Aussie Educator

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. Albert Einstein

Welcome back to a new year in education.

We have now completed an update of the site. This took into consideration a number of factors including overall numbers for the site, specific numbers for all pages, time spent on pages, availability of alternative sources of information and our capacity to maintain all sections of the site taking into account recent health factors. While the site may not look significantly different, a number of changes behind the scenes have occurred as indicated below. At the same time a number of difficult decisions have been made in relation to what we can and cannot do in the coming months. A brief summary of changes and decisions is provided below. Thanks go to those who have waited patiently for responses, sometimes not only over weeks but in some cases over months while we worked our way through other matters.

  • A number of pages have been deleted due to lack of usage over a 12 month period. All have been replaced by redirects back to the home page. These will remain for a reasonable period of time.
  • There are no longer any archive folders. Any pages from previous archive folders which have been retained are now found in the primary folders. All have been replaced by redirects to the new location.
  • All retained pages have been updated. There are lost links, added links, while all pages have had links updated. This was accurate on the date at the bottom of the page. However, be aware some sites are in a state of continuous change and there are no guarantees !
  • A range of code items have either been updated or added depending on circumstances.
  • You will note some pages have a new “red” box at the top. While these pages have been updated and included, there are many other sources available for similar content. We have therefore placed them on hold for the present until we see whether we can cope with updating more than those we have selected. A decision will be made on these as the year progresses. No additions will be made to these pages until that time.
  • All other pages will be maintained at the best level possible. This will be done continuously throughout 2018.
  • Calendar, Conferences, Competitions and University Open Day pages will continue to be updated each month. [The February update has occurred a few days early to coincide with this larger update.]
  • The Contact Us page has a new “red” box at the top. Please read it carefully before you send a request about, or suggestion for, an inclusion. It will save us both valuable time.
  • Again, if you are seeking advice, please indicate the state/territory you live in [e.g. Western Australia] and, where necessary the school system in which your child is involved [e.g. Lutheran] so we can be as accurate as possible in our reply. Remember all states and territories, and school systems, operate in slightly different ways.
  • A new navigation group has been added to the front page [see above]. This will eliminate the need to scroll the full length of the page to get to the news, suggested articles, or even the commentary which has been included.
  • We will continue to monitor changes, even though extensive checking has been done, to ensure the whole of the site is as accurately presented as intended.

No single aspect of education grabbed the news by the throat and demanded to be discussed over a lengthy period of time over the last month or so. A broad spectrum of issues appeared and then were gradually replaced by other items from other educational areas. There are probably other issues readers may consider more worthy of inclusion than those mentioned below. We regret we are simply unable to cover everything, much as we might like to. We hope what has been included either opens up new areas or continue clarifying those about which you may have only a limited knowledge.

However, there was ...

Universities
Concerns emerged [or re-surfaced] about the effectiveness of university study, especially in relation to employment and value to business. Not everyone was of the same view. Business representatives and universities certainly were not. Employers say schools are failing to prepare students for employment was a related, earlier commentary. This was later followed up by others including University degrees are failing to deliver for business and Students and employers question the value of university degrees.

The reverse was shown in an opinion piece by Peter van Onselen, Unis get a High Distinction, Mr Willox. Along the same lines, even Kevin Donnelly weighed in on the side of the universities in Tertiary Education is much more than Readiness for Jobs. Universities Australia replied with Graduate job outlook improves : national survey. The problem isn’t unskilled graduates, it’s a lack of full-time job opportunities and Cuts will see 10 000 potential students miss out, universities warn are later comments. It will be interesting to monitor and see if it retains its level of importance over the coming months.

Meanwhile funding remains an ongoing concern for both sides, with one side wanting cuts and the other fighting it for all they are worth. Op eds are no way to make an education policy warns UA’s Margaret Gardner is a rebuttal of the government’s planned position. This also reflected in Universities Australia attacks Coalition’s $2.2bn funding cut revealed in Myefo. Peter Shergold offers an instructive viewpoint in an article called Beware of misguided performance targets for universities. His view that much of the negative comment ‘seems a compelling story. In fact, it should be categorised under fiction’ leads into a discussion of better ways of achieving higher education. Worth reading.

More recent comments included the following. Regional unis left out in the cold and IRU’s Stirling defends demand driven system, while in the same publication, The return of unfunded undergraduate places presents a different position.

One point of view that appears to be opposite is from Andrew Norton in How can the government cap funding for Commonwealth-supported student places ?.

This is going to be an ongoing source of difficulty for both sides with continuing statement and counter-statement expected for each point of view. Perhaps for students, the best advice would be to visit sites such as QILT - Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching to find as much practical information when deciding on their chosen university course and take note of articles such as You didn’t receive an offer - what happens now ? which canvasses a number of other options if the worst happened when you received your results.

Vocational Education
This area remains the poor cousin of the education spectrum. In addition, it seems to be regarded less highly than university status, though it often offers more opportunities for employment and would cater more effectively for many young people. Financial security also appears, in many instances, to be higher than for those who opt for the university path. Certainly it could do with more positive support in all its aspects.

The negative side appears in statements such as The jobs Australians turn their noses up at. Certainly, there are areas in the vocational sector which are short of people to fill positions. The biggest problem is having people consider them. One factor may be Aggressive marketing by universities contributing to labour skills shortage : report.

