VOCATIONAL TRAINING OFTEN DISCOUNTED

In recent months, a new realisation seems to be growing on those who are involved with educational decision making and the setting of priorities for students.

It appears to be dawning upon us all, that there is more to education than university degrees and occupations based solely upon pure academics.

That should be reassuring for those completing secondary school who are concerned that high level academic qualifications are prerequisite to every occupation in life.

So much is made of university qualifications, including batchelor and masters level degrees along with PhD’s, that little else seems to count. That is far from being the case. There are a myriad of excellent occupational opportunities available, requiring practical skills outside the scope of degree qualifications.

The pity is that more is not being made known about TAFE, VET and trades when young people are considering their career options. The thrust is toward the need for upcoming tertiary age students to only consider academically focused degree courses.

Tim Pitman and Gavin Moodie, writing for ‘The Conversation’ (Supporting part time and online learners is the key to reducing university drop-out rates) revealed that the first year university drop out average for Australia across all universities is under 15%. For the NT, that attrition rate is just above 26%. This means that one in every four students has cause to re-think tertiary studies.

There are many reasons for study discontinuity and one might well be a realisation that full blown degree study is not the best option. Re-thinking career options is obviously part of this double take. It might also be that study costs and the burden of an upcoming HECS debt weigh on the conscience of students. Withdrawal from courses by March 31 in the year of enrolment, means that HECS debts are avoided.

The need for a re-think can leave students in a state of insecurity about what to do occupationally.

An option that might be considered is promoting to students the array of work opportunities available through trades training and related areas of occupational study.

Our territory is desperately short of qualified people. Part of this is due to a misplaced belief that trades and apprentice based training leads to second class jobs. That is far from where being the case. Thriving communities need occupational balance and at the moment this is an area of distinct shortfall in the NT.

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WRONG IDEAS ABOUT HOMEWORK

Some parents and teachers may have the wrong idea of what home work is supposed to be about. They interpret home work as asking parents to be teachers by introducing new work to children. To that end, they will actually do the home work assigned for students. That should never happen.

Ideally, homework should be teachers asking parents to be aware of what children are doing at school. The “ask” is for them to know that skills being acquired, are set as homework to reinforce the learning that’s taking place. For that reason, maths tables, spelling words, and reading are frequently extended beyond school for extra attention and awareness at home.

Homework should be about practice being offered to students to help revise their knowledge of facts and understanding to become independent learners. It should not be a case of new, untaught work being introduced to students to learn about and complete as homework.

Parents fill a prime role in teaching their children when it comes to the development and reinforcement of personal development skills. Eating, drinking, dressing, manners and deportment skills are the responsibility of parents, not school teachers, to introduce and teach. At school, teachers will reinforce what has been introduced at home, enabling children to practice these personal competencies. It would be totally unfair for parents to renege on these elements of child development, because that teaching belongs within the family.

Home work should be defined in the same way. It is all about practice to help children become more independent in their understanding of what has been taught at school. Children like being able to show pride in spelling accuracy, in knowing their tables, in developing a piece of prose, in offering neat and tidy work. These are all skills that form part of the teaching challenge. What teachers teach children at school, can be shared with parents through practice at home. It’s not for parents to “do”, but rather the offering of a chance for them to be aware of children’s learning and to encourage consolidation and reinforcement. Homework helps parents to be aware of what has been taught. It is an important part of the school – home partnership.

YOUNG ONES DO KNOW RIGHT FROM WRONG

People should get real and be less altruistic about this issue of young people and the age of responsibility.

There is no way that anyone should go with the belief that ten year old children do not know right from wrong. Children brought up by caring parents and those who are in our schools from the age of 5, well know the difference between right and wrong.

I am disappointed in people for believing that by the age of ten, these precepts have not become a part of the understanding of children.

I am also disappointed in those who are about the implied excusing of ten year olds for the things they do that bring blight to community and to victims.

Finally I am disappointed that people make no mention of parental responsibility, apparently excusing parents for their lack of guidance for children. And I am incredulous at the attitude of those who overlook the work done in our schools to share the right way with children.

Situational fact and anecdote in my opinion outweigh the findings of studies undertaken by people who are watching our society evolving from high on the balcony. As a long educator of forty plus years and one maintaining a keen interest in education , I was on the dance floor amongst it all.

