BEWARE ADDICTION TO ONLINE GAMING

Technology has introduced cyberspace to young people in a way that both helps and hinders. It offers advantages and benefits that support and assist in their studies. However, there are downsides that can have a deleterious effect on their minds and lives.

One of the major digital age drawbacks is the savage impact social media has on lives through cyber bullying. Another downside is the temptation to complete assignments through cutting, pasting and plagiarising from online sources.

One of the more sinister impacts of the online age, is its ability to disrupt and change the behaviour of users. Young people can be influenced to alter their thinking about things important to their future life. Some of these changes are little short of bizarre.

“Australian children as young as seven … are launching aggressive attacks on their parents, lying to get out of school and avoiding family holidays to play Fortnite marathons, as the video game recruits a new generation of underage players.” (Jennifer Dudley-Nicholson, Kids in video game crisis, Sunday Territorian, 26 May 2019)

The author adds “Education and neuroscience experts warn excessive and premature use of (video games) is leading to a ballooning crisis for Australian families, … now checking their children into dedicated rehabilitation centres to wean them off screens and reintegrate them into social, family and school life.” (Op.cit)

This is an issue that has been looming for some time. Experts have cautioned against children of tender years being allowed uncontrolled access to gaming applications. However it seems their advice has largely been ignored.

There are others claiming to be experts who maintain that ‘games are just games’ and do not alter the perceptions of young people about the realities of life.

If a significant number of children and adolescents are so preoccupied with gaming that nothing else matters, then addiction is a real issue. Fortnite, one of the major online games is not recommended for player under 13 years of age.

It is influencing far younger children. The article quotes neuroscience communicator Jill Sweatmen who is concerned that this particular game is attracting children who at 7 or 8 years of age are too young and mentally unprepared to handle its content. “There are short term consequences and significant long term consequences to this.” (Op cit)

Parents need to be on guard and absolutely aware of the sites their children visit and the online games that can be so absorbing. Schools play their part, but awareness, education and the shaping of young attitudes has to start in the home. This issue cannot be ignored.

BULLYING IS ALL TOO COMMONPLACE

The consequences of bullying behaviour have played out in the saddest possible way. The passing of Amy Everett, a 14 year old girl from Katherine, again highlighted an issue that continues to press upon modern society. In Australia, suicide is the major cause of death for children between the ages of 5 and 14. While there may be a number of factors contributing to this sad loss of young lives, bullying and harassment, has without doubt, become the number one contributor.

The online access people have can encourage bullying. While face-to-face bullying has been a traditional tactic of harassment, the coming of cyberspace communication has added an exponential element to the problem. Bullying, much of it sharp, vicious and aiming for maximum hurt, has become a 24/7 occupation. Keyboard bullies can get at anyone, anywhere and at any time.

Amy Everitt’s passing is the most recent case of a phenomenon that is ending the life from far too many people, especially young people. And it is happening all too often.

The ‘Courier Mail’, in covering the Amy Everett story (January 11) intimated that online bullying can be taking place without parents having a real understanding of what might be happening. Clearly there is a need for children and young people to be protected from online savagery. The following sound advice was offered to parents and those responsible for children.

“ 1. Regularly talk with them (children) about technology and their online activity.

2. Put filters in place and set security levels to high restrictions.

3. Make sure their passwords are changed regularly and kept private even from friends.

4. Many children don’t want to talk about online bullying for fear they will have their social media access taken away. Assure them this won’t happen.” (Courier Mail April 11, 2018)

Many very young children have access to social media platforms and can be reached by unscrupulous persons. Michael Carr-Gregg an eminent child psychologist, believes that 60% to 70% of primary school aged children are on social media and this should be discouraged.

It is suggested that social media companies should not allow children under the age of 12 to use their platforms and this should be enforced.

Children, along with everyone else, can and should be encouraged to eliminate vicious and hurtful online bullying. Young people should be taught to bar access to their accounts by those seeking to harm them through vicious words and vile statements.

EDUCATIONAL POINTS TO PONDER

Thank you to all NT school principals retiring at the end of 2020 for your school managenent and leadership.

And at last the NT News (14/1) reveals some good news on the recruitment front. Of the 49 principal vacancies, 47 are being filled from within the Territory, with only two people appointed from interstate.

Finally, home grown leaders are being recognised, appreciated and promoted into top level leadership positions. This long overdue move deserves applause.

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I hope that as children and students begin returning to school within the next fortnight, they will not be confronted with the same challenges that distorted the 2020 academic year.

