“SUNS” COLUMNS 29 – 32 ON EDUCATIONAL MATTERS

These columns were written for the Suns Newspapers (Darwin, Palmerston, Litchfield) in February and March 2014. Readers re welcome to use and quote but i would appreciate acknowledgement of the Suns, in which papers they were published.
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SUNS 29

THE WILSON REPORT -PROPOSING NEW DIRECTIONS

February 7 2014. was a significant day in Northern Territory Educational history. Last Friday the Draft Wilson Report titled ‘Indigenous Education in the Northern Territory’ was released. Importantly, this report is in “draft” form for a month and during that time feedback can be offered. The report maps what might well become the future way for Indigenous Education in the Northern Territory.

Access

The report can be viewed online at education.nt.gov.au the Department of Education website. A link on the left-hand side of the homepage ‘Indigenous Education Review’ goes to the report. A summary is offered along with links enabling the report to be downloaded by chapter or in full.

Many reports on Aboriginal Education have been prepared over the years. In my opinion this is the most significant since the Shimpo Report “A Social Process of Aboriginal Education”in 1976.

Nothing ever happened with the Shimpo Report! It was shelved to gather dust. I sincerely hope that will not be the fate of the Wilson Report, for it is (as Shimpo) a very significant statement.

Three Key Points

Three significant points growing from the report resonate :
* A recommendation for a major make-over in offering secondary education.
* A proposal to extinguish the bilingual approach to literacy teaching.
* A reaffirmation of the critical importance of child development and early years education.

The Indigenous Education Review

The Wilson Report confirms that indigenous children in remote and very remote places in the Territory do a whole lot worse educationally than indigenous children in similar places elsewhere in Australia. Interestingly, non- indigenous children in the remote and very remote areas of the NT are significantly higher level achievers in literacy and numeracy than their counterparts throughout the rest of Australia. (Report, page 33). This may be due in part to the great service offered by the Northern Territory Open Education Centre (NTOEC) and Katherine/ Alice Springs Schools of the Air, coupled with dedicated parental home-tutoring.

Report Elements

There are 37 recommendations for change in the report. Key areas covered by recommendations (lifted from powerpoint presentation text) follow.

1. Treat ‘bush’ and ‘town’ schools differently.
2. Develop a 10-year strategic plan for indigenous education.
3. Strengthen Families as First Teachers and preschools and focus on English.
4. Require bush primary schools to teach the foundations of English literacy.
5. Provide secondary education in towns, with residential accomodation for children.
6. Attendance focus on primary children and those attending three days a week.
7. Whole system approach to behaviour management and student well-being.

Other key points focus on developing community education plans, increasing indigenous teacher numbers and quality, and developing long term funding agreements with government.

The report is 161 pages long. Its thirteen chapters are supported by graphs and tables. Several appendices round out the document.

Draft Status

It is important to note that the report is in draft form. The website shows how the public can respond with comment and suggestion until Sunday March 9.

A series of public meetings have been programmed. Bruce Wilson the report’s creator, along with departmental officers will be at each meeting to discuss the report, field comments and answer questions. The Darwin/Palmerston meeting is scheduled for Wednesday February 26 2014. The venue will be the Brolga Room at the Novotel Atrium Hotel, The Esplanade in Darwin. The meeting will be from 5:00 pm until 7:00 pm.

This is a very significant report. I would encourage people to read it, make submissions and attend the advertised meeting. It is especially important in my opinion that Indigenous Australians join in offering responses, attending the meeting and sharing their viewpoints.

This is a report we cannot afford to ignore

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SUNS 30

SWIMMING – A PROGRAM THAT SHOULD NOT BE VEXATIOUS

For reasons somewhat beyond ordinary comprehension, the issue of swimming lessons connected with the school curriculum has always been vexatious. Last week, Mrs Daphne Reed, president of the Darwin Royal Lifesaving Society confirmed this aspect of
swimming and water safely to be part of NT School Curriculum. She also confirmed that the program can be met through children being taken through ‘aquatic skills’ theory without practical lessons at the pool. It seems ludicrous to suggest that an important educational and safety need can be met without children so much as putting a toe in the water of a swimming pool.

