We disagree with the assertion that great teachers can be replaced by online alternatives. The futuristic claim that technology will triumph over teachers ignores all the social and relational dimensions of teaching and learning.

— Andy Hargreaves

Technology has provided many advantages in the area of education and learning, with the likelihood technology implementation will continue even more quickly, and have a greater impact in the future. While this has slowly become more common over recent years, it is far more evident during the current Covid pandemic.

School closures and disruption to tertiary sectors have demonstrated the greatest effect. Online learning has become a common factor of learning. Learning how to do this effectively in a very short time, while providing an alternative, has not only generated a number of positives but also shown there are existing, and potential, negatives associated with this process. This is also without taking into account potential negatives not as yet considered.

The tertiary sector has perhaps faced less implementation problems. It has been using online learning for some time with a capacity to expand its use with relative ease. The school sector has been nowhere as advanced. Getting people up to speed on “how to” had to be achieved before widespread “let’s get started” could be implemented. Even then, problems remained.

The process is viable to a far higher degree than ever and is achieving many positive processes. Different bodies [e.g. here] are examples of this, providing help with the process. At the same time, numerous problems have become evident.

Consistency across the nation has been questioned [here]. The impact on disadvantaged students has become obvious [here and here]. As one report indicated, “In disadvantaged schools, only 15 per cent [of teachers] felt assured of student progress”.

Other areas include : uni [and school] students with disabilities [and here]; The impact on vulnerable children; limited technology resources [especially public schools]; linguistic barriers; the perceived difficulty in teaching life skills without direct human interaction; increased difficulty in maintaining appropriate assessment and feedback; digital safety; a requiremet by youth for social interaction; and the list could continue. It has even reached a point where pros and cons listings [e.g. here, here and here] are easily found.

At the same time, some schools are well on the path to achieving quality usage of the path to implementing quality onoine learning. Haileybury is one example. Others can also be found. Haileybury is clear about the process involved - ‘[But] the latest technology is not what matters. What is important is technology that meets the needs of students and teachers. Technology that helps deliver outstanding learning experiences that fuel academic excellence’.

That would certainly have to be the basis of any implementation. Allied to it would be a requirement for personnel who were skilled, not only technically, but in being able to present the core learning in such a way as to have a positive impact on the learner. If you watch a spectrum of online material you will understand how crucial this must be. There is abundant evidence of the great diversity in this respect.

While many of the above may seem to be negatives, or simply difficult to achieve, there are also positives to be found with online learning. Geographical distances and boundaries are easily overcome. Greater choice for both domestic and international students. It can be perceived as cost effective - one item viewed multiple times in multiple situations at no additional cost. A complete learning experience or a complement to other learning such as Aurora College. Used at various times for different people to fit specific life needs. Allowing access to high quality ‘teachers’ over numerous learning areas.

Not all favour a permanent move, [see here]. These are valid arguments though many will either agree, or disagree, with their thoughts. They are certainly worth considering. As are other aspects not mentioned often, if at all. Some relate to points listed above. Concerns are expressed about student reaction [here] to disruption, stress and isolation from friends and support mechanisms, leading to a wide range of emotional and mental health concerns. There are concerns these can lead to suicide and other traumatic experiences.

If online learning is to become a significant component of the total learning experience, it needs to be carefully thought through prior to this. It is essential to be aware of the requirements as to how this can be achieved for all students, in all situations and in all schools. It will require specific professional development for all teachers at all levels, especially as a component of their initial university studies. In addition to formulating a quality presentation process, it will require an equally quality assessment, consultation and follow-up process. These are indelibly interlinked and must never be separated.

Technical requirements aside, there must be support for students, parents, teachers and schools to ensure equipment, materials and systems required to cater to the needs of every student [regular, disadvantaged, disabled, gifted, ...] are available so each can access, understand and use the system to attain the best possible outcome for every individual. We must also ensure other, equally important aspects are neither forgotten nor ignored.

Paramount among these is the need for human interaction - student/student and student/teacher. Much of the current angst on the part of students appears related to the loss of being with others. It is evident they feel a need to take part in activities important to them, to be with people, to experience life both as an individual and as a member of the group.

