AUSSIE EDUCATOR

There is no teacher who can teach a child who does not want to learn.. Dr Ragnar Purje

As is usual, there are plenty of topics being covered in press items with a specific link to education. In fact, there are often too many to even try listing them here. Some fall within specific topic areas. Some are linked with a specific school, system or area within a specific state or territory. Others cover an individual state or territory. Then come the dominant topics, those which have a national impact.

Again there are a number to choose from among these. The ATAR [of course], teachers - especially for rural and remote areas, potential teacher salaries [linked with the previous point as well], the fate of the Education Investment Fund, the teaching [or not] of Australian literature and history, NAPLAN [still], mental health and wellbeing, the Coaldrake Review, and ... .

We could probably add several more that are worthy of further conversation which hopefully will achieve this in other venues. Of the above, two have been selected with some thought and links to research and other media provided below.

  • “Review of the Higher Education Provider Category Standards” does not exactly leap out and give an impression of being all that important. What’s in a name ? - is probably a good question to be asked, not just about this report, but also about the thrust of the report. Probably the author’s name [Peter Coaldrake] and reputation and a reasonably attentive response from a number of sources might be an indicator it is more important than the name might suggest.
  • If you want to read a copy [and a number of related documents], you can access and download each here. You can also find a range of comments from Campus Morning Mail [also here], ITECA, Universities Australia, Mirage News, The Sydney Morning Herald, University World News and more.
  • The major point is that “The Review recommends the simplification and re-balancing of the current categories of higher education providers”. What does this actually mean though ? Straight to the author’s own statement - “While universities will continue to predominate higher education enrolments, much of the jobs and skills growth over the coming years will occur in areas spanning university, broader higher and professional education, and the vocational sector”.
  • He then goes on to make 10 specific recommendations. Among these are a simplification of the categories - down from 6 to 4; a clear statement that “Along with teaching, the undertaking of research is, and should remain, a defining feature of what it means to be a university in Australia” plus several others, sometimes relating back to these but also connecting to regulation processes and the need for certainty and clarity.
  • Responses from The Minister and, for example, the University sector and ITECA [see above] do not suggest major concern. It will be interesting to watch responses from any other groups over the next short period.
  • Of course, the major factor will be the acceptance, in part or whole, by the government, but this is also something we have to wait upon [“the Government would consider the recommendations and respond in due course”]. The tone would, however, intimate there is no massive concern. Anyone for an Institute of Higher Education, National Institute of Higher Education, Australian University or an Overseas University in Australia ?
  • Teachers, teachers, teachers. Teachers at all levels have been in the news for some time. This has included concern over their quality, their mental health and well-being, improving their quality [whatever this means], their income, improving the qualifications of those who wish to undertake a teacher training process, and the list could go on and on.
  • The latest concern is to improve the quality of and length of tenure for teachers working in rural and remote areas [see here and also here for a separate Victorian approach]. At the same time, assurances are being provided by NSW that Rural communities won’t lose teachers as a result of the drought conditions.
  • Of course, the simplest solution provided is to throw more money at the problem either by paying teachers more [with both general, and specific, solutions such as here and here] or by providing a monetary bonus by waiving some of the HELP debt for teachers prepared to work for at least 4 years in remote areas.
  • The idea is twofold. In simple terms it is to get them there and then encourage them to remain for longer periods. It also looks at encouraging students from these areas to take up teaching. However, in the Victorian instance, it need not necessarily be a remote school but a ‘rough’ one, leading one group to pose the question - Would you work in a rough school for more money ?.
  • At the same time, there is a strong push to raise the “quality” of those training to become teachers, though not everyone sees the same process - raising the ATAR - as being the solution. Others look to a range of other factors which they believe impact the capacity of teachers and therefore their ability to raise standards of achievement by pupils. These include workloads, more time and fewer classes, not more pay, [better pay] and more “challenge”, rethinking the wider community view of teachers, developing ‘instructional specialists’ with clearly defined roles, to name a few.
  • In addition, while initial salaries are quite good and the OECD suggests Australian teachers are comparatively well paid, there are indicators suggesting it goes down in comparison later in people’s careers [see here for example] while many others think fewer casual positions and less out-of-hours work could help retain early career teachers [also see here]. The loss rate in the first few years is quite significant and will undoubtedly include higher achieving people.
  • In addition to some of the above, there has been an interesting series of opinion pieces reflecting multiple points of view. These include Teaching in Australia doesn’t need any more high-achievers [or do we really want people attracted to the profession because it pays well ?], Teachers explore the challenges to inspire more students to teach, Why our best and brightest don’t teach, even this fascinating piece from The Age.
  • Which then leads us to the question of what we can actually do that will achieve the stated intent of the aim to raise standards [quality, achievement, ... ]. One thing is essential, Teachers should not feel threatened by a push for higher standards. There are enough existing difficulties/problems to handle without adding more, so whatever is decided upon should not raise the pressure and potential angst.
  • The one certainty is that there is no single simple solution. A whole group of changes will be necessary but as a co-ordinated whole rather then competing counter claims. A number will require funding and could include salaries [all aspects of these], specialist [expert] roles for high-quality staff, a decline in the number of demands beyond the core functions essential for quality teaching and achievement, increased professional support, concerted action to raise the status of teaching as a profession and, for rural and remote as well as other demanding areas, strong encouragement for people to try them.
  • Full-time positions, possibly some financial incentive, increased professional and other support may actually help people understand such positions are not the worst thing that can happen. Yes, there will be new demands, but there will also be rewards and will likely leave some of the best memories of their careers. Many may come to the conclusion they do not want to move on. Others will, of course, as external factors impact their decision to stay or go. Such decisions will benefit those who stay, the schools they staff and the students and families they work with.
  • Much will depend on the willingness to consider more than the glaringly obvious and/or easiest and to balance the spectrum of skills required of a teacher so that a combination of capacity, commitment, empathy plus time and support are used to attain the goal being sought.
  • Further to the role of teachers. If you are willing to be involved in a research project about teachers, you have an opportunity to do so. The University of Southern Queensland is conducting a study called the Emotional Experiences of Australian Teachers. The study aims to provide insights that inform teacher education as well as policy in the teaching profession. Currently, not enough is understood about how to prepare teachers emotionally for the profession through formal teacher education. This project is being conducted in parallel with similar research in four other countries.
  • The project involves an approximately 1.5 hour interview [including a 20 minute survey] at a location that is convenient for you. If you are interested in added information and/or being involved you can find more informaton at this link.
  • Please do not hesitate to get in touch with any of the Australian members of the research team [names and email addresses follow], and we will send you more information so that you can let us know if you would like to take part - Dr Nick Kelly : nick.kelly@qut.edu.au ; Prof. Patrick Danaher : Patrick.Danaher@usq.edu.au ; Prof. Bobby Harreveld : b.harreveld@usq.edu.au ; Dr Karen Peel : Karen.Peel@usq.edu.au ; Dr Debbie Mulligan : dmull02@gmail.com.
  • This project has received ethics approval from the University of Southern Queensland Human Research Ethics Committee [H18REA161].