In 2012, the Royal Lifesaving Society was reported to be launching an Australia-wide petition aimed toward swimming lessons and aquatic awareness being compulsory for all primary aged children. At that time Royal Lifesaving claimed only 4% of NT primary children could swim 50 metres or more. (David Wood, “Diving in to make kids waterproof”, NT News, October 23, 2012) I doubt there has been much of an improvement on that statistic.

There are many elements to the issue of teaching swimming; I believe from a school viewpoint, the following need to be taken into account.

* There ought to be a pre-supposition that school children are water confident. While many are, some beginning school have an absolute fear of water. That initial confidence should be instilled at home before the commencement of formal learning years and is often not the case.

* The lessons organised by schools have to take into account time of day and year. The Cancer Council recommends that children should not swim during the heat of the day. However terms two and three (the coolest periods of the year) are often considered too cold for water based lessons.

* During the weeks of swimming lessons, schools providing programs have to significantly change their normal school activities. More than the lesson, there is the getting ready (changing before and after), bus movement (to and from the pool) and counselling children about their application of sunscreen.

Horrendous Costs

One school located less than 3 km from the pool had to budget $14,000 in 2011 for transition to year three children to receive eight lessons over a fortnightly period. Bus transportation was a breathtaking cost item. The eight days of lessons involved four trips (two classes per trip) to and from the pool each day, a total of 64 bus movements from school to pool to school over the period. The cost for bus hire for the fortnight was over $5000, the rest related to other costs outlined.

Schools have limited capacity to fund swimming. Parents of children (certainly in the public school sector) generally contribute significantly. There can be issues of affordability. This means in some situations schools sponsor these children.

Permission

A significant number of children are not given parental permission to participate in swimming programs. When the issue is one of financial hardship for parents, schools do assist. When permission is declined by parents for other reasons, schools can do nothing other than make alternative arrangements for these children.

Swimming and water safety skills are necessities in today’s world. All children should have the chance to gain confidence in and enjoyment from water.

Government needs to come to the party in terms of cost contribution. If bussing costs were fully covered by grant, this would alleviate a significant portion of the program’s cost. This is not an issue schools can ‘fix’ by being hand-balled the problem. To be fully effective the program needs to involve all children. Providing swimming development is more than a school consideration. It is a system matter and should be a government priority.

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SUNS 31

THE BRINGING UP OF CHILDREN

The upbringing of children starts the day they are born. It has been stated that the first seven years of a child’s life are the most important. It is during this prime time that formation of attitudes and the shaping of children toward their ultimate destiny takes place. The Bible states “train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). That is very true and often overlooked.

Recently there was an interview on radio involving a parent and her three-year-old child. The journalist asked the child certain questions, to which he responded by making “farting” noises. When re-questioned, the child persisted with that response. Both parent and reporter laughed at what the child was doing. At the end of the interview the reporter made comment which indicated that the child’s response was somehow cute and quite alright.

If the same reporter and parent had been involved with the child when he was nine or 10, and if the child gave that response, it would have been greatly frowned upon as inappropriate and rude, not cute and becoming.

There is a tendency to overlook the needs young children have, when it comes to their upbringing. Telling children to use words “please” and “thank you” becomes constant and repetitious – so often it’s not done! Similarly, “excuse me” is not insisted upon, with young and older children simply pushing in to gain attention. If something doesn’t suit a child he or she will cry, throw tantrums, hit the adult, or react in a negative manner. Often this behaviour is not corrected and the child is allowed to persist with such reaction. Sometimes the child’s tantrums are responded to by the parent or adult giving in, letting the child have what he or she wants.

These allowances or indulgences simply concrete into young children the idea that demanding, selfish and intolerant behaviour is fine. As the child grows older and transitions toward young adulthood, those negative traits of character condoned during formative years, persist. Small wonder that young people grow up to feel comfortable as members of the ‘me’ generation, with self-centredness to the fore.

