socioeconomic status quartile or living in provincial and remote areas felt the least sense of belonging in school. First-generation and foreign-born migrants, and students who are male, metro-based or belong to the highest SES quartile reported the greatest sense of belonging’. While different groups may have been expected to fall into these categories, others certainly would not. For further information see this report as well.

As a linked report in The Guardian indicates ‘for some students it is indicative of educational success and long-term health and well-being’. It is also echoed in a report from The Conversation. ‘While the majority of Australian students feel a sense of belonging at school, there is a solid core of students who do not feel this way - roughly one in five, or five students in the average classroom’. A third article re-inforces the position, indicating a student’s sense of belonging matters.

The numbers indicate a potentially increased impact, not only at this level, but for attaining higher levels and being successful within these. Allied to the significant tertiary level drop-out factor which has been highlighted in recent months [even though this has many causative factors], it creates a situation which needs to be addressed rapidly before it becomes too difficult to find a workable solution.

Teacher Stress and the effect this has

You can already hear some people say - they only work six hours a day, have long holidays, get paid well, great conditions, ... I heard them saying it 50 years ago and over the whole time I worked as a teacher at many levels. Many others heard the same and many continue to do so today. If only ... ! Unfortunately, most of the people who claim the above have little understanding of what is actually involved in teaching and operate off face value. One often wonders how they would feel if you did the same with the occupation in which they were employed including ignoring any of the stress factors that always apply, no matter the occupation.

Stress factors in teaching have multiple results. A recent US report makes the point that ‘One of the most important factors in ensuring student success is quality instruction by teachers. However, quality instruction can be a difficult goal if teachers do not have the resources to improve their skills and if rising levels of teacher stress go unchecked’. It goes on to say ‘It’s troubling that only 7 percent of teachers experience low stress and feel they are getting the support they need to adequately cope with the stressors of their job’. This reporting reflects similar concerns in Australia.

Recent local articles include one new teacher’s initial experience [‘I cried every day’.]. Another indicated Teachers suffer from “unsustainable” administrative demands : survey. It begins with the statement ‘An overwhelming 90 per cent of New South Wales teachers say that changes in government policy as well as data collection and administrative responsibilities have significantly added to their work over the past five years and impacted their time to focus on students’, and went on to expand on this. The Principal Health and Wellbeing Survey 2017 suggested similar concerns.

It is nothing new. Reports were also generated in 2018 [Seven reasons people no longer want to be teachers]; 2017, which then became a three part series; from 2015 - also here and here. At the same time, this Australian research goes back even further. We can continue back for decades.

Is there a simple solution ? Regrettably not. This comes about because there is a multiplicity of factors which create these levels of stress. Like all occupations, there will always be stressors. Sometimes more, sometimes less. The overall workload is often a factor as is continual change, administrative demands, often low respect from the wider community, at times unrealistic expectations and at times being ‘lectured to’ by people with little practical experience of what is involved.

As a short letter to the editor, which I have retained for some time, indicated - ‘Educational theorists and consultants should shelve all their meaningless jargon, donate their inflated fees to a local public school and let teachers get on with the job’. Makes a lot of sense to this old chalkie. Perhaps if we took one scientist’s advice and teachers became learning designers it could also help, but sadly ‘that role’ would probably just have a different set of stressors [?] that would not improve the situation.

University rankings

We tend to rank items, institutions, achievements and almost anything else you can name. Included among this process is the ranking of universities. Like most ranking processes though, there are multiple options to choose from. To start with, this includes ranking bodies such as Times Higher Education, QS World University Rankings®, Universitas21, Leiden, ShanghaiRankings, CWUR, URAP, ... . Then you can find rankings based on world rankings, regional rankings, country rankings, subjects, research achievements, contributions to journals, ... . You can even find them for student attrition, student satisfaction, even mixtures including other bodies such as industry, government and all research organisations, ..... .

In perusing listings it is difficult to find an exact consensus for any given university across multiple lists. There may be matches for those perceived to be the best in the world [e.g. Harvard, MIT, Cambridge], but beyond this it is very rare indeed. For universities which do not appear in the top ten or so of the world rankings it is almost unimaginable. As an example, one university achieved the following positions from among its various rankings - 48, 82, 178, 191, 201, 34, 60, 24, 97, 163, ... .

However, the options among the wide range of listings does provide scope for a possible claim to be made re significant achievement on the part of any given university anywhere around the world, including Australia. For example, one Australian university could claim position 3 in one selection, another position 14, another 24. This, at a time when our universities ranked against the best in the world left us at with our highest ranked university placed 24 in one listing, 32 in another 39 in another, 57 in another, ... .

That puts us in a difficult position. Which do you believe ? There is no single answer. By all means check as many as you like. Consider what they have been ranked for. If you are looking at choosing a university to attend, think about the following. If you are interested in a particular subject area, then search to find which university is regarded highly for that area and consider if this is your best option. Then, perhaps even more importantly, consider alternative national options.