In a different way, the University of Melbourne, in Reigniting Higher Education Admissions Reform, makes the point that ‘A recent study of young people’s engagement with the final year of secondary schooling in Victoria showed that young people often felt pressure to go to university’. Another example is Minority of school leavers plan on taking up apprenticeships, study finds. This thought is echoed in other commentary and is undoubtedly valid. It is rare to see the same said about Vocational Education.

Vocational Education has also suffered from funding cuts by both state and federal governments. Among numerous articles are Vocational education funding at lowest level in a decade, report says; Crippling skills shortage coming due to vocational education cuts, Business Council says; and Vocational education and training sector is still missing out on government funding : report. You should also check the first item in the Articles section below. It provides a wealth of data in this area. As well, Employment Projections strongly suggests we have to generate much more training to satisfy the needs of many increasingly important, future employment sectors.

Difficulties such as that at TAFE SA do not help. Perhaps everyone should take the time to read Shifting the Dial : Future skills and work from the Productivity Commission, which gets down to the nitty-gritty of the matter.

Is it possible ? Do we have the will and capacity to do it ? Only time will tell. The problem is there isn’t much time left before the situation may be too dire to contemplate any significant improvement within state or federal capacities and commitment.

Schools
For once, funding, while still a topic of interest is not making all the headlines. This allows air for some of the other areas within this sector. As an overview, you can find much data in School Education - Report on Government Services 2016 from the Productivity Commission. [There is also a chapter on Early Childhood Education and Care available].

Selective education for gifted and talented children has resurfaced as an area to be considered in NSW. The state already has a significant number of selective high schools of various kinds, Opportunity Classes in primary schools and a range of other programs run by individual schools. It is the selective high schools and the Opportunity Classes in primary schools which draw the most angst. Cherrypicking the best, and much tougher, even undesirable, comments are often heard [from experience as well as other sources]. The cause of this may be about to change. At the least, there is some possibility.

Mid last year, it was announced Selective entry test to be overhauled amid coaching concerns. This has now been followed up with the Minister saying we should Open up selective schools for more ‘inclusive’ education. He has indicated ‘There may be merit in opening up selective schools to local enrolments and providing more local opportunities to selective classes in comprehensive schools’.

Comments on the articles suggest there may be a level of support for such a move from the wider public. Whether the same level of support is available from those in power situations, when such schools are as popular as they are, means the Minister may well have some work on his hands.

Two commentary pieces are worth reading. Selecting the right path for gifted students [Jae Yup Jared Yung] is one. The other is Selective school decisions coming back to haunt us [Chris Bonnor, Christina Ho]. There is a lot of sensible thought between both of these.

Something totally different. Some places in the world require postgraduate qualifications to hold executive and senior executive positions in schools. Teachers should study postgraduate degree before joining workforce, Australian Education Union says goes way beyond that. There may or may not be value to the suggestion. It was part of their submission to the federal government review chaired by David Gonski. What do you think ?

Again, something different. While results in international and even national testing are generally stagnant at best, we seem to be well ahead of the game in other areas. Australian students among world’s top performers with this surprising skill indicates we do well when working collaboratively in problem-solving, even if we are not particularly high achievers as a group in that specific area. This is the first time the PISA testing process has measured this skill, so we need to ensure we maintain this standard, or even improve on it in the future. Well done, all the same.

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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. All items are Australian in origin. Follow each link that piques your particular interests.

Expenditure on education and training in Australia 2017
‘Mitchell Institute’s education expenditure series provides a national picture of expenditure across each stage of learning - from the early years, through to school and tertiary education’.

Free Speech On Campus Audit 2017
This ‘is a systematic analysis of over 165 policies and actions at Australia’s 42 universities. The Audit rates each university’s support for free speech through analysis of policies and actions that limit the diversity of ideas on campus’.

Are we sifting and sorting our children - ...
And then scattering them among too many schools ? There are plenty of commentators on Education, but one of the best is Lindsay Connors. As she says ‘I have set down in this informal paper some speculative thoughts I have been having recently in the context of widespread and growing concern about Australia’s stagnating and even declining levels of school performance both relative to other countries and measured against our own national data. There is an urgent need for us to identify the reasons for this situation’. What do you think of her thoughts ?

Towards an adaptive education system in Australia
‘Australia’s school education system is not fit for purpose, and we need to rethink the way we teach students, support teachers and run schools. Despite individual bright spots, overall student performance is declining in international tests, and an unacceptably high number of our students are not ready for life after school. Australian school education faces three major challenges: improving student learning in core academic areas; better preparing young people for adult life; and closing the gap between the nation’s educational have and have-nots. The only way to tackle all these challenges at once is to make our education system more adaptive’. Grattan Institute.

Finding the truth in the apprenticeships debate
Peter Noonan, Sarah Pilcher. ‘This report debunks some high profile claims of Australia experiencing an apprenticeship crisis and shows that in some cases, apprenticeship commencements are growing’.

Transforming education through technology : Vision vs Reality
We hear about the value and innovation generated by education technology all the time. This short piece takes a realistic look at the situation. The question they pose is - ‘Look into the average school around Australia and what really is happening’?

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