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There seems to be an unending supply of documents being produced about all aspects of education. It proves difficult at times to select only a few for inclusion [‘Life wasn’t meant to be easy’]. Several recent items are listed below that are felt to 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 the links that pique your particular interest.

Solving wicked problems
Fiona Mueller really gets to the point in this short article. As she so clearly suggests - ‘A fragmented, piecemeal approach to education policy reform almost guarantees that nothing will improve. It’s a wicked problem, indeed’. One only hopes someone in power realises the truth of what she is saying, but perhaps that is expecting too much.

Achieving Our Educational Goals : A Declaration for System Transformation
A Melbourne Declaration for System Transformation. ‘ There is widespread agreement about the importance of education. An updated and future-focused declaration is a good starting point towards a genuine national conversation on education, what we need to focus on and how we are going to get there’. Interesting thoughts from Zoran Endekov and Jen Jackson at the Mitchell Institute.

Fit for purpose ? Reforming Tertiary Education in Australia
‘This paper reviews the basis upon which tertiary education is constructed in Australia. A proposition is advanced that in any reform of tertiary education, the starting point has to be at the upper secondary level. A number of issues are explored in regard to the advantages and barriers to the proposed reform. The view that has been put forward is as far as possible, based on what seems to be successful interventions internationally’.

Future of the Classroom
‘Today’s classrooms must prepare students for careers and challenges that don’t yet exist. To better understand these changes, Google for Education partnered with a global team of researchers and analysts to examine evidence-based shifts in classroom education. Here’s a look at research-based trends to watch and resources to help your school prepare students for what’s next’.

Making micro-credentials work for learners, employers and providers
‘In the digital economy where ongoing upskilling is required for the future of work, micro-credentials and other forms of non-formal learning are rapidly emerging and making the landscape ever more complex, for learners, employers and providers. This report offers some recommended immediate next steps, making micro-credentials work — or work better’.

Peer Pressures
Sub-titled Myths about teachers’ pay are derailing the Australian debate. In recent times there have been numerous indicators about teachers’ pay. This relatively short article by Julie Sonnemann and Jonathan Nolan, looks at the impact of this. As they say, ‘The right way to look at teachers’ pay is to ask whether it is high enough to attract the people we want and need into teaching. In Australia the answer is no’. Well worth reading.


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