Students learn as much for a teacher as from a teacher.

— Linda Darling-Hammond

There is very little going on in education at present that is not covered by every form of media using both factual data and individual commentary. You can choose among the range from child care to universities and research. Some areas get a greater share than others. Volume varies depending on numerous factors, but it is always there to some degree whether local, national or international.

This is likely to continue for some time in its present emphases. At the same time, we are starting to see items which refer not just to the present but also project into the future and what could possibly be the situation once this country [and possibly globally] reaches what can be suggested as a return to “normality”.

Of course, “normality” may vary from the normality we have experienced in the past. Certainly, if some of the suggestions were to eventuate, this would be the case. While numerous suggestions and positions are put forward, though not everyone is in agreement. This is only to be expected.

Among the most discussed have been whether international students will return, the concept of ‘job-ready graduates’ as suggested by the Minister as one aspect of higher education reform, the future of child care and its funding and scope, the role of online education, equity in education, . . .

Related topics could as easily include working from home, the role of ATAR and entry to university, status of university staff, teacher quality, and the list goes go on and on.

Numerous writings on all of these topics have appeared on these pages over the last couple of months in particular. Some have been proposals, others discussions, while some are linked to projected funding requirements. Some, such as international student numbers, will only be answered when we return to some form of normality, borders are re-opened, and actual processes re-commence.

So far there have been suggestions including - we will get them back, we will not, how we stand in comparison to the position in other countries [e.g. UK, USA, Canada] and who knows. The likely outcome is simply unknown and is likely to remain that way for some time. Certainly any definitive statement at this time should regrettably be regarded with at least a little scepticism.

The Minister’s ‘job-ready graduates’ reform process has probably drawn the broadest range of attention at the moment. It stretches from well thought out responses putting forward reasons not to go in this direction, to suggestions it was ‘the latest battle in a 40-year culture war’. Examples of various responses can be found here, here, here and here. Parliament may well have the final say.

Child Care is the third major area. While there had been considerable discussion, suggestions and requests for assistance, the Early Childhood Education and Care Strategy [see page 12] of the ACTU National Economic Reconstruction Plan certainly raised everything a notch or two in regard to ‘recognition of the vital importance of early child education and care, and a national commitment to providing universal and free services’. Coinciding with the return to the Child Care Subsidy format gave it greater emphasis.

Predictions of declining numbers of children taking part in child care and the resulting loss of centres and employment is something yet to occur, but is a possibility. Like several other topics, only time will provide an accurate answer. Certainly without a rapidly easing pandemic situation it appears unlikely the funding required would be available though some others suggest funding would also help the economy [ see here ].

The equity question was particularly exacerbated by school closure periods. Variations in impacts were perceived even over short survey periods. It also applied in relation to students with disability. Examples were noted in the ‘digital divide’ [e.g. here and here]. While undesirable, it is regrettably not new. We can only work to see it either minimised or, preferably, deleted in the future.

Online education has also started to come into its own. This is at all levels, though in tertiary education it is probably not new, nor is it so for those living in many rural areas. While there are obvious benefits stemming from its use, there are downsides and these were obvious during recent times. Not the least of these the impact on the family [and a dawning realisation on the part of many that teaching is not necessarily the easiest of professions]. Others suggested ‘the sudden shift to remote learning brought into sharp focus the critically important, but often overlooked, problem of the lack of digital inclusion for many students’ [see here and here] and linking back to the equity factor above.

As well, there was the reaction from many students across all levels about losing the direct contact with other students and staff. There were several reports indicating many students were only too keen to get back into classrooms and study sessions for this reason.

It will be interesting to see whether this continues to expand once the pandemic is controlled. Certainly, one bonus is the heightened level of skill which has been developed across the board by staff being able to use this methodology more effectively. One should not wish for too much movement in this direction though, as there are always negative consequences to any technology use. In harsh economic times, such may be seen as desirable for many reasons beyond educational factors.

Beyond these were research and commentary about a number of factors. One fascinating item was by Frank Larkins [see here] which leads to a report about casual academic staff [see here]. Who would have thought it had reached this point ? The list of extras could go on and on and, if interested, you will have no difficulty in finding adequate commentary, research, articles and more on each. You could still be reading next month or even further. We are in strange times indeed.

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 early this year so are really current. See what you think about each and whether you agree or not. Most are Australian in origin. Follow links that pique your particular interest.

Beyond ATAR : A Proposal for Change

Sub-titled ‘An Australian Learning Lecture Position Paper on transforming the transition from school to higher education, life and work. In this paper, we outline an ambitious vision to empower all young people to navigate their individual journeys from school to a productive, thriving adulthood. Our ambition is informed by international research and benchmarks that identify what we want our young people to know, become and be able to do as they leave school. We articulate three proposals for systemic change’. What do you think ? Do you agree with the conclusions and directions ? Would you do something different and, if so, what ?

COVID catch-up : helping disadvantaged students close the equity gap

Considerable concern has been expressed about the greater impact on student achievement for those who are disadvantaged. The Grattan Institute indicates a belief that ‘Many disadvantaged students, who were already falling behind before the crisis, will have slipped further back’. In looking at ways to overcome the perceived problem, they have offered a range of recommendations they believe will help to overcome this. As they indicate in their overview - ‘The achievement gap for disadvantaged students is unfair, costly, and widening. Australia should now seize the opportunity to narrow it’. The document is available from the site, along with a recording, podcast and webinar.

