MAKE 2019 THE YEAR OF THE STUDENT

This column, in abridged form was published in the NT Sun under the header NAPLAN pressure on teachers on January 29 2019.

MAKE 2019 THE YEAR OF THE STUDENT

The 2019 NT school year is under way. In urban schools, teachers came in for a day of preparation and readiness on Friday January 25 and students are back for their first day today. Remote school teachers are today getting ready for the return of pupils tomorrow.

While on annual leave, teachers engage in both subconscious and conscious readiness for the school year ahead. They are well aware of the teaching responsibilities with which they will be faced. Educators new to the profession will be anticipating life in their classrooms and with their students.

At the beginning of every school year, principals and their leadership teams set agendas which include expectations they have of teachers and pupils. A great deal of focus is on expectations held for students in years 3, 5, 7 and 9, whose NAPLAN results will determine the school’s standing in this national testing program. NAPLAN data is the key point of focus in many staff meetings. The agendas around regional meetings of principals and school leaders will also primarily focus on the analysis and consideration of academic issues.

NAPLAN is not the only testing program that occupies the highest of priorities in schools. There are a range of other formal testing options administered to students as they move up the grades and through the years of formal schooling.

Major and ongoing stress is placed on teaching strategies that will lead to advantageous data outcomes. Data collection and analysis has become the major driver in schools. School, system and national accountability seemingly underpins the Australian educational agenda at primary and middle school level.

The Melbourne Declaration on Education was developed as a statement of ambition and consensus by State and Territory Ministers and Directors of Education in 2008. The declaration’s preamble states that education should be holistic. Social, emotional and moral/spiritual needs were as important as students’ academic development.

It is somewhat paradoxical that 2008 was the first year of Australia-wide NAPLAN testing. From that time onward and notwithstanding the declaration’s focus, it seems that academics alone is the driver of Australian education.

“ …Bureaucracy dehumanises and compromises our teachers and our children … the joy of teaching can be turned into despair … children are becoming less important than outcomes.” (Noni Hazelhurst on cover of Teacher by Gabbie Stroud.)

I sincerely hope that 2019 will be a year focussing on holistic education and children as people … But that may well be a wish in vain.

THE CURRICULUM IS NOT A PLAYTHING

This piece was published in the NT Sun on January 22 2019 under the banner Curriculum is not a toy.

On December 9 2018, in the early days of the Morrison Government the new Minister for Education Dan Tehan made pronouncements about educational priorities. Mr Tehan spoke about the need for school curricular to cover basics ( the three R’s) and how important it was for basic education to be front and centre in the curriculum for Australian schools. Basics he said, needed to be the number one school priority.

In essence ‘the basics’ have always been to the fore. However, in practical terms, things are not quite that simple. The Australian curriculum is constantly bombarded by those who want to influence subject agendas. They speak loudly, with persuasion and often about matters they think important. However they are peripheral issues, far removed from Mr Tehan’s expectations.

Organisations like COAG impose a Commonwealth imprimatur on what happens educationally at Australian, State and Territory level. These requirements are interpreted by state and territory governments through their education departments to schools.

This weighty organisational scenario leads to constant change in curriculum priorities and challenges educational practice. It seems that nothing ever stays the same for very long. That makes it hard for schools to set agendas, purchase resources and service programs. Staff development required to familiarise teachers with endless changes is a constant after school requirement.

What doesn’t help the process is the fact that many demands from on high are without notice, being suddenly foisted upon systems. That was the case with Mr Tehan’s pronouncements. It was also the case when his predecessor Simon Birmingham declared that a foreign language had to be taught in all preschools in Australia. Nothing throws school programs and system expectations out of kilter more than hasty and intemperate pronouncements.

Part of the dialogue around shaping curriculum in schools should be a response to change suggestions being initiated by schools and fed back to system leaders. However, there is a tendency to meekly accept and comply with edicts from above, hoping these changes will work.

This means priority setting is an exercise conducted from the top down, with little suggestion for implementation happening at school level. It may well be that school leaders and teachers are worried about their performance management reviews and future employment prospects if they debate these issues with their superiors.

Curriculum changes should be carefully considered. They should be based on substance and not on whim. Those advocating for change should be considerate of students, teachers and school communities. They should not spring major curriculum change and redirection out of leftfield.

SCHOOL SECURITY IS A KEY ISSUE

This column was published in the NT Sun on January 15 2019 under the heading Vandalism still scourge.

SCHOOL SECURITY IS A KEY ISSUE

The recent trashing of Ludmilla School (NT News 5/1/2019) is a jolting reminder of what seems to be an everlasting saga. Schools are often the prime target of vandals. The threat to schools is constant.

History confirms that over time, every school in our urban, town and rural areas has been affected by wanton damage and vandalism. Since self government in 1978, the bill for damage repair has run to tens of millions of dollars.

Barrier fences, wrought iron gates, sensors and cv cameras have played some part in reducing the incidence of security breach. However, the matter is one that continues to impact on our schools.

