SUNS 84 and 85: ‘GOVERNMENT FUNDING NOT IMPARTIAL’ and ‘NAPLAN LANDS ON 2015’
Both columns published in march 2015
GOVERNMENT SUPPORT NOT EVEN HANDED
There are many organisations which call on the NT Government for financial support and recognition. Some promote the performing arts and culture. Others are connected with sporting activities. These include motor sports, horse racing, football of all codes, cricket and periodic ‘big time’ sporting fixtures. They are all given government support to bring fixtures to the NT. The latest in a long line is tennis, with the NT Government ready to give big dollars to bring the Australian – Kagiistan exchange to Darwin. The government also provides $200 per school student each year, to offset family costs for their involvement with sport.
It seems that government support is not distributed even handedly. Arts and cultural groups struggle to earn government support. That has been the case during the lives of all Territory Governments. In an almost bipartisan way, sport is enthusiastically sponsored but arts and cultural needs are neglected. Those programs supported, for example ‘Bass In The Grass’ are about spectatorship rather than development for Territorians through participative programs.
The North Australian Eisteddfod has passed into history for lack of any long term budgetary assurance. Government support for this program was from year to year at best. The Eisteddfod’s demise has taken from students the chance to participate in music, dance, instrumental, speaking, reading and choral performance.
The Beat has managed to survive and continue. However, significant changes have been necessary, the major one being venue change from the Darwin Amphitheatre to the Darwin Entertainment Centre. The reduced venue is restrictive for both performers and audience size. The amphitheatre accommodated large audiences. The venue also allowed for many more children to participate for the two nights. DEC meant smaller primary school choir groups who were able to entertain for only one night. The second night involves a different set of primary school choirs.
It is thanks to the Darwin Rotary Club, its major sponsor and underwriter, along with other private support, that the Beat has been able to survive and carry on. The Rotary Club offers scholarships to primary and secondary school Beat participants who have career prospects in the performing arts. The NT School of Music and music teachers in school deserve plaudits for their dedication to the Beat. At least the Beat is still a goer, but for how much longer?
Sport and the arts responsibilities are now vested in the same minister the Hon Gary Higgins. I would like to think the Minister could see the need for a greater level of government recognition for the performing arts. Sportspeople endure for a relatively short period of time before being overtaken by age. Those preferring the arts, if supported, will offer a return to the community that is not end dated by age.
NAPLAN: FOUR ‘MAY DAYS’ EACH YEAR
Within a few short weeks, the National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) 2015 will be upon us. At this time each year schools begin to focus with earnestness on the upcoming tests. Four school days in week five of term two are set aside for the administration of these tests. Three of the days enable attending students around Australia to complete the tests, with the fourth being a ‘catch up’ day. On that day, students who have been absent for parts of the testing week, can sit tests they have missed.
Once it’s over, staff and students should be able to relax a little. However, many school leadership teams and staff become anxious as they wait some months for results. It often seems that NAPLAN is the steering wheel that drives education.
Results are released to schools and parents. While the time between tests being taken and these results coming through has reduced, the Australia-wide analysis task means a lapse of many months.
The focus by schools and staff upon results often saturates staff meetings and professional discussions. Tests are taken by Year 3,5,7, and 9 students. However, contribution to NAPLAN testing is the responsibility of all teachers because learning is a continuous process. Principals business days with departmental leaders always have a strong focus on NAPLAN issues of testing, measurement and evaluation.
The efforts of school leaders and staff are regularly appraised and evaluated. NAPLAN Results including NAPLAN trends since 2008 are part of this program.
While NAPLAN is a measuring tool, there is a distinct danger that it can become the major focus of schools. Indeed, in the weeks and months leading up to May each year, children in many schools are taken through past tests, often with monotonous repetition. NAPLAN based text and exercise books have become major items for sale in bookstores and newsagents. This means parents as well as schools get involved with test reinforcement.
In reality , ‘teaching to the test’ has become a priority focus in the classrooms of many schools, both government and private. Some years ago Tom Chappell released a song about NAPLAN with a by-line pointing to teachers. ‘Your score is my score’ was the key lyric.
Chappell went on to sing about the fact that other subjects, including music, the arts and physical education were being sidelined for NAPLAN. He bemoaned the fact that ‘fun’ was being taken out of education.
Some educators and certainly the Australian Curriculum and Assessment Reporting Authority (ACARA) downplay NAPLAN as being only a small cog in the assessment wheel. The prime focus placed on these tests, including both elation and disappointment at school and system results would indicate otherwise. NAPLAN dominates the educational horizon.