Differential learning outcomes for online versus in-class education

Another topic commonly discussed during recent months has been the relevant values of face-to-face and online teaching. ‘This paper responds to a request for advice on the differential learning outcomes for online versus in-class education; factors that moderate the relative effectiveness; and distinct implications for students in metropolitan, remote, rural and Indigenous communities’. The main findings are found early in the document, while the results for each of the areas noted above make up the rest of what is a fairly short but interesting response.

Higher Education Equity Literature Database

This source of information, rather than a single document, has been developed by the Gonski Institute at the University of NSW. As they say on the homepage - ‘This searchable literature database has been curated and annotated by a collective of scholars who share an interest in equity in higher education. The literature has been organised thematically according to patterns that have emerged from a deep and sustained engagement with the various fields’. Items on the home page provide multiple options to find various information. Feel free to search, choose, learn and perhaps even enjoy the findings.

Skills and Workforce Development Agreement

Not the final, but the Interim Report, with the final report to be handed to the government by the Productivity Commission in November of this year. ‘This interim report was released on 5 June 2020 and is a review of the National Agreement for Skills and Workforce Development and other issues’. You can access the Overview or tackle the full Interim Report. In the light of current factors it is interesting to read this section and should be even more interesting to follow up with the full report later in the year.

What next for tertiary education ? Some preliminary sketches

In light of current events, one might think it would seem an apt topic, but it is in reality a blast from the past. It was done in 2014 on the ‘50-year anniversary of the introduction of the binary system of education in Australia. This publication is the culmination of the ideas discussed and is intended to generate discussion and debate on the possibilities for the future of tertiary education in Australia. A companion publication, A differentiated model for tertiary education: past ideas, contemporary policy and future possibilities, provides the background for these ideas’. A lot of thought went into this so it should not be wasted.

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News Headlines

Universities :

UNSW stumbles over its own speech policy [4/8]

Coastal Australian universities report second semester surge [4/8]

What Deakin U want to do next [4/8]

Anger after uni pulls anti-China article [2/8]

Funding changes endanger humanities and the social sciences [31/7]

So many ways to go to university for the class of 2020 [30/7]

What Heywood has in mind for UNE [30/7]

2021 will be a competitive year for university applicants [29/7]

International Students :

The best advertisement for Australian education isn’t an advertisement [5/8]

Foreign students bully university lecturers to pass [5/8]

Melbourne on strict lockdown : What international students should know [4/8]

Australian student visa applications drop by a third [31/7]

Australia’s graduate work visa scheme attracts international students to our universities. Is it enough ? [30/7]

‘Quite serious’ : International student visa applications plummet [29/7]

Aus : Int’l student advocacy remains vital, but major challenges persist [29/7]

Schools - Teachers & Students :

The Australian Mathematics Curriculum : Where did we go wrong ? Where can we go right ? [4/8]

‘Exhausted beyond measure’ : what teachers are saying about COVID-19 and the disruption to education [4/8]

Victorian schools return to remote learning [3/8]

School principals want more alternatives to suspending students [3/8]

Chance to ensure selective school places go to those who deserve them [2/8]

One in three schools agree to phonics reading check as critics sound alarm [1/8]

Selective school tests go digital in biggest shake-up in 30 years [31/7]

The challenge to retain second-career teachers [30/7]

More school closures announced as NSW Premier says social distancing part of life [29/7]

Parents give schools an A+ during covid-19 lockdown [29/7]

Early Childhood :

Support for Victorian families, childcare workers and services [5/8]

Now would be a good time to admit Australia’s childcare system is not fit for purpose [5/8]

PM adds clarity to JobKeeper for ECEC and pandemic leave in latest announcement [4/8]

Childcare centres in dark on who will attend during stricter lockdown [3/8]

Recognising our early childhood educators [3/8]

Support for child care providers in COVID-19 lockdown [30/7]

Vocational Education :

Needed : a VET focus on the needs of First Nations people [5/8]

PC Review favours profit above ensuring TAFE’s future [4/8]

Queensland commits to “stamping out dodgy training providers” as part of crack down [3/8]

Victoria schools : how Covid-19 lockdown will affect education, remote learning and childcare [3/8]

Students shape own curriculum in ‘new generation’ of vocational schools [3/8]

Meeting of the Skills Ministers - VET sector reform in response to the COVID-19 pandemic [31/7]

Getting the workforce ready : challenges and opportunities for VET [29/7]

Zombie skills sets resurrected as micro credentials [30/7]

Other :

AI in classroom : Maximising spatial design and improving learning outcomes [5/8]

Academic acceleration has no negative long-term effects on psychological well-being of gifted youth [4/8]

Schools can reopen safely if precautions in place, Australian study shows [3/8]

Direct Instruction data shows learning growth [3/8]

ATAR : way more than uni entry [2/8]

There are 3 new Closing the Gap education targets : here’s what they miss [31/7]

Quality research use vital to get through current ‘infodemic’ [30/7]

$90.5 million to support 100 researchers [29/7]

AHRC welcomes new National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds [29/7]

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