Column published in NT Suns in February 2017.

Education is for the whole of life and the foundational years of schooling are the most important. Year 12 is one year of and along the continuum of learning and development.


Year 12 is often portrayed as the pinnacle year of education. Stories and conversations lay stress on the importance of this final year of secondary schooling. The years leading toward year 12 and those following, are often far less illuminated.

Year 12 is important as a year of study culmination. Stress is placed upon its importance to young people as they reach this crossroads in their education. Inability to earn a satisfying TER score is portrayed as a frightening concept.

Year 12 does not have to be a frightening year or threatening period. Neither should it be regarded as a stand alone year on the educational pathway.

Every year of school is important. Perhaps the most significant years are those from preschool through to year three. These early years are the foundation period during which key principles and precepts of basic learning take place. For schools focussing on holistic education, it is when principles of social, emotional and moral/spiritual development are added to a focus on academics. When undertaken in partnership with parents, this approach is one offering a stable base upon which character and educational development can take place.

Early childhood is sometimes discounted as not being all that important. This is entirely wrong, for the building blocks of education are set in place during these initial years of schooling.

Wise students are those who build upon previous learning year by year, gaining the most from school. This positive attitude will ensure that each educational challenge is met with fortitude, not worry or fear.

In the years leading to year 12, students have the opportunity to choose either academic or technical/vocational pathways. Appropriate choices will open up future options, academically or in trades occupations.

Year 12 is often portrayed as presenting new, possibly insurmountable challenges to students, but this only applies in cases where students have not made the best of their years leading to this point in time. While parents and teachers can help young people keep focussed, it is their inner motivation that counts. And those attitudes are born during initial schooling years

Our Territory needs young people who become future contributors to the economy. Whether or not we ever achieve statehood depends on our ability to consolidate the NT on a sound, sustainable economic footing. And that largely depends on today’s students.



Child care is over the top in Australia. Children need to be brought up by their parents. It is altogether too much for people to give birth, them thrusting their children at agencies, including child care, early learning centres and schools to bring up.

Parents should do their job and be primary caregivers and developers of their children. There is far too much ‘passing the buck’ and abrogating parental responsibilities.

Neither should parents and community expect government to spend billions of dollars subsidising their child care costs. During the 1970’s and 1980’s, a small amount of child endowment or family benefit was available to help offset the costs of children – and that was it! Fast forewords to 2017 and paid childcare is available, even to parents who do not work, for at least 12 hours per week.

Too many childen get born, then ‘outsourced’ to agencies to bring them up. That is not good enough. Neither does it work as well for children as the nurture and care offered by parents.

Maybe, people needs to make a choice between having children or a career. You often cannot have both, other than in the context of doing a mediocre job at work and home. Too many children are parked with organisations from before school care, to school, to after school care. When picked up, they are taken home by tired parents who park them in front of TV or with an iPad, because they are not in the mood to engage with their children.

And sometimes some parents feel that socialisation has a higher priority than being with their children.

And how many parents when taking holidays, leave their children with relatives or friends so they can enjoy themselves without being encumbered by offspring.

Children can quickly come to perceive, accurately or otherwise, that they are unloved and unwanted. If that is the case, it become inordinately difficult to change this perception and concept in their thinking. That can be a factor that places their attitude to school and schooling behind the eight ball.


This post goes beyond my usual comment exclusivity. It is about more than education. It was written several years ago while I was contemplating this subject and I feel these situations to still exist. In fact, the negatives in some cases are ‘sharper’ in 2017 than when first considered.

Our shattered economy

We have lost manufacturing industries to overseas destinations.

We have a Fair Work Act that is strong on rhetoric but in many cases short on practical and sensible expediency.

We have introduced massive red tape and bragged about minimal and prodic easing of paperwork accountabilities.

We have sold residential property to overseas interests in such volume as to price Australians out of the housing market.

We have sold and keep selling massive tracts of agricultural land to overses interests.