With a little bit of work on your part combined with the mass of genuinely useful information one particular body has collated, it will provide, as Campus Morning Mail so correctly describes it, ‘The ranking that matters most is out; the federal government funded Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching [QILT], based on a survey of students in Australian higher education’. It will provide you with results based on experience rather than simply a collection of other types of data. All the best in making use of this to provide you with the highest quality option available.

Vocational Education

With the No Frills [National VET Research] Conference coming up in mid-August, it will be interesting to see what is suggested for this sector of tertiary education. This is especially so when the Federal Opposition has just nominated the chosen members for their planned inquiry into post-secondary education [including vocational education] should they attain office at the next election. The membership is quite fascinating including unionists, business and a range of other representatives. They have also provided the terms of inquiry for the potential, future process.

At the same time we are presented with a variety of headlines such as Vocational education has lurched from one crisis to another, Can vocational education make a comeback ? and They said it would never happen ? which has a lead statement of ‘Well perhaps we are seeing the green shoots of recovery in our VET sector’. We also have increasing numbers of states becoming involved in the Skilling Australians Fund, but there are also concerns such as the Training sector demands level playing field for all. Interestingly, the Group of Eight says TAFE must be returned to a position of value; seen as a respected and much needed partner in post-secondary education, not treated as a lesser education stream. Who would have thought that would happen ?

Others have also offered advice. Geoff Sharrock offers six things to consider and refers back to a similar process offered by Gavin Moodie. The latter offers one suggestion in particular which is supported by Geoff Sharrock - ‘a joint review by state and national governments is needed to integrate VET and higher education policy’. It is seen as essential. Hopefully, if such an inquiry does occur this will be taken on board and implemented. Otherwise, what is the point ?

Unis to combine ?

South Australia has a new government and now has the prospect of a new, large university should the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia go beyond simply ‘exploring a merger’. Apparently Flinders University indicated it was not interested in being involved in the process. An outline behind their thinking can be found in a response listed here. ‘Details of the consultation process will be announced by the universities in the coming weeks, with submissions to be called for from August to September’. This statement plus further background can be found here. Denise Bradley [Bradley Review and ex-Vice Chancellor, UniSA] is one who has backed the talks.

However, there are already people expressing concern. The National Education Union has expressed concerns about the potential impact on jobs and has already clearly stated its position in respect of this and especially future conditions of employment. A quite thoughtful piece has been written by Tim Dodd where, after posing his first question of “Why ?”, then looks at a series of groups who would be affected in some way and tries to assess what benefit might result for each of them. One would have to suggest he does not conclude with the most positive of views. It will be interesting to see what the consultation process decides for the future.

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There are recently produced items that 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 each link that piques your particular interests.

An end to the industrial model of schooling ?
Dean Ashenden’s response to the recent Gonski 2.0 Report. As always, his responses are well thought out and clearly expressed. He also manages to make his points without writing a tome. The final comments probably say it all : ‘The second Gonski report ... has one very good chance to escape the oblivion into which its many predecessors have sunk : it has made the genuinely historic call that the familiar way of organising and conducting teaching and learning is obsolete, and that a very different grammar is needed and available. The risk is that the “transition” from one to the other is beyond the capacity of the system, and that the failure will be put down to the idea’.

Digital technologies for learning : ...
Findings from the NZCER national survey of primary and intermediate schools 2016. We readily look at reserach and commentary from our own country, but quite often findings from similar countries such as New Zealand can also enlighten us. ‘The survey asked how digital technology is being used, how it could be used, and what it means for teaching and learning. The survey sought the views of principals, teachers, trustees, parents and whānau’. Available are the report, infrographics, surveys and more.

Dropping out : the benefits and costs of trying university
Grattan Institute. ‘More than 50 000 students who started university in Australia this year will drop out. Not every incomplete degree amounts to a waste of time and money. But there are costs of dropping out’. The authors indicate ‘Australia can and should aim to reduce the number of young people who leave university with nothing but debt and regret’. Report, background paper, chart data and even a podcast discussion are all available from the site.

Participation in tertiary education in Australia
Mitchell Institute. ‘Australia needs more people participating in vocational education and training or university studies to ensure our future prosperity. However under current policy settings, a smaller proportion of Australians will take up tertiary studies into the next decade, if recent trends continue’. Download the PDF version from the site.

Why an adaptive education system would improve school outcomes
‘ In this Grand Rounds presentation at The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, Grattan Institute’s School Education Program Director Peter Goss explores what it might take to improve teaching practice so that all students learn more in school, including those who are currently left behind’.

Vocational education policy is failing, and it’s not hard to see why
Inside Story. A fairly short, but very targetted, piece to finish with. John Quiggin leaves little to the imagination. As he finishes by saying - ‘The experience of the past decade shows that the problems in the South Australian TAFE system are merely symptoms of failed policies designed by state and federal governments. They should be reversed urgently’.

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