CHANGE A BRAND NAME OR CHANGE BEHAVIOUR

The supposed ‘win’ over scrapping the the brand name ‘Coon Cheese’ is the stuff of trivial pursuit. I do not support the name of this cheese being dumped and it is no major win. Coon cheese was named after its Canadian creator. It is a product derived from overseas source.

I am 74 and during those years spent many years working in remote communities. I also spent my junior years at school in WA at a time when Aboriginal children were being introduced to school. During my years there have been derogatory terms used as descriptors of the indigenous but that has been exclusive of the word ‘coon’.

Over time I believe that derogatory terminology used in address has lessened. There is one exception. As a Darwin citizen, I often hear Aboriginal persons using terrible racist expressions against each other. They verbally abuse each other in the host horrible and character stripping of language. They address each other in the vilest of terms in the most public of places. It is this behaviour, not the name of a cheese that sends shudders through members of the non-indigenous community who are unfortunate enough to witness this behaviour.

My Darwin experiences are replicated in hundreds of locations around Australia. These issues have to be addressed by Aboriginal Australians. That is far more imperative than changing the brand name of a cheese.

ARE SCHOOLS REPLACING PARENTS?

In our modern times schools, especially primary schools, are supposed to be all things to all people. Parents are increasingly engaged with work commitments extending from early in the morning until quite late in the afternoon. It is small wonder that an increasing number of children spend time before and after school in care programs. Many children are at school by 7.00 o’clock in the morning and do not leave care programs until well after 5.00 o’clock each afternoon. Most school councils accept responsibility for Outside School Hours Care (OSHC), providing after school support for children. The number of before school care programs for children are increasing. Children are spending almost as many hours each day in school and care programs than at home.

They are also enrolled in care programs during school holiday periods.

Preschool now commences for most children at the age of three, with timetables providing for full day rather than half day programs. This has been designed to fit in with working parents.

These key structural and organisational changes have contributed to redefining educational priorities. Pre and primary schools are as much about child care as education. This is added to by the fact that community expectation seems to be that children will be brought up by the combined efforts of parents, teachers and child care workers. That used to be the sole responsibility of families.

If schools organise pupil free days for professional development, the response from many parents is one of concern because child care for that day changes. Children either stay at home (with work implications for parents) or are booked into all day care.

In these modern times, family responsibilities have in large part been outsourced to secondary caregivers. Governments have reacted to community pressures and endorse institutionalised nurture and care as being a good substitute for parental time and attention. The justification is that parents are so busy working to boost the economy and sustain the home front, that key parenting responsibilities have to be outsourced. The community expects schools and teachers to be involved with the bringing up of children.

Schools and staff play an important part in the development of children. However they can never take the place of parents. Without doubt, parents are THE primary caregivers for their children. That responsibility should never be hand-balled to secondary providers and government agencies. Schools can do their bit. However, if parents and families fail in their obligations, children will be the losers.

CHILDREN NEED CONFIDENCE AND REASSURANCE

A prime focus of education is planning towards meeting the future needs of children. Preparing children and young people to become tomorrow’s adults and leaders is a key educational commission. This should be a shared responsibility involving parents on the home front and teachers in our schools. Taking advantage of learning opportunities is also a responsibility resting on the shoulders of students. Parents and teachers offer development and educational opportunities for children but cannot do the learning for them.

In a world of educational pressures and global confusion, it is important to be careful and responsible in planning learning opportunities. Part of this is to offer a stable and understandable environment. The opportunity to ‘grow through play’ and the way in which children learn to understand the wider world are both important.

Play

The importance of play and social interaction children have with each other is sometimes discounted. Abundant research confirms that children learn about the world through play. This along with other stimuli supports their social, emotional and moral/spiritual growth. Young people can be and often are exposed to the pressures of academics too early in life. Making haste slowly and ensuring these other elements are taken into account, supports the stable development of young people. Pressuring children academically might produce ‘high fliers’. However, confidence and maturity come from socialising and play, without which children can be left in isolation. Playing together is one way children begin to understand one another and the world into which they are growing.

Unease

In these troubled times children’s self confidence needs to be supported by parents and teachers. Distressing events, particularly terrorist attacks, climatic catastrophes and other disasters have an unsettling effect on everyone. This is particularly the case for children who can and do become distressed by such events. Trying to shield young people from these events or attempting to brush them off, will only heighten their anxieties. Awareness of terrifying events creates distress which “… may be shown in all sorts of ways. This can include aches and pains, sleeplessness, nightmares, bed wetting, becoming … snappy or withdrawn or not wanting to be separated from their parents.” (Parry and Oldfield, ‘How to talk to children about terrorism’ The Conversation, 27/5/17)

Children need the confidence and understanding that grows from play and they need reassurance about the good things in a world into which they are growing. It’s up to adults to see that both these needs are met.