How schools, staff and students deserve plaudits for the way they coped with last year. But they don’t need to repeat in 2021.

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The one good thing about education in 2020 was the “disappearance” from the school agenda of NAPLAN tests. I can only hope that they will stay gone this year and forever. I am no fan of this testing regime. It needs to stay gone.

ARE AUSTRALIAN STUDENTS ‘REALLY’ BEHIND THE EIGHTBALL?

Media stories that highlight student mediocrity, are brought to the attention of the Australian public with predictable regularity. ‘The Australian’ has run front page stories that bagged Australian students accomplishments. Our best were described as being on par with Singapore’s least accomplished students.

According to International Student Assessment (PISA) results released in December 2016, students tested in Singapore ranked first in science, reading and maths results for OECD countries. Among these countries, Australian students ranked 14th in science, 16th in reading and a lowly 25th in mathematics.

Comparing Australian with Singaporean students is fallacious. Singapore is an island state of 5.6 million, and the country’s prime focus is on commerce and finance. It is a country that controls the civil and political rights of people and is governed by a semi authoritarian regime.

Australia’s vastness, the fact that education is largely state and territory controlled and our multicultural nature are factors that make us different to Singapore. Singapore’s republic has a centrally administered and tightly controlled educational system. The focus on education is influenced by expectations that graduates will continue to build and expand the industrial, commercial and financial focus of the country. Personal choice and career options are more directly influenced by government and the education system than in Australia.

There are many more occupational choices on offer to Australian students than is the case in Singapore and many other OECD countries. Vocational opportunities within the agricultural and pastoral industry are not options for many in small, densely populated overseas countries, so competence in these occupations is not measured.

The fact that our students are encouraged to think freely and make decisions about their occupational futures is also a plus.

There are weaknesses in every educational system. Australian parents and teachers encourage children to make the most of education and school, but career decisions ultimately belong to students. And study aside, there is a focus on personal and social development and recreational opportunities.

Students in Singapore and other OECD countries are academically focussed on what seems to be a full time, whole of life basis. And all for a few extra PISA points. That is not the developmental balance we need for Australian students. By and large, Australian education meets the holistic needs of our students and generally does it well.

THE ‘B.Y.O.D AGE’ IS UPON US

For many years, schools have been supported by Government in the acquisition of technological equipment. For many years the NT Government has provided hardware equipment and software programs supporting schools, teachers and students. In the NT, one of the most notable programs has been the allocation of laptop computers for teachers. Units are signed out to teachers and retained by them on transfer from one school to another.

Computers remain the property of the Department, with resigning or retiring staff having to return units to their school. Units are then re-issued to new staff members appointed to the school. Laptops have been maintained by the Department under leasing warranty and replaced by upgraded models after a period of years.

Computers issued to schools for student use have been allocated under a similar program. When hardware has been replaced, schools have had the option of keeping redundant equipment and also assuming future maintenance costs.

Costs of school computerisation has been a number one outlay for both the government and schools themselves. Included for schools have been outlays for licensing agreements and network establishment. Increasingly, school council fundraising has also been directed toward supporting technology in schools. It seems that budgetary requirements for technology and technological support can never be satisfied.

Rapid change

The pace of technological change means that equipment purchased for schools is outdated almost as soon as it is installed. Update needs are constant, impacting significantly on budgets. At the same time, government funding of computer needs is becoming less generous. This is placing funding onus more squarely on schools. Without doubt, technology is the most significant item impacting on educational costs. The question of affordability and the need to balance income and expenditure is pressing schools into the ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) era.

BYOD

Bring your own device is a requirement in a growing number of schools, both public and private in southern states. The approach is also creeping into Northern Territory schools. “The BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) program works like this: Kids in all year levels are free to bring in their own iPads to use in the classroom. … Parents buy the devices, kids take them to and from school, and everyone hopes like hell they end the day with screens intact.” (Kate Hunter ‘When a free education costs $650’ from Mummamia.com.au)

William Cohen a Sydney Secondary Education Teacher says this new approach is challenging. “Unfortunately, the switch to student-owned technology is not going to be a simple one. Leaving aside the equity issues that underlie a BYOD model … the options are so varied that some schools are now creating documents that give minimum device specifications.” (William Cohen ‘BYOD … Buyers Guide To Schools’, abc.net.au)

Whether we like it or not, BYOD is becoming the new way forward. Painful budget cuts and the need to carefully prioritise expenditure, will make this the only option available for many schools. BYOD may only be the start. As funding becomes even more scarce, parents and families may be increasingly called upon to make up the difference.