‘One Punch’ Attitudes

In recent times we have come to hear a great deal about “one punch” and “coward punch” incidents occurring within our community. Certainly alcohol and drugs Impact upon behaviour and cause people to act in an untoward and offensive manner . However, I wonder how many of these “one punch” protagonists were not corrected when very young children for exhibiting this kind of behaviour. Attitudes toward the use of alcohol and drugs are also formulated in the thinking of children as part of awareness they are offered during their formative years. Part of this comes from within schools but the social attitudes and values becoming a part of children’s make-up should largely be developed on the home front.

Partnerships

A great deal is talked about the partnership that exists between school and home when it comes to the upbringing of children. Children need to be part of that partnership from a very young age. They need to contribute to their own upbringing responding to the support and the advice given by parents and teachers. However, if adults don’t provide advice, they are not supporting children. Guidance is important. Children cannot be brought up by osmosis!

Precepts, principles and practices of good living need to be imparted by advice and modelling to children. If this support is not forthcoming, children are left to drift toward adulthood. Left to drift, children will become wayward and lost adults.

Key Task

The preparation of today’s children is of critical importance. We need to feel satisfaction and joy in the development of our youth. A great deal of breast-beating takes place when things go wrong for children, adolescents and young adults. How much of that happens because they have ‘switched off’ to growing up responsibly. And how much of their non caring attitudes grow from lack of empathy and care from adults who should support them? Home, school and young people themselves need to share the upbringing challenge.

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SUNS 32

SCHOOL CANTEENS – DELIVERING THE BEST FOR STUDENTS

A great deal is made of the need for children to be brought up on healthy, body building foods. The need for canteens to offer nutritious and balanced food and drink alternatives came to the fore in the late 1990’s. Until that point in time, very little was imposed by the Department. Neither it seems, was there a sustained interest in canteen food and nutrition by the community.

Historically, school canteens have operated in one of two ways:

* School councils have supplied premises on a leased basis to private operators, who look after day-to-day management. This includes the stocking of product and service to students. The lease is generally for a fixed period at an agreed lease price. School councils may charge extra for power and water used, or this may be built into the main lease agreement.

* School councils operate their canteens as small business enterprises, employing staff to carry out supply and service. They are responsible for canteen staff salaries and on-costs. Any profit from sales is returned to the school council as revenue raised.

With a growing awareness of lifestyle and health issues associated with food and drink, came changes to school canteen policies in the NT. Fears of children and adolescents expanding into overweight and unfit adults prompted the department to issue guidelines about what could be sold to students. Outlawed were soft drinks (high sugar content) and artificially flavoured milk products. Full milk was discouraged because of high fat content. Certain foods, including pies, were banned from sale for at least one day per week.

Action and Reaction

Initially, some schools were resentful that the department was getting into the issue of survelliance through the eyes of ‘food police’, departmental personnel with a background in health awareness. Some already doing the right thing by monitoring of the products sold, felt affronted. Others were concerned that profits, generally modest, would take a tumble. There was a great deal of angst and concern about the department shoehorning into the schools’ domain.

To their credit, the department’s health education officers offered guidance and support in a positive and non-confrontational manner. A great deal of research translated into guidelines showing schools how best they might meet requirements without compromising the business side of canteen operations. Support included regional meetings with principals, school council representatives and canteen managers. Visits to schools helped with understanding and interpretive requirements.

In 2014, the healthy food and drink policy for school canteens has become ingrained. Support can be sought by way of advisory visits. Additionally, there are suggestions on the Department of Education’s website under ‘food’ (search engine) that outline canteen, nutrition and healthy eating policies. Ideas for recipes are included together with suggestions on using school canteens for fundraising purposes.

Food policies in action have worked well for many school communities through revamped canteen programs. There is obviously appeal to young people about the attractiveness of fast foods through normal retail outlets. When the healthy foods policy for schools was first introduced, there was a fear canteen support would plummet. It was felt the appeal of retail fast food compared with tasteless canteen fare would negatively impact the latter. While it took a little time to adjust, school canteens for the most part are doing a great job, part of that being care about nutritional values and food understanding for students. They also continue to be operationally viable.

School canteens, in sync with health education programs, are doing their part when it comes to promoting fitter, healthier, food and drink conscious young Territorians.

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