We have agreed to free trade agreements which open Australian markets to foreign imports, tenders for goods supply and priority to overseas suppliers to the detriment of domestic interests.

We have offered huge tax concessions to major industry in a way that almost lets them off the tax hook.

We allow mining exploitation and business profits otherwise to generate benefit for overses companies and their foreign shareholder base.

We borrow and spend $100,000,000 each day more than is generated by our domestic production.

We endorse greater and greater percentages of our GDP being spent on offsetting interest accumulating on our government borrowings. We believe that major indebtednes is a wonderful thing.

We discourage workers through increasing tax imposts.

We think that salaries for CEO’s and Government Department Heads should be paid in their hundreds of thousands and millions of dollars each year.

We are overgoverned to glory. We have too many layers of government.

We pay retired politicans benefits that are generous to the point of being almost immoral.

I could go on.

No wonder we have a tattered economy and a fractured economic outlook. The future is bleak.



Computers were introduced to school classrooms during the 1980’s. Initially, schools set up dedicated computer rooms and classes were rostored to have one or two periods each week. Students learnt about computers and how to develop documents for print-out.

Schools then moved to a number of units in each classroom and more time was devoted to student use of these tools. With the advent of iPads many schools encouraged each student to have their own personal device. In 2017, we would be hard pressed to find a school without computers or iPads. When electronic smart-boards and other supports are added, schools almost drown in technology.

The cost of purchasing and maintaining hardware has increased, becoming a major cost item for schools. As well, items purchased are often outmoded within months of being bought.

Additional costs are significant. Software is not cheap and neither are licences needed to authorise multiple users. When maintenance needs are added to purchase costs, schools are faced with significant and ongoing budget commitments.

There are classroom pitfalls that need to be avoided.

Students tend to digress from what they should be doing with computer and iPads, drifting from learning to entertainment sites. It is imperative that students sign agreements about use of search engines, with teachers monitoring that commitment. Engaging with inappropriate sites can lead to big problems.
Games sites need to reinforce and extend student learning and need to have an educational purpose. Entertainment programs without educational merit distract students and waste learning time.

*Children sometimes play with networks that have been set, causing programs to crash or corrupt.

Misuse of technology by students can lead to cyber bullying and other inappropriate online conduct. Cyber bullying has reached epidemic proportions.

Students working on topics can be lulled into thinking that googling the topic, then cutting, uploading and pasting segments from existing sources into the text they are developing is fine. It isn’t! It is important that students think about and own their work, in order to understand topics. There is a distinct danger they could become plagiarists, taking the ideas of others and using them without acknowledging their sources.

Spell-checking and grammatical correctness are automated tools in many software packages. It is entirely possible for students to create and edit text, without understanding what they have written.

Computers, iPads and other devices can help support learning. However, they should always be used with care by students, under teacher oversight.
There is every chance that gadgets can become relied on to the point of detracting from genuine student learning.


Published in the ‘Sun’ in the NT, in February 2017.


Last week marked the commencement of careers for over 100 new teachers in our schools. Some have been appointed to urban schools, others to more remote corners of the NT. ‘Urban’ includes schools beyond Darwin Palmerston and Alice Springs. Katherine, Tennant Creek and Nhulunbuy are classed as urban schools.

Then there are community, settlement and outstation schools. It is to all these places that teachers new to the profession have been assigned.

An induction program for beginning teachers offered some exposure to the situation in which they will find themselves. This program of several days duration, covered departmental issues and curriculum requirements. However, it is only after taking up appointment and commencing duty that specific learning and understanding will impact the teaching experience.

The ultimate for all teachers, following probationary periods, is the gaining of permanent status. That makes them eligible for home loans and can admit them to the mortgage market.

For teachers who are permanent, a career stretches before them that may seem to be quite endless. There is no telling the end from the beginning. New teachers are full of optimism and feel good about the future. All want to make a difference, helping children learn. This motivation holds, regardless of appointment location.