CHILDREN NEED EXPERIENCE WITH ‘REAL’ MONEY

In our increasingly cashless society there is a distinct danger that children will grow up without understanding the value and worth on money. It was recently reported that 81% of business transactions are now completed online or by card. Only 19% of transactions involve hard currency. With coins and notes disappearing from purses and wallets, the value of money is becoming abstract and without real meaning.

Writing in the Sunday Territorian (August 19 2018) Sophie Elsworth warned that children are losing ‘the sense of cash’. Our card focussed culture is eroding their understanding of money and finances.

Elseworth’s column cites a recent Financial Planning Association report. “The report … quizzed 1000 Australian parents with children aged between 4 and 18. … A majority of parents (66%) concede electronic transactions are a massive barrier for children grasping the true value of money. It … showed 68% of parents were reluctant to speak to their kids about cash.”

Parents have an important part to play in helping their children overcome ignorance about money. The article suggests that giving children pocket money “… makes it a lot easier for parents to discuss and teach their kids about money. … The truly important thing is to teach kids about the ‘value’ of money.”

Giving children pocket money and encouraging them to save some of it, initially in money boxes and then by banking into a savings account can help. With that should come conversations about the reason for saving. There is a paradox to parental responsibility in this matter. Elseworth wrote the FPA report “ … showed 38% of parents admitted to borrowing money from their child’s piggy bank or bank account to pay for urgent expenses.” That does not set a good example on money management.

Although children should have been introduced to money at home, schools have a part to play in extending their awareness about the value of money.

Educators often state that children learn best when their initial experiences involve the use of concrete objects.Their understanding is reinforced if they can use and handle the materials being discussed. The Australian Curriculum requires that “ … students learn about the nature … and value of money.” (ACARA Mathematics overview). Children start with simple experiences which include them handling money and understanding it in a very basic way. More complex matters are presented as students move up the grades through their schooling years.

Elseworth advises of caution offered to parents (and teachers) by Tribeca Financials Chief Executive Officer Ryan Watson. He urged that young people be taught that “credit cards are the devil”. This may be a little extreme but cards need to be managed carefully and sensibly.

AM I A SIMPLETON OR SIMPLY MISSING SOME POINT?

Maybe I am a simpleton or just not able to understand understandable issues. Can someone please help me understand the matters I find so confusing. They are not in any particular order of confusion but all are hard for me to understand.

I need educating.

. Why is it that the more and more Australians repatriated from overseas, the more abd more there are on waiting lists wanting to return? Australian families – airlines estimate close to 100,000 people may be waiting to return. How come when so many are already back?

. Why have more than 16,000 Australians been granted exemptions to go overseas since the government embargoed overseas travel in March/April 2020?

. Why are repatriated Australians being quarantined in hotels in the centre of cities in all places but the NT?

. Why are deterrent Covid behaviours suggested rather than being mandated?

. Why do authorities act in a way that makes them beholden to fixing up the issues that people have gotten themselves into through their own behaviour and actions – often indulged counter to the advice of authorities?

. Why are people so frenetic about travel and holidays when this flies in the face of the common sense we should all be exercising?

IN 2014, INDIGENOUS EDUCATION WAS ON THE UP

On November 28 2014, one of the best ever conferences on Indigenous Education was held at the Darwin Convention Centre. It had to do with Indigenous Leadership in schools and the contribution being made to education by Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Staff.

Over 200 people, the majority being Indigenous Australians attended the conference. Fifty organisations, mostly school representatives from government and private schools were involved. While those attending were from all over Australia, there was a strong focus on Northern Territory schools and NT educational outcomes.

The conference was organised by the Centre for School Leadership at Charles Darwin University and the Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledge and Education. Conference highlights included demonstrations of indigenous cultural learning by students from Wagaman Primary and Sanderson Middle Schools. The conference put to bed some myths that have been part of societal thinking for a long time.

The commonly held belief is that nothing happens and no progress is being made in rural and remote schools. Indigenous education is equated with truancy issues and programs constantly thwarted by chronic teacher turnover.

There are over 100 remote schools in the NT and by no means do they all deserve the ‘too hard’ tag. For instance, Elliot School 750 kilometres south of Darwin has close to 90% school attendance. The principal has been at the school for 4 years and all classroom teachers from this year will be staying on in 2015. The conference confirmed that other remote schools are improving in these areas.