The issues of confidence and reassurance are particularly pressing at this point in time, for children have to comer to terms with the turbulence and unease created by the covid world.

CDU’s FUTURE SHOULD BE SHAPED CAREFULLY

Homegrown tertiary education in the NT commenced in the 1980’s. The Darwin Community College (DCC) occupied two large rooms in Mataram Street, Winnellie. In time and over the years, the DCC became 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

WITH THE PASSING OF TIME

I wrote this as a reflective piece on my career when retiring in January 2012.

I came across it again the other day and felt that it was still highly relevant eight years later.

From the viewpoint of 2020 it is written somewhat in the past tense.

Eight plus years later, I haven’t changed my mind about the way things were to what they became. And eight years later if anything, things are worse now than they were in 2012.

With The Passing of Time

Once upon a time a principal reflected on what was (2012) what have been (1970) and what had happened between times. A little voice in his head told him to think as much as possible about “balance”, “pros” and “cons”, “challenge” and “celebration”. Determined to be even-handed, he began to reflect on the four decades of his educational experience.

He thought about the waves of systemic leadership that had rolled over the system. There was the “Moresby mafia” followed at intervals by domination from other States, Territories and arrivals from overseas destinations. More recently (2009) the ‘Queensland Cowboys’ had succeeded the Western Australia ‘Sandgropers’ as system leaders. The Northern Territory were certainly hybrid.

He thought about Jim Eedle the Northern Territory’s first Secretary for Education after the NT Government took portfolio carriage for education. Eedle said (Katherine, March 1978), “schools for children” and “Structure should support function.” He thought how structure had now assumed skyscraper proportions with the children somehow in the shadows?

He thought about the back of many children were children who seemed to lack the first hand care and nurture a parent should offer. It seemed this was less forthcoming with the passing of years. Increasingly, schools were asked (indeed required) to take on primary matters of bringing. He wondered and was sad that ‘loco parentis’ was now so mainstream.

He worried that with the passing of years, a preponderance of weighty issues had grown into school curriculum requirements. Lots has been added and little dropped. He wondered how teachers could cope and was concerned the children would be overburdened and staff become disillusioned. The educational pathway seemed increasingly cluttered and overgrown.

He was concerned that written reports were no longer short, succinct, explicit and individualised. Rather they were long on hyperbole being stereotyped, jargon riddled statements. They had become increasingly wordy but in essence said less and less. Notwithstanding the huge amount of teacher effort devoted to their preparation, he felt they really said meant very little to parents.

He worried that with the passing of time, children had become more self-centred. “I” and “my” were pronouns and possessives that underpinned their belief and value systems. He yearned for those times past when, it seemed, children were well mannered and cared for others. “Yes please”, “thank you”, “excuse me” and “may I” were fast disappearing epithets. That he felt underpinned a loss of character.

He wondered where safety and security for children had gone. In the 1970s and 1980s children could play outdoors in what was a safe, secure environment. Come 2012 and parents no longer felt the children were safe. Threat for young people was felt from cyberspace to the street. There was a feeling that children needed to be cocooned and cosseted – but not by parents. As primary caregivers they were too busy at work to offer personal nurture.’Minding’ at Outside School Hours Care centres was the in thing.

He wondered whether, in an enlightened age, children felt ‘used’ when their schooling futures were discussed in a way that likened them to pawns on a chessboard. He also wondered whether children appreciated being ‘objects’ for limited academic testing (Four May Days each year). Did they feel that overall and holistic educational needs were regarded as important by Federal Politicians setting State and Territory educational agendas?

He wondered about modern communications. Were the children of the 1970’s not better speakers and listeners because face to face communication was alive and practised? ‘Facebook’, ‘Twitter’, texting and the new ICT tools of the twenty-first century reduced the need to gain and have confidence in speech and speaking (including listening). He was concerned that literacy skills were going out the door. What would happen to thinking!

He pondered the wisdom of straying too far from the scriptural adage,”spare the rod and spoil the child”. While responses to poor behaviour ought not to be barbaric, was not accomodation in 2012 on what was totally unacceptable in 1970, simply encouraging children and young people to push the envelope? Were not the elders abrogating their upbringing responsibilities and being ostrich like?

