Once Upon a Time in Education

Once upon a time in Education

Listening was an important attribute instilled as an attribute enhancing comprehension and understanding.

Handwriting was taught and legibility encouraged.

Children learned about words through phonetic study.

Oral reading to the teacher and within groups lead to fluency when sharing text. Discussion within groups and shared conversation built understanding about meaning of the written word.

Children learned tables and mathematical formulae. They developed the ability to carry out mental computation and were dexterous without the need for calculator assistance.

Grammar was studied. Rules relating to the English language and usage were studied and understood.

Spelling was an essential subject. Words and their usage was an important part of study.

My oh my, how things have changed.

Response to ‘NT News’ editorial about Youth Crime in the NT

Your editorial “put arrogant offenders to work in the businesses they damage” (26/8) reignited memories of the seriousness of youth crime – not this week or last but back in the very late 1980’s. The consequences of criminal behaviour impacting on Darwin residents and business owners was so severe, that a community forum on the subject was organised. This forum took place over two days and was held at the Uniting Church in Casuarina. The gathering, on both days was well attended; pros and cons including supposition about the reasons for criminal behaviour and what might be done to understand the behaviour of perpetrators while better supporting victims, were canvassed at length.

Toward the end of the second day, the gathering resolved that a committee be established to keep a watching brief over criminal behaviour impacting the community, while developing recommendations to put before government on how the matter might be addressed. The group was asked to develop strategies which, if actioned, might help reduce the levels of crime being encountered.

The committee was to meet monthly and report to government on the progress of its deliberations. After several meetings, the group agreed that it’s task was impossible and it was disbanded.

Thirty plus years on, aberrant and criminal behaviour by youth is still an issue, but one that is much sharper, more focussed and seemingly more insoluble than those decades ago.


Janet Albrechtsen’s column (‘Parents must do their job so teachers can do their own’, Inquirer, Weekend Australian 2-3 July) brought back a memory of education being describe metaphorically as a tripod supported by three legs, students, teachers and parents. The strength, value and balance of education is determined by the awareness and support each ‘leg’ offers the other. If, as Albrechtsen writes, parents abdicate the primacy of their roles, education destabilises.

Unfortunately, education systems have been far too prepared to accept an expanded ‘loco parentis’ role, hand-balling additional responsibilities for student development and upbringing to schools and teachers. Teaching responsibilities are being diminished and diffused as teachers “… play the role of social worker, psychologist, mediator, police officer, judge and then find the time to teach …”.

Teachers are being forced into becoming “Jacks of all trades and masters of none.” It is small wonder that Australian education has declined. Unless authorities take note and act on the advice of Albrechtsen and others to reprioritise (and return) to the prime functions of teaching, teachers historically fulfilled, necessary corrections will not happen any time soon. This has to be predicated by parents returning to their parenting roles.


Why is it that with all the discussions happening about youth crime, (a phenomena that’s becoming worse and worse), that parents and primary caregivers are not held in any way to be responsible for the conduct of young people under their management control.

My first acquaintance with the issue of out- of-control crime in Darwin goes back to a forum held on the subject in 1989 (I think) in the Casuarina Uniting Church. At some point in time I will write on the outcome of that two day meeting. Suffice it to say, that a lot of the children offending these days are the children and indeed the grandchildren of those who were creating the problems of criminal behaviour back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Criminal behaviour by young people is sadly an indelible part and underpinning behaviour in the Northern Territory. It has become entrenched.


Jason Clare seems to have a burning ambition to contribute to the enhancement and development of education’s offerings to Australian students. His enthusiasm is commendable and his acceptance of advice from Tanya Pliberseck (along with her willingness to offer that support) is commendable.

I hope that within the educational domain, Mr Clare is able to discern the wood from the trees. There has been far too much experimentation and allowance of teaching to be subjugated to the whims of researchers whose experimentation turns students into educational guinea pigs.