Several presenters attested that Indigenous educational success and progress in our remote and urban schools depends on relationships between Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal staff. If they work ‘together as one’ students respond positively to learning opportunities. Of course care and empathy needs to be inclusive of students. Successful schools also engage with community.

Those successful and progressive schools identified during the conference have high standards and expectations. They engage with and support students toward positive personal attainment. Importantly, there is no disconnection between staff and students.

More than NAP

Our educational system tends to accept that the National Assessment Program (NAP) is the only yardstick by which educational success can be measured. That is because the Federal Government says so. Friday’s conference confirmed that there is much more to building student confidence and competence than NAP alone. Care and commitment go far deeper than preparing students for formal testing. Had senior departmental people and politicans attended the conference, they would have found this to be the case.

In the NT, 44% of our students are indigenous. More and more of them attend urban schools and they are the backbone of rural and remote schools. The conference confirmed Indigenous education is working and delivering outcomes, largely because of relationships building between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous staff. Relations between staff, students and community are also helping to build positive educational results. The conference was one of substance and uplift.

Time has moved on but key issues remain. We ought to watch with interest for further growth, development and educational fulfilment in this area.

SCHOOL ATMOSPHERE IS PRECIOUS BUT FRAGILE

Schools are perhaps the most scrutinised of all institutions. Teachers and staff are always under a magnifying glass held by parents, members of the community, employers, social welfare groups and government departments. Examination of schools and teachers by registration boards and performance management units is constant. Processes by which schools and staff administer education are being constantly updated and applied. Curriculum priorities are forever being altered. ‘Compliance’ and ‘accountability’ seem to be the most important key words within school action and teacher performance plans.

Government demands are poured upon educators. Expectations, many of them constantly changing, cascade upon schools like torrential rain. These pressures can become quite destabilising.

This is especially the case in situations where principals and leadership teams feel that everything demanded of schools by the system (and of the system in turn by Government), has to be instantly grasped and wedged into practice. Knee jerk reactions cause inner disquiet for staff who are often reluctant to change practices without justification, but are pressured to make and justify those changes anyway.

Before change is put into place, school staff, council and community members should have the chance to fully understand new policy and direction. ‘Making haste slowly’ is wise but difficult when government gives little time for response.

Constant change in educational direction does little to positively enhance the way those working within schools feel about what they are doing. Staff become ‘focussed by worry’. Is what they are doing, good enough? Teachers may maintain brave faces but beneath the surface suffer from self doubt. This in turn leads to discontent and unhappiness.

Positive Atmosphere A Must

It is essential that school principals and leadership teams offer reassurance and build confidence within their teaching and support staff groups. This does not mean lowering standards, but acknowledging and appreciating staff effort. Making that appreciation public can help through sharing the efforts of teachers with the wider community.

Well-being cannot be bought as a material resource. Neither can it be lassoed, harnessed or tied down. The ‘feel’ of a school is an intangible quality that generates from within. It is a product of the professional relationships developed by those within the organisation. School atmosphere, which grows from the tone and harmony within is precious. That feeling can also be lost if positive recognition and appreciation of staff is discounted or not considered important.

It is up to Principals and leadership teams to ensure that positive atmosphere, precious yet fragile, is built and maintained. It is easy to lose the feeling of positivism, so necessary if an organisation is to grow and thrive on the basis of its human spirit.

I recommend the wisdom of building spirit within our schools. It will add to feelings of staff satisfaction and well-being. Stability and happiness within school workplaces, embracing staff, students and community, will be the end result.

EDUCATIONAL POINTS TO PONDER

Clearly, there needs to be a stringent examination of the financial accounting processes that have operated at the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education (BIITE).

It may be wise to draw a line under tenuous operational processes and start afresh. What has happened historically seems to have muddied the waters, making it hard for the Institute to get a firm grip on future directions. Going forward, there MUST be full financial accountability based on clear accounting processes.

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Matters surrounding the Remote Aboriginal Teacher Education (RATE) program (NT News 4/1) are somewhat unclear. The program described as ‘groundbreaking’ ran in the 1980’s and 90’s, helping qualify Indigenous staff to work as teachers in classrooms.

If the program was so successful, why was it then dropped for the best part of 25 years and is only now being reinstated? This is a question that deserves a response from the NT Education Department.

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It’s time for Australian Universities to put off the crawl to overseas students for the sake of dollars.

To regard students as cash cows and to count them as money bags rather than considering them as people is so wrong. Nor are our domestic students second class citizens.