He was sad that keys, security, guard dogs, dead latches, CCTV cameras, high fences, barbed wire, crimsafe mesh, sensor security systems and floodlights had become the order of installation. It seemed that in 1970, nights were for sleeping. Forty years later, nocturnal malevolence seemed to prevail. He wondered where ‘Where Willie Winkie’ had gone.

He wondered about gender equality. In the 1970’s children deferred to adults on public transport, when going through doors and joining queues. Similarly, men deferred to ladies, the young to the old. No more!

He wondered why it was that in 2012, chivalry was dead!

He was concerned about ‘pace’. In the 1970’s things moved more slowly. There seemed to be less to do, yet key tasks were completed. There was a simple serenity about the way things were done. Time off work WAS time off work.

He pondered tranquility. Inner peace had been enhanced by the separation of priorities. Family, work and recreation had occupied degrees of importance in that order. Come 2012, it seemed that the imperative of ‘work, work and work until you drop’ had pushed family and recreational pursuits onto the back-burner. Was that not poor prioritisation?

Did the ‘new way’ promote happiness and inner peace?

He wondered about the future. As a young educator in 1970 he had looked to the future with confidence and rosy anticipation. Come 2012 and looking back he wondered why system realities had sullied his vision.

I AM RUNNING SCARED OF COVID-19

I am concerned that we are going to confront a major COVID-19 outbreak, the like of which we have not yet seen. A lack of long term thinking about continuing control measures is a major worry.

There are a number of key issues leading toward this conclusion.

* Quarantine fatigue is breaking the resistance of people to countering COVID-19.

* People are breaching physical distancing rules. It has been proven unequivocally that distancing (along with hand cleanliness) are the best deterents in containing COVID-19 but they have to be long term behaviours.

* Crowds flocking to pubs, clubs, beaches, rallies, parks, cinemas and elsewhere is causing people to overlook physical distancing advice.

* The optionality of testing for those in quarantine and lock down areas will mean more cases occurring because of test avoidance.

*Foolish statements about safety of airline travel (compared to bus, train and ferry travel restrictions) guarantees a spread of the virus among airline travellers and their contacts.

* The continuing return of overseas travellers into quarantine situations is bringing an unrelenting number of infections into Australia.

* The number of cases in schools, businesses and elsewhere will spike: Victoria’s revisitation to COVID-19 is only the start and the virus is now starting to make inroads into NSW.

* It is highly likely that the opening of travel around Australia will generate dollars and bequeath us with COVID-19 cases.

* It can be forecast that when this virus makes inroads into remote communities (and there is a high chance of that happening), COVID-19 will take off in a major way.

*Thinking of the virus as short term is unfortunate. This affliction is going to be with us into the foreseeable future.

Am I worried? You bet I am.

PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITIES ARE TOO OFTEN ABROGATED

EDUCATIONAL POINTS TO PONDER

PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITIES ARE TOO OFTEN ABROGATED

It is a great shame that more and more, the develoment of very young children is vested in care institutions. Parents who should be the primary caregivers for their children are less and less responsible for their upbringing. This leaves children light on for family love and nurturing, deficits that will leave them emotionally insecure.

I often wonder why some parents have children. Is it to do with fashion or do they genuinely want to be parents?

If the latter, many parents have difficulty in understanding or accepting the responsibilities that should go with parenthood. They want children’s but then pass them to childcare agencies, often for many hours each day.

Small wonder then of many of these children grow up feeling unwanted and unloved. What a shame that this should be the case.

If parents are not prepared to provide for their children and are fully family provided way, why have them in the first place!

Is it to do with status, making a statement about the ability to procreate, or simply a desire to keep up and reflect some sort of social norm? Truth be known, if parents are not prepared to make those sacrifices and change lifestyle to reflect the fact that they have children, that they shouldn’t contemplate parenthood. Parenthood means that the role of adults becomes secondary and no longer the primary focus within the family unit. Prime focus should be for the children but often that is not the case. Parents want to retain what they have and not alter their lifestyle contexts when children come along.

So the children born to many of these unions are flicked into care from the very early weeks of their lives and remain in care before, and beyond the school day for years and years and years. They also spend school holiday periods in care They’re not brought up by their parents but rather through institutionalisation.

There is no way this can be the best developmental option for children. I say again, if parents don’t want to be the primary carers and developers of their children, they should not give birth to them.