Successful teachers will develop strong professional relations with colleagues. Sharing experiences and learning from each other, school leadership teams, students, parents and community will be important to their development. May they do well in their chosen profession.


1 SUNS 3 2017 173

Published in ‘Suns’ newspaper January 2017. This issue is one with nationwide consequences, the matter being onbe that challenges Principals and staff in schools each year.


Setting classes in schools for the start of each year, creates headaches for principals, teachers, parents and children. This is especially the case for primary schools. A highlight -and an anxiety – late every school year, is the publication of class lists for the following twelve months. Some schools do not release class groupings until a day or two before the new school year commences. There is always a worry about reaction and fallout.

In an ideal world, all parents will be happy with their children’s class teacher, their fellow class members and the physical location of the classroom. There would be no composite classes. All students in each class would be inclined toward work and learning. There would be no behavioural problems or discipline issues to distract teachers and children from work and learning.

This situation would also meet the expectations of teachers and principals. For teachers, an added satisfaction could be to enjoy classes of no more than 18 to 20 children in primary grades, around 15 in middle school years and no more than 12 in specialist subject areas for years 11 and 12. This is not possible in the NT because pupil to teacher ratios are set at a much higher level.

Most teachers hope that they will be allowed to teach within their areas of training expertise. However, the deployment of teachers within schools is at the discretion of principals.
‘Needs must’ often dictates why they teach unfamiliar subjects or grades. Schools have limited budgets for staff employment. This means unpalatable adjustments have to be made, in order not to overdraw the school’s salary account.

While school leaders do their best to meet parents requests on student placement, it is impossible for them to work miracles. The result can be that parents and primary caregivers, on learning about class placements for children, can become very upset. Unfortunately, these reactions are often shared with other parents and also with children. Pre-judgements can impact negatively upon the reputation of teachers. This can also mean that children start school with an uneasy attitude about how the year will unfold. It can even lead to them hating school.

Parents with concerns have every right to discuss these with school leaders. It is best that this is done by making an appointment and having a conversation with the principal or leadership team member. On most occasions this leads to issues being at least partially resolved.


Published in NT Suns newspaper January 2017.


It is a sad thing that open environments, once a feature of child care and school precincts are being consigned to history. Fenceless, physically borderless boundaries have all but gone.

Schools started off with outer perimeters marked by knee or waist high fencing that was no more than railing stretched between vertical uprights. However, more and more have fences being upgraded to two metre plus high, impenetrable barriers. All are aimed at protecting schools from damage and vandalism.

A sad thing for schools is the need for this fortress like mentality. Students and staff members shouldn’t be confronted with teaching and learning environments surrounded by two metre high fences. They should not have to go through gates that open in the morning, are locked at night and require pass keys at other times. They should not have to walk around school precincts under the survelliance of CCTV cameras or sit in classrooms where security systems are turned on after hours in order to afford protection. They shouldn’t have to enter and exit classrooms through doors with double locking and deadbolt systems in place to secure against unlawful entry. Neither should they be made to feel like prisoners, looking out from classrooms through windows reinforced with security mesh.

Teachers and students leaving schools at the end of each day, wonder whether violation occasioned by unlawful entry will occur overnight, at weekends or during holiday times. Will walls be graffitied, windows smashed, doors forced, rooms trashed and property stolen? Worrying about the susceptibility of workplaces to violation is always on the back-burner of thinking.


An irony is the apparent reluctance of some school leaders to follow through on issues of wanton damage to premises and property. That may have to do with school leadership groups somehow feeling a misplaced ‘shame or blame’ for these happenings. The fact that schools are broken into is not their fault.

The issue needs to be aired in the public domain. Offenders should to be dealt with in other than a trivial fashion. They are fully aware of what they are doing and deserve to face realistic consequences.

Students and staff who are the victims of property crime need to know that offenders will be dealt with appropriately, not handled with kid gloves and let off lightly.

Schools used to be happy and open places of learning, not enclosed fortresses separated from their communities by security devices. Sadly, that era has been consigned to history and may never be restored.