This column was published in the NT Sun on April 17 2018

 

CONSIDER WHAT HAS GONE BEFORE

It often seems those who have been involved with educational developments and direction in the Northern Territory are completely discounted. What has happened in past years has either been completely overlooked or altogether forgotten. In relation to facilities, curriculum emphasis, staff and student development, community engagement, and other key areas, it seems that education is always in the “planning“ stage.

It is common for ideas to be raised as “new initiatives“ when in fact they are revisitations to what has been tried (and often discarded) in the past.

In part this has to do with the fact that the history of education in the Territory has been so poorly recorded. There are some records scattered in various libraries and archives but they are not readily available to current decision-makers. In 2009 when becoming the CEO of Education in the NT, Gary Barnes commented upon the fact that he was coming in “blind”. There was very little documented history he could access in order to familiarise himself about the system he was inheriting. At the time there was hope something might be done to rectify the situation. There was a proposition developed by some within Education’s Executive Group suggesting resources be given to documenting history. However, that thought faded very quickly.

In 2014 the Education Department planned on developing a visual display that focused on the contribution of CEOs from 1978 when the NT accepted responsibility for education from the Australian Government. Time, energy, effort and money was put into this development but it was subsequently shelved because of a change in government and Education’s CEO.

The Department of Education has a detailed website. It would be great if “history“ and “past development“ could be included, with people invited to read and contribute to an understanding about educational development in the NT. While this site would need to be periodically monitored and moderated, an invaluable history could be established in a relatively short period of time. This suggestion has been raised in the past without ever going anywhere!

The paradox is that many people with rich experience, are not able to share these for the benefit of the Territory nor for the awareness of incoming educators. With the passing of time, those with knowledge either leave the Northern Territory or pass on. Sadly the knowledge and understanding they could contribute, departs with them. I hope this might be corrected but don’t imagine that will happen any time soon.

 

NATIONALISATION WOULD ENHANCE AUSTRALIAN EDUCATION

This piece was published in the NT Sun on February 27 2018

NATIONALISATION WOULD ENHANCE AUSTRALIAN EDUCATION

In some respects, education in Australia has been about the cart being put before the horse. That has occurred in part because the predominate focus of Australian Primary and Secondary education has been at State and Territory level. It is only in comparatively recent times that education has taken on a more national look.

History contributed to Australian Education becoming fractured and developing along state and territory lines.
In a vast country challenged until comparatively recently by communication and distance issues, this organisation was the only real possibility. But there have also been parochial constraints. In the mid 1980’s, attempts to develop a national curriculum were thwarted by State and Territory authorities who did not want to pass educational control to a national body.

For education to take on a truly national outlook, there are three requirements. In the first instance, there needs to be a curriculum framework that embraces the whole of Australia. Secondly, teacher education should lead to national teacher registration. This would allow portability for teachers wanting to move schools across state and territory boundaries. Finally, a national curriculum should be nationally assessed.

The order in which these priorities have been considered is not logical. The National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) was introduced in 2008. NAPLAN assesses all Australian students in Years 3,5,7, and 9 for literacy and numeracy competence. Yet it was introduced as a nationwide measure of accountability, while States and Territories still held responsibly for their own curriculum delivery. Having a national curriculum prior to national assessment would have made more sense.

While we are now a fair way down the road toward universal curriculum, State and Territory authorities seem reluctant to fully embrace the concept. We contrast interestingly with many countries which have had a national curriculum for decades. It could well be that tested competencies in Australia are below comparative international standards because our curriculum has been so divided. Although State and Territory education authorities are coming together on the issue, national curriculum in many respects has a long way to go.

A third consideration ought to be the introduction of a National Teacher Registration Authority. At the moment Teacher Registration Boards (TRB’s) have State and Territory jurisdiction. A teacher wanting to move interstate has to be approved by that state’s registration board. A national board would streamline this process.

State and Territory boundaries limit educational effectiveness and are a barrier to Australia-wide outcomes. Nationalisation would introduce efficiencies and promote quality outcomes.

A CLEAN SCHOOL IS FOR EVERYONE

This article was published in the NT Sun on February 2018.

 

A CLEAN SCHOOL IS FOR EVERYONE

Caring for school environments is the duty of all users. If care is not taken, classrooms, walkways, toilets and school yards can quickly become littered and grubby. Most schools emphasise the need for students