We are not isolates. In almost every respect, we are the exact opposite. Their own experiences, with the added help of parents and teachers, can only help create a more complete individual who should benefit in the future.

When you look back at your own education, you will undoubtedly have both good and less good memories. In almost every case though, they will be about fellow students and teachers you met and disliked/liked/regarded highly, acts of achievement or disappointment, being with groups of others, ... . Specific incidents will resonate. It is doubtful memories will be whether you used pencils, pens or computers. You won’t be writing books about how you learnt, but what it was, who you did it with or who taught you on that occasion. It would be devastating to think it would be otherwise. This view is also reflected in the quote given above.

In 1951, Isaac Asimov wrote a very short piece for a newspaper. Titled The Fun They Had he looked to the future where schools did not exist, learning being done individually with machines. It is what he saw as a potential end product of technological development as he understood it. While online learning may provide much that is valuable both now and in the future, we must ensure we never allow the system to reach that point, cost effective or not.

If you are looking for information regarding enrolments, be sure to check the Enrolments pages. A significant update has been done as you will see from the pages themselves. We hope they are even more useful than previously.

With a return to numerous schools being closed and children again working from home, we have added the list of links from earlier this year. Should this continue we will update and where possible expand the page in the future. Use this page to access both Australian and International links.

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There is a continuous supply of documents produced about all aspects of education both here and overseas. It is difficult at times to select only a few each month [‘Life wasn’t meant to be easy’]. Several items listed below are felt to warrant at least a mention. Many are from this year so are genuinely current. See what you think about each and whether you agree or not. All are Australian in origin. Follow links that pique your particular interest.

Assessment of General Capabilities : Skills for the 21st-century learner

‘There is increasing recognition that general capabilities, or 21st-century skills as they are often called, are important for learning. There is growing consensus that these skills need to be cultivated to help learners succeed in a modern society based on knowledge and innovation and that embedding them within existing teaching practices should be a priority. The purpose of this project was to engage with educators to develop, trial, and validate resources at classroom level and ultimately equip them with the skills and resources they need to embed skills into their practice’. PDF document, ACER, 2020.

Major Student and Staff Profile Changes Since 2009 By Australia’s Multi-Billion Dollar Universities

‘The U5 group of universities – Sydney, Melbourne, New South Wales, Queensland and Monash – in their quest for revenue growth have all profoundly changed the balance of their student profiles between domestic to overseas students over the decade 2009 to 2018. They have also limited the growth of their staffing levels and shifted their profiles to a higher proportion of teaching-only, casual and non-academic staff. The changes that have occurred are reviewed in this paper’. Fascinating background information many would not be aware of. Linked writings are found in the References. 2020.

Perceptions of Teachers and Teaching in Australia

‘This report shares findings of a nationwide Australian study into public and teachers’ perceptions of the teaching profession. The study was commissioned in response to ongoing concerns about recruitment and retention of educators and reports about the wellbeing of teachers and school leaders. It consisted of two large-scale parallel surveys. The first survey was completed by members of the teaching profession, and the second survey was completed by a nationally-representative sample of the public. There are six key findings of this research’. Monash University, November 2019

Socioeconomic Disparities in Australian Schooling during the COVID-19 Pandemic

‘The results, presented in this report, provide strong evidence that children attending the least advantaged schools were more adversely affected by the shift to online learning than others and that the shift therefore may have compounded existing inequities in the school system. By extension, the results suggest education authorities face a major challenge to ensure that adverse effects from future shifts to online learning do not disproportionately fall upon Australia’s most marginalised children and communities’ July 2020. Similar reports can be found here and here. Each has only recently been completed.

