This piece was published in the NT Sun on July 17 2018

SUNS 26 2018 245


The policy of three-year-old children attending preschool full time should fill people with concern. The notion is one of which children of very tender years, having only “just“ arrived in the world, being rushed into formal education. Colin Wicking’s cartoon (Northern Territory News 24/6/18) encapsulates the situation. Two toddlers are heading off to preschool and one says to the other “it only seems like yesterday that I was a fetus“!

If that’s the way preschool education is going, we have a grossly misaligned education system.

Educational justification for early entry into preschool is to get children academically ready for literacy and numeracy competence at increasingly younger ages. This is totally at odds with common sense. Young children need the nurture, empathy and love of parents in developing life skills. Their initial listening and speaking abilities along with the love of life should grow from family interactions.

The modern tendency of children at younger and younger ages spending more time in ‘formal’ preschool education is beyond comprehension.

In 2009 the Melbourne Declaration agreed by all education ministers stated that social, emotional and moral/spiritual development of children are essential. In years since, the need for rounded development has been largely disregarded. The focus seems to be academic competency alone. New policy suggests the sooner this education begins after birth, the better.

Parents wanting their 3-year-olds permanently in preschool is based on misplaced logic. However, costs associated with childcare are continuing to escalate and helps explain why they are plumping for the preschool option. A recent survey of parents (Our kids pushed to school too early, Sunday Territorian 24/6/18) confirms their motivation. “Aussie kids are being pushed into school early because their parents are desperate to escape the rising costs of childcare. … More than 65 per cent of parents are paying between $200 and $799 out of pocket (after government rebate) on childcare each week. … This compares to 44 per cent who pay between $1 and $199 once their child is in preschool.”

Whether children are socially, emotionally and sufficiently mature for entry into preschool, appears to be unimportant. “More than 52 per cent of parents ranked (their children) being toilet trained and feeding themselves as their lowest considerations when deciding when to send their kids to preschool.” (Op cit) While a barrage of educational reasons might be given, the primary reason is one of financial consideration.

It seems the new and innovative three year olds at preschool. is more about cheap childcare than education.



This ‘Student Choice Positive Initiative’ is a great development. For me, it extends dimensionally on what has been a focus of schools in the NT (and elsewhere) for the past three decades. In increasing numbers, both primary and secondary schools have supported student voice through school student councils and other instruments. The challenge for some has been to enable students to have a voice and an input that is not controlled or vetted to the point of being irrelevant.

Student summits and developmental opportunities have been around, supported and grown by schools for a long time. School student councils have been in existence for even longer. The Bakewell Initiative further grows and develops the concept.

There is, as the program suggested, a tendency to mark all students as ‘negative’ because of the stain placed upon youth character by the aberrant and dysfunctional element in their midst. It is true to say that the vast majority of young people are very decent, well disposed persons, who do not deserve to be characterised in the way that happens.

It is also true to say that young people who have both positive family as well as school support are well placed to make very positive contributions to life’s world.



I am not a researcher but an observer and a long time educational practitioner. The communications skills of young (and not so young people) have diminished over time. Far too many have gotten to the point of aural challenge and oral illiteracy. They do not know how to listen or speak.

Their writing and reading skills, but particularly writiing skills have diminished.

No, I am not a researcher but an educator who for over 40 years watched (and am still aware) of this diminishment of skill.

The iPhone is a device but finger manipulation skills and online language and abbreviation do not replace young people being able to look you in the eye during conversation, speaking clearly, confidently and with grammatical accuracy

This is a drawback for them in dealing with potential employers.

Tertiary institutions do not help. They are prepared to accept assignments and papers that are altogether mediocre by comparasion to past standards.

Not good.


This piece was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on June 26 2018.


The importance of adult example is often discounted. Parents, teachers, politicians, church leaders and sports club coaches are among those who offer advice to young people about behaviour, deportment and expectation. The way this advice is shared needs to be carefully considered.

Children are very perceptive. Their awareness of the world around them is often discounted by adults.

Parents and teachers dealing with children should consider the importance of how they speak. It often happens that conversation is directed ‘to’ or ‘at’ young people. This method of communication can be very off-putting because it discourages them from responding. Genuine two-way conversation is inclusive. It encourages children to express their opinions and offer viewpoints on matters being considered.

‘Talking down’ to young people is an unfortunate habit that can be too easily embraced by adults. It discourages a response and can cause young people to feel resentful. It can lead to directives being given without an explanation of why they are necessary. This method of communication can become learned behaviour on the part of those to whom it is directed. In time it will become part of the way they speak to others.

Adults generally stress the need for children to be well mannered, polite and considerate of others. Part of this may include the way they speak to each other. The need for appropriate language is stressed. Speech should not include vulgar or racist expressions and should not be hurtful.