Good, sound holistic education, as declared essential in the preamble of the Melbourne Declaration on Education in 2008 needs to be revisited. The declaration stated education should take account of the academic, social, emotional and moral/spiritual needs of students. Sadly, that ambition now seems to have become lost in history.


Three Outstanding NT Female Leaders

We are blessed in the NT to have an outstanding numbers of persons, in terms of awareness and leadership, doing great things for our community.

I don’t included politicans or local government representatives in my reflection because they are in a position to create change based upon the polder they have through parliamentary and local government processes.

I am still reflecting upon men , but in terms of women, the three who most stand out to me in terms of their ‘cut through’ and influence, their tenacity, their persistence in pursuing kept issues and their focus on issues rather than personality are:

Number 3:

Amy Hetherington-Tait as an influencer, her dexterity and her capacity to contribute positively in every situation. She is a developer of people and an outstanding entertainer.

Number 2:

Ruth Palmer, CEO of the Darwin Property Council, for her enthusiasm and constant pursuit of outcomes to situation which will uplift and promote our widower community. She is a dynamo who is indefatigable when it comes to role set fulfilment. She is a visionary but also a completer and finisher.

Number 1:

Katie Woolf OAM, the Mix 104.9 360 Radio presenter, whose three hour programs each day, Monday to Friday, focus Territorians on key issues, current trends and developments. She is always issues focussed and asks the questions about our community that need to be put both those in power. She is a fierce believer in the need for accountability to be a hallmark of Territory leaders in all fields of endeavour. She is a ‘without fear or favour’ person, whose contributions refresh and enlighten our territory.

Thank you for the work you do and the contributions you make to this place.





Thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy School of Education

Faculty of Law, Business, Education and Arts Charles Darwin University

March, 2017

This thesis is a study of the public education system of the Northern Territory for the period 1876 to 2010, in part through first-hand accounts of the events and challenges as experienced by educators who taught in the system, especially since 1960. The study substantiates the narratives of the educator’s lives and work against Commonwealth and Territory reviews and reports, including Annual Northern Territory Department of Education Reports and explores available literature, to provide details of the evolving system throughout the last 134 years. The narratives and literature combine and reflect a view of events that shaped the public education system.

The research aims to understand how the unusual characteristics of the NT in terms of geographical, political and demographical events have impacted on the development of the Northern Territory public education system during a one hundred and thirty three year history to 2010. In essence, this research aims to capture a sense of these times in a place that has seen tremendous educational change and growth amidst considerable political, economic and social development. By examination of this extended period, the historical background which informs the development of education in the Northern Territory can be used to illuminate contemporary events.

The research finds that the Northern Territory public education system has been a system that has tried to adapt to changing circumstances, but in fact continues to reinvent itself, with little consideration and acknowledgement for corporate history.

Although the system has developed in terms of infrastructure; little progress has been made to develop a quality system.

Dr Bennett’s outstanding work can be found online abd is well worth perusing. It is a very detailed, very complete and very readable study.

Help Children Feel Secure


We are living in an increasingly volatile and unpredictable world. Safety and security are paramount issues and frequently the centre of conversations.

Terrorism is increasingly global and no country or region is guaranteed as safe from its impacts. The Christchurch massacre on March 15 showed that to be the case.

Questions about safety and the uncertainty of security affect both adults and children. For children, one of the most significant impacts has been the requirement that schools develop lock down policies. Policies are periodically drilled for the sake of awareness, so that if schools are under threat they can be safely implemented.

Children of all ages are very aware of what is happening in the world. ‘The good, the bad and the ugly’ elements of life are constantly brought to their attention through media and by listening and contributing to conversations.

