SUNS 78 & 79 : ‘OPEN PLAN EDUCATION’ and ‘CELEBRATING STUDENTS’
These columns were published (with some editing) in the Suns in February 2015.
Readers are welcome to use material herein.
OPEN PLAN EDUCATION NEEDS CAREFUL CONSIDERATION
Care needs to be taken when new educational initiatives are being considered. Accepting change for changes sake is not always the wisest option.
One of the trends gaining momentum in both the Northern Territory and around Australia is that of Open Plan education. New schools are being constructed without interior walls. In other cases established schools are being renovated to remove interior walling, creating large open learning areas. It seems that of linear (single) classrooms are out of fashion.
Open plan schools are not new. The idea grew out of the United states and the UK during the late 1960’s and 1970’s. The model has grown and been accepted by other countries, including Australia and the Northern Territory from the mid 1970’s.
Ezra Staples an American academic in 1971 wrote that openness needed to be “… characterised by teacher approachability, relaxed informal control, ease of communication, support between teacher and student and a stimulating learning environment.” He also said that ” … providing additional space will not alone assure improved learning.” (Ezra Staples, Educational Leadership, 1971)
With open plan classrooms the emphasis is on the child learning rather than the teacher teaching. The teacher’s role is to provide resources, help children make choices about what they want to learn, ask questions to guide their interests and to comment on the work children are doing. There are many children with a number of teachers and support staff working within an expanded space. Working in an open plan system demands that staff are able to work together in a fully collaborative manner.
After 25 years of open plan education in the US, James McDonald (Organisation for Quality Education December 1997) wrote
“For classroom teachers, the open plan classroom was akin to positioning a newly-designed open cockpit of a 747 jet in the passenger compartment surrounded by 250 exuberant, noisy customers and ordering the pilot to fly the plane with patience, empathy and skill. For many children, it was a loud, chaotic, confusing nightmare. Teacher stress levels rose dramatically, mainly because of the noise, the interruptions and the confusion of housing so many children in one space. Diverse teaching styles, effective in self-contained classrooms, often proved inappropriate in this throng of lively youngsters.”
Embracing open plan education or any other approach should never be rushed. It is important that pros and cons be considered. Included should be consultation embracing staff, school council or management board and the parent community. I believe that students should also have a chance to understand and express their opinions, because change will impact upon them more than any other group. Careful planning for this or any other change will ensure that stakeholders are not taken by surprise. To introduce change in any other way can destabilise relationships within the school and community.
BOARD CELEBRATES TERRITORY STUDENTS
In February every year the Northern Territory Board of Studies recognises the accomplishments of Northern Territory Students. This years celebration was held in two stages. On February 5 a ceremony was held in Alice Springs for students attending schools in the southern region. Last Friday the Northern Division function was held in the main hall of Parliament House. Students from Darwin, Palmerston, Katherine, the rural area and throughout Arnhem Land were honoured.
The MC was BOS Chairman Mr Ralph Wiese. Students were recognised for academic, technical and vocational education success. Both private and government school students were applauded for their 2014 results.
Each recipient received a certificate and monetary reward. The top 20 Northern Territory Certificate of Education students where also recipients of trophies that will forever remind them of the hard work, dedication and commitment they devoted to their studies.
Students are recognised for subject excellence for example English, legal studies, Biology, Mathematics, and so on. Awards for vocational educational Studies recognise the universality of education and preparation of students to enter into a wide facet of occupations in the years ahead.
Two prime awards were presented on behalf of the Chief Minister.
. Most outstanding NT Certificate of education indigenous student.
. Most outstanding NT Certificate of Education student studying through distance learning.
The most outstanding NT Certificate of Education Student overall, Anna Miers, the NT’s top NTCE student was presented with her award in Alice Springs on February 5. Anna completed her studies at the Centralian Senior College.
A standout features of 2014 was that 19 of the 20 top NTCE students were educated in the public school system.
Monetary rewards conferred upon students are considerable. It’s thanks to business, industry, a number of professional associations, Charles Darwin University and the Department of Education that many thousands of prize dollars are awarded, to assist students with tertiary study or occupational training.
A highlight is the conferral of the Administrators Medal. Two medals, one for a primary and one for a junior secondary student recognise academic accomplishment, behavioural excellence and the modelling of citizenship qualities. Harrison Talbot (Clyde Fenton Primary) and Despina Sisois (Sanderson Middle) were worthy recipients of medals awarded by our Administrator the Hon John Hardy.
Three awards were presented in recognition of outstanding Territory educators taken before their time. Sally Bruyn (Year 6 science Award) Vic Czernezkyj (Mathematics excellence) and Karmi Sceney (Indigenous excellence and Leadership) have awards named in their honour. A fourth, the Ian MacGregor Rotary Award for English Studies recognises a man who was dedicated to NT service.
Along with 2014 awardees, over 1,200 other students successfully completed their year 12 studies.
Much is said and written about the wrongs committed by our young people. This ceremony confirms that the majority of our upcoming generation are on the right track to theirs and our Territory’s future.
Note: I hold observer status to the NT Board of Studies.