There seems to be no end point to these reckless and uncaring behaviours by perpetrators. The break-in at Ludmilla, which damaged quite a number of classrooms is just the latest in 40 years of destructive behaviour wrought on NT schools. Sadly, schools will continue to be the target of vandals as we move into the 2019 school year.

These attacks on our schools, lead to feelings of student and staff desolation and insecurity. They become the victims of senseless acts, violated by damage to their possessions and school work.

There has at times been evidence of Faginlike behaviour behind these breaches. On some occasions adults have encouraged young children to break into schools, in order to steal property. The issue of stealing goods in order to exchange them for drugs may also motivate a percentage of break-ins.

There is no doubt however, that many of the breaches are the result of children, many of them quite young, causing senseless damage. They wander the streets late into the night, breaking into and entering into schools and other premises, creating a mess for others to clean up.

The irony is that if caught, little happens to these miscreants. They are often taken home to parents who don’t know where they have been or what they have done. Restitution for physical damage is never forthcoming.

Judicial consequences for those who proceed to juvenile court or into youth justice are generally perceived as being ineffective and limp. The move toward raising the age of accountability wrong-doing from 10 to 12 or 14 years, defies sense and sensibility; the proposed change will exacerbate the problem.

Those who commit these acts know full well they are doing wrong. There can be no justification for their actions. The victims of school violation, the students and school staff are the ones deserving empathy and consideration.

ENDING 2018 ON A POSITIVE NOTE

This column was published in the NT Sun on December 18 2018. It was publish3ed under the title ‘Students feeling the pressure’.

ENDING 2018 ON A POSITIVE NOTE

Thursday December 12 marked the end of the 2018 school year for those in urban schools. Remote schools closing their doors the following day.

Schools acknowledged students who have done well during the year. Presentation assemblies have been held, giving peers, staff, parents and community a chance to recognise and celebrate student success. Recognising students with certificates together with monetary or book awards has been part of many celebrations.

These ceremonies as endpoints to the academic year, leave students feeling satisfied and fulfilled. They can also encourage those, who with greater effort, could also have been recognised and rewarded.

There is no better way of ending a long school year than by celebrating the efforts and successes of students. We are often quick to point out what children and students should do to improve performance or attitude. We need to be equally as forthcoming in offering recognition and praise.

Pressures are increasingly on schools to perform. Everything seems to focus on data driven outcomes. Teachers and students are pointed in the direction of achieving more and more in terms of key academic results. Increasing amounts of content have to be shoe-horned into every school day. So much is demanded, that students of all ages often go home thoroughly fatigued by the end of each school day.

Both primary and secondary students need the respite offered by the six weeks of Christmas and New Year holidays.

The school day is only part of teacher commitment to education. Planning, preparation, marking, assessments, recording and report writing are obligations that take place beyond the classroom. To this must be added an increasing plethora of meetings covering everything from school action plans to personal performance management. Downtime at Christmas is sorely needed by all classroom teachers.

While the school year is out for students, the same opportunity to relax is not being afforded to many school principals and leadership teams. A great deal of what the system requires of them, is worked on and completed during school holiday periods.

Chief among these items will be the preparation of school annual reports, due to be completed by 31 March next year. These documents are intricate and detailed, requiring specific data that reflects upon the 2018 school year. They cover student progress, staff development, community relations and capital works completed or anticipated. Minutely detailed financial accountability is included.

All the very best to students, teachers and school support staff for a great holiday break.

PARENTS PRIORITY SHOULD BE THEIR CHILDREN

This piece was published in the NT Sun on December 11 2018. It was under the heading ‘Nothing can top parents’.

PARENTS PRIORITY SHOULD BE THEIR CHILDREN

The best love and care children can have, is that offered by parents. Too often this is disregarded and overlooked.There is a belief that early learning educators, teachers and after school carers can stand in the place of parents. A Sunday Territorian article ‘Hands on parenting is what helps children’. (April 2, 2017) touched on a truth that in these modern times is too easily discounted. Study authors Stacey Fox and Anna Olsen from the Australian National University found that, ” reaching out to children, talking with them and helping them with their homework matters more than income or background.”

This realisation was one of the revelations of this family focussed study conducted by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY).

It seems that work preoccupation can distance parents from their children. Before and after school care have become a way of life for children whose parents leave home early and arrive home late. They are often placed in vacation care during school holidays because their parents are at work.

Many parents are both preoccupied with and wearied by work, making quality time with their children during the week a rarity. While family catch-up may happen at the weekend, there is a need to manage domestic chores and get ready for the working week ahead. In this context it can become easy for children to again be overlooked. Their need for family closeness and attention may be misunderstood by parents.

According to Fox and Olsen, “children … benefit when their parents provide a positive environment for homework and play a role in school activities.” Primary school children particularly, like their parents identifying with them in school settings. Parents attending assemblies, participating in parent teacher nights, and supporting extra-curricular school activities is a highlight for their children.