Sarah Parry and Jez Oldfield wrote that “While adults often have enough life experience to … take a long term perspective toward such disasters, children can face different challenges.” ( How to talk to children about terrorism, The Conversation, June 5, 2017.) Events such as the Christchurch massacre cause children to “… experience much higher levels of distress than usual. … this can include aches and pains, sleeplessness, nightmares, … (children) becoming very snappy … withdrawn … not wanting to be separated from their parents.” (Op cit)

Shielding children from confronting reality does not work and is an unhelpful strategy. Parry and Oldfield write that “… young people today are exposed to anxiety provoking information like never before. Rather than shielding children from inevitable stressors, we need to focus on arming them with balanced information, compassion, hope and the chance to develop their resilience.” (Op cit)

Rather than hiding the horror of terrorism from children, frank discussion, including answering their questions, is a wiser approach. Parry and Oldfield suggest the following strategies.

* Ask children how they feel about what they have seen or heard. Then address their feelings.

* Remind children that helpers of those distressed are the real heroes. Discuss their bravery, decency and morality.

* Be conscious of the need to “ … enhance children’s confidence, sense of bravery, ability to problem solve and develop their moral compass” through empathetic and understanding parental support.

* Sorting the truth from myth and misinformation that circulates after tragedy, helps children keep things in perspective.

* Be conscious of the need to reassure young people about parental and adult care for their safety. Parry and Oldfield (op cit) offer wise words. “ Being able to reassure young people that they are safe, loved and cared for can make all the difference.”

These considerations are paramount in helping children during uncertain times.

Teachers need to Teach

Educational decision makers would do well to reflect on Angela Shanahan’s column “Teaching suffers for a generation of ideological hijack” (The Weekend Australian 13,14/8), for she goes to the nub of the deficit model, education has become. The dismissal of explicit teaching and the diminishment of teachers as leaders within classrooms, has been to the detriment of instruction in key areas. Literacy and numeracy skills, the ability to listen and comprehend, grammatical correctness in in writing, spelling and speaking have all been dismissed.

The concept of teachers as role models has been abandoned. In the place of these things we have open classrooms, an abandonment of desks and tables, students and teachers sitting on the floor for lessons, a focus on talking (everyone together at once) with the hubbub making listening almost impossible. Respect for teachers has diminished, with classroom educators placing more emphasis on being pals with children.

A lack of structure leads to a lack of respect, dismissing classroom order and discipline. Ultimately this leads to teachers becoming frustrated, with disillusion ending in their premature departure from the profession. Sadly, too many school principals and senior staff cannot see that new ideologies lead to the substitution of key learning outcomes with mediocrity and under-educated students. School education needs to be realigned with ordered teaching and learning again becoming a priority.



I am in the latter part of chronological involvement through my 70’s and am confronted with the future. Residential care for the aged will never be for me. My preferences would be death before being committed to aged care. There are things, insoluble things, that can never be fixed. Government talks about fix-ups and there have been commissions and inquiries galore – but nothing really changes.

The issues that confront my thinking may not be all that palatable but they are real. I will probably attract criticism for ‘unfashionable’ comment but that is no real worry.

• Too many aged care providers are concerned about profiting from the ‘business’ of aged care. The facilities are centres for making money for owners, be they individuals or company controlled.

• Residents are regarded as ‘cash cows’ who have to shell out big dollars for tenancy rights and premises maintenance. If they die, most of what they have paid, remains with the institution and is both refundable to relatives.

• Food is often both scarce and basic. Food costs are kept to minimal levels.

• Staff are very, very poorly paid. There is little extrinsic job satisfaction.

• Only the most basic of training is offered to staff. Intrinsic staffer satisfaction is of mo concern to owners and managers of these businesses. Many staff are not happy people.

• Many staff, notwithstanding protestation to the contrary, are minimally trained. The majority have different cultural mores and ethnic expectations to residents.

• Very little care is taken to ensure that transmissible diseases are not spread from staff to residents and from resident to resident.

• Residents are not looked after according to specific needs.

• Many staff are challenged by residents who, because of their deterioration, may be abusive, aggressive and verbally/ physically threatening to staff. Not all residents are compliant.

• Notwithstanding the above, there are staff members who engage in bullying behaviour toward residents.

• Residents are often confined and boredom sets in.

Aged care COULD be fixed, but that will not happen while the above circumstances continue to exist.