It is unfortunate that these ambitions held toward the development of young people, are often poorly modelled by adults. ‘Do as I say but not as I do’ seems to be the thinking of far too many people who should be setting a better example to young people. Crass speech, bad manners and poor behaviour are too often on display. This has to be confusing for those growing up to become tomorrow’s adults and leaders.

News bulletins are full of stories reporting the dark side of life. Verbal jousting, argument and acrimonious situations are shared on television, radio, print and social media. Manifestations of verbal, physical, mental and sexual abuse abound.

Young people come to understand that these social negatives, both historical and contemporary, are condoned by adults. Yet they are urged to change the way things are by an adult population who fail to show a better way through the lives they lead themselves.

Today’s adults must model the behaviours they want to see in our upcoming generation.


This item was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on June 19 2018


Our Northern Territory Public Education System is often disparaged. It is held to be of lesser worth than its interstate counterparts. That is an unfortunate and inaccurate conception.

One of the challenges I faced as a school principal was that of parents coming from interstate assuming that NT Government schools were inferior to those they were leaving behind. In fact, NT public education more than holds its own. School leaders and teachers deserve thanks for the job they do. They work hard in urban, town and rural settings, supporting students across all social and cultural contexts.

I think at times when enrolling children from interstate, school leaders tend to be defensive of ‘have to’ parents. Parent have to enrol their children in NT. Schools because of work transfer. They may be apprehensive about the NT and what education offers. They don’t really ‘want to’ enrol in our schools.

We don’t need to justify our system to newcomers, or apologise for what our schools offer. They are up there with the best in Australia. This needs to be communicated to parents. Children being enrolled also deserve this reassurance. Visiting the Department of Education website and those maintained by our schools, confirms the many good things happening within the public education sector.

I can visit this topic as a parent as well as being a retired NT school principal. We came to the Territory in the 1970’s with our three young children. We lived and worked (and they were schooled) in remote communities, then town schools (Alyangula and Nhululunbuy) before we transferred into Darwin. Their primary, secondary and tertiary education was largely completed within the Northern Territory. They have in no way been reduced because of this experience, going on to become significant societal and economic contributors. The positive educational outcomes experienced by our children have been reduplicated for many thousands of other Territory families.

I believe public schools are sometimes discounted because they offer ‘free’ education. Private schools place a far heavier financial burden on parents. This can be a factor in shaping the attitude that ‘private education is better because we have to pay’. Government schools and their teachers provide quality education for a diverse group of multicultural students of all ages and ability levels.

The Territory encourages parent and community participation in establishing school policy through school councils or boards. This enables members to contribute to further enhancing public education.

Our Public School educational system is up there with the best. Our educators do not deserve put downs.


This piece was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on June 12 2018


Michael Gunner’s thoughts about Indigenous Education that could be included in a treaty worry me greatly. If a treaty were to eventuate, the Chief Minister suggests that schools in indigenous communities could be given the right to run themselves. “The Government (would provide) money for education and the community (would take) responsibility for how it is delivered locally. Locals could take control of the curriculum … control of children attending school, teachers employed and seeing even more locals becoming teachers.” (Gunner will sign treaty, Sunday Territorian, 3.6.2018) In her story, Judith Aisthorpe reported that several people in high places thought this to be a great idea.

To declare all remote area schools as ‘independent’ and being able to set their own curriculum priorities would be a step backward, not forward. If still working as an educator in remote areas, schools set up under such loose guidelines would be places where I would not want to work.

Some years ago, a Territory politican who represented remote communities, offered a counterpoint. He said that in a mainstream Australian society, English Literacy and Mathematical understanding were key skills. They were necessary for transactional purposes. They were also skills all Australians needed for communication and survival.

Mr Gunner’s suggestions run counter to advice given to me by Aboriginal people in communities where we worked. They wanted ‘proper’ education. A prominent Indigenous Leader at Angurugu in the early 1980’s put it this way. “We want our children to be educated in the same way as children in towns and cities.” That was the brief with which we were charged. There is a place for bilingualism and for education to be culturally relevant. But to deny the need for competence in literacy and numeracy would be totally wrong.

This can only happen if a curriculum emphasising key academic skills is supported by qualified teachers. It is absolutely essential that families play their part by ensuring regular school attendance.

One of the downsides for Indigenous Education (and indeed for education as a whole) is that it has become politically cluttered. Those with and those without qualification feel it necessary to add their opinion to educational debate. People working in schools are busy reacting to what comes down as directives from on high. They have little opportunity to contribute meaningfully to sharing the realities of schools and programs. To uncouple education from an approved Australian curriculum supported by qualified teachers would further weaken remote area education which is already challenged.