EDUCATION’S BRIEF SEEMS SKEWED

This perception was published in the NT Sun Newspapers on June 19 2019 under the same title. Bolding mine for blogging.


The Northern Territory Government is 41 years old. So too, is the management of NT Education. Education was the first portfolio handed over by Canberra to the self-governing Northern Territory. This was supposed to mark the start of a new educational beginning.

In March 1979, all school principals were invited to a conference to meet with Education Director, Dr Jim Eedle.

In 1977, Dr Eedle had been appointed as director and oversaw the transition of education as a department becoming responsible to the NT Government.

Dr Eedle likened this to the dawning of a new day. He told principals to never forget that “schools are for children”. His other advice was to remember that structure and organisation should always be about reinforcing this key message.

To school leaders of the time that enduring advice was a prime focus.

Four decades later I believe education emphasis has drifted from the simple sincerity and unambiguous intention of Eedle’s advice. Educational organisation has broadened, deepened and become extraordinarily complex.

During Dr Eedle’s time at education’s helm, schools were supported by a single support section of the department. This has grown to six supporting educational divisions generating a plethora of directors and managers, many with their own group of support staff.

Some of this growth has been demanded by Canberra – because education at territory and state level is still quite centrally controlled. Some ideas about what schools should provide seems to come from “off-the-cuff” and poorly thought through politically or socially motivated suggestions. Other demands come from a community which seems to expect schools and teachers should be responsible for every aspect of child development.

This might be justified if the focus as urged by Dr Eedle meant that we were preparing students for the whole of life. However, it seems that Eedle’s exhortation has disappeared into the ether of change.

Focus on over-the-top accountability and compliance demands, have been responsible for growing the support arms of education. Increasing volumes of paperwork and accountability requirements are educational distractions. The monolithic departmental structure enveloping school education seems to be primarily focussed on data analysis and justification.

It appears that educational authorities now regard system organisation as being more important than the students it was designed to support. Structure is important, but not to the extent of students being in its shadow. It is time to revisit the intent and message from Dr Eedle who said 41 years ago that “Schools are for children.”

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