According to the study, children really welcome and greatly value the first hand connection of parents with their educational development. In terms of hands on parenting, “the aspects which appear to matter most include high expectations and aspirations for children, shared reading between children and parents and family conversation.” (Fox and Olsen)

Children need room to move and develop as independent human beings. ‘Helicopter parents’ who constantly hover around children can be very stifling. They suffocate independence and dampen the decision making potential of their offspring. However, when parents are there for children, engaging with them, nurture and love are to the fore. And it is these attributes in parents their children want and need.

TEACHER SCARCITY A REAL DANGER

This article was published in the NT Sun on December 4 2018. It was under the heading of ‘Teachers set to dwindle’.

TEACHER SCARCITY A REAL DANGER

The question of teacher supply is a problem looming on the education horizon.

Professor Barry Harper, Dean of Education at the University of Wollongong, recently raised the need for the Australian community to prepare for a looming teacher shortage. If educational systems ignore his advice, this may well result in schools without teachers.

Harper, in his paper ‘Factors fuelling the looming teacher shortage’ (Media @ University of Woollongong) advises that a significant percentage of teachers will be retiring within the next five to ten years. Educational authorities understand that a vacuum in teacher supply will create problems. He states that “ … efforts to plug the gaps left by retirees are being thwarted by two factors. … One is the attraction of teaching overseas … the other is a desire by a significant number of teaching graduates to only teach for a short period of time before moving on to other careers.”

The number of teaching graduates attracted to overseas teaching destinations runs into the thousands. As far back as 2003, British school principals had headhunted 3,000 Australian teachers. “There are also hundreds of Australian teachers working in New York schools with many more scattered throughout North America … and Canada.” (Harper)

Harper suggests that Australian teacher graduates are classroom ready because their training includes first hand practical teaching experience. They are attracted overseas by salary and the experience of living abroad. An upside for Australia is that they don’t want to stay away forever. They come back with a world view of education ready to commit to teaching in our classrooms.

“Unfortunately Australian public school systems do not recognise (their qualities). Rather, teachers returning from overseas find themselves behind their colleagues who stayed at home, both in pay and promotional opportunities.” (Harper)

Adjusting the profession to accord equity to both returning from overseas and stay-at-home educators, may help to boost overall teacher numbers.

The more significant issue is that of graduating teachers opting for short term rather than long term careers. Various studies referred to by Harper confirm that fewer graduating secondary students are opting to train as teachers, with 25% of graduating teachers opting out within five years of starting their careers. “Around 32% of qualified teachers (are) working outside the profession.” (Harper).

This issue is one that must be addressed before chronic teacher shortages become a school and classroom reality. The jury is out on whether education ministers and their departments “ … can make our schools attractive for a long term (teacher) commitment rather than as staging posts for other careers.”

CDU’S FUTURE SHOULD BE CAREFULLY SHAPED

This column was published in the NT Sun on November 27 2018.

There has been much ado about Charles Darwin shifting to have a major operational focus in Darwin’s CBD.

Students are to help save the city!

CDU’s FUTURE SHOULD BE SHAPED CAREFULLY

Homegrown tertiary education in the NT commenced in 1974. The Darwin Community College (DCC) occupied two large rooms in Mataram Street, Winnellie. In time and over the years, the DCC became the Darwin Institute of Technology (DIT) and later the NT University with campuses at Myilly Point Larrakeyah and Casuarina. In 2003, the NTU merged with the Menzies School of health Research and Centralian Colleges in Alice Springs. The Charles Darwin University (CDU) era began.

CDU’s major campus is in the suburb of Casuarina. Other campuses are in Palmerston, Alice Springs, Katherine and Nhulunbuy. A waterfront campus housing the school of business opened in 2015. The university includes smaller training centres at Jabiru, Tennant Creek and Yulara.

Interstate offices are located in Melbourne and Sydney. “Charles Darwin University … showcases teaching and research unique to its region. … Its membership of the Innovative Research Universities … enhances the outcomes of higher education.” (Good Universities Guide 2017, p.303)

External students enjoy online study opportunities. A large percentage of its externally enrolled higher degree students are from interstate and overseas. The university supports Indigenous Students through the Australian Centre for Indigenous Knowledges and Education (ANIKE) at the Casuarina Campus and its outreach program at the Batchelor Institute of Tertiary Education.

Administration reorganisation and changing priorities are sometimes forced by political pressures and changes to funding policies. In spite of challenges study options have been expanded. In its early days, the university was limited to offering only first and second years of degree courses. CDU students often had to complete their studies at southern universities. Full degree courses in Science, Engineering, Education and Medicine are now available.

The development of Charles Darwin University into the future must be carefully considered. Our university is set to become central to CBD re-development under the Darwin Cities Deal.

The vision is one that includes magnificent architecture, state of the art facilities and student accomodation.

The plan is similar to that in Newcastle NSW, which has “ … a university in the middle of the city. It means … when students finish classes in the evening, they’re moving through the city and keeping it alive.” (Madonna Locke, urban designer in The Deal , November 2018, pg. 8)

The purpose and intention of university study must always be student focus. The evolving vision encompasses large numbers of overseas students living in Darwin, in order to revitalise and save the city. Surely the prime purpose of academic education is to provide study opportunities leading to the conferral of worthwhile degrees. Future direction must not diminish this prime focus.

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