The Bureaucratisation of Public Education in Australia

‘Australia has long been infected by what world renowned Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg, currently professor of education at the Gonski Institute of Education in Sydney, coined as GERM [Global Education Reform Movement]. It is characterised by corporate management policies, test-based accountability of schools and fostering competition between schools to drive improvement in education outcomes. One manifestation of GERM is a bloated bureaucracy to police compliance with regulations, collect and record information and monitor performance. Public school systems in Australia have seen an enormous increase in bureaucracy since the turn of the century. As far as we are aware, this study is the first to use data published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics to analyse the impact of school accountability measures on the staffing structure of the public education system’. Trevor Cobbold never disappoints with his information and ideas. July, 2020

Top teachers : sharing expertise to improve teaching

‘A new career path for expert teachers could transform Australian schools and boost student learning by 18 months by the time they turn 15. A Grattan Institute survey of 700 teachers and principals, conducted for this report, finds that top teachers are often given ‘add-on’ coaching roles, with inadequate time, training, or support to do the job properly. Our report calls for two new roles for Australia’s top teachers, giving them dedicated ‘day jobs’ to improve teaching across all schools. ‘Master Teachers’ [the top 1 per cent of the profession] would have no formal classroom load but would be the overall pedagogical leaders in their subjects, working across a network of schools in their region’. Report, Technical Supplement, Charts, video, podcast. Grattan Institute, February 2020. A worthwhile option or not ?

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News Headlines

Universities :

Should the ayes have it ? Rex Patrick asks the question on the Tehan Bill [16/9]

Can enabling courses survive ? [15/9]

Boost science and tech research for the post-Covid age [15/9]

Insights into Australia’s tertiary education sector [Podcast] [15/9]

HE stars to shine bright on the Tehan bill [15/9]

Aus : HE crisis deepens with further staffing & budget cuts [14/9]

New learning economy challenges unis to be part of reshaping lifelong education [14/9]

SA uni merger is part of education plan [14/9]

No surrender from uni lobbies on the student-place funding bill [14/9]

Tim Winkler’s three big lessons from weekends lost at virtual open days [11/9]

HE must prepare for change, not be forced into it [12/9]

Australian universities walk back their criticism of higher education changes [12/9]

International Students :

‘We will not be viable’ : WA university leaders call for state borders to reopen [16/9]

Deadline looms for universities, foreign students [15/9]

Overseas students bring more than export dollars to communities [15/9]

International students find support in Aus. homes [11/9]

Schools - Teachers & Students :

‘No evidence’ to suggest beginner teachers are unprepared [16/9]

Half of NSW teachers say they were poorly trained to teach writing [16/9]

Students struggle as review finds writing skills neglected in NSW high schools [15/9]

Reimagining education post COVID-19 [15/9]

Why every teacher needs to know about childhood trauma [14/9]

Why teacher pay has been dwindling for 30 years [14/9]

If that’s the worst that ever happens to you ... [14/9]

The Bureaucratisation of Public Education in NSW [13/9]

F for fail : NSW Education dumps another reading program after review [12/9]

The future of teachers’ pay : time to send a better price signal [11/9]

Murdoch U drops ATAR English as an UG pre-req [11/9]

Professionalism to lift teaching status [10/9]

Schools doing well in reading and maths ‘deserve more autonomy’ [10/9]

Top teachers should have a 50 per cent pay rise, expert says [10/9]

Rules for ‘virus-safe’ HSC exams revealed [NSW] [10/9]

The benefits of online parent-teacher interviews [10/9]

Early Childhood :

Putting children first - How do ECEC services advocate for children’s safety, wellbeing and development [16/9]

Preschool and childcare have little impact on a child’s later school test scores [16/9]

All Australians deserve universal early childhood education [12/9]

Vic ECEC educators leaving in droves, study shows, citing low wages, heavy workload [10/9]

Vocational Education :

Significant boost for skills training in NSW [16/9]

Claire Field warns : students deserve better on VET assessment [16/9]

The VET Cheatsheet [15/9]

VET international numbers bucking the trend [14/9]

Pandemic ‘reveals poor standards in vocational education’ [10/9]

Total VET students 2019 : The Numbers [9/9]

Other :

Closing the Gap re-set demands new approach to research [14/9]

Researching education : Five further readings on disability and inclusive education [11/9]

Social Justice ‘officers’ rise from campus to control us [11/9]

Calls for help surge as teens’ mental health suffers in lockdown [10/9]

Parents fret for young children’s mental health as lockdown drags on [10/9]

The future for education and learning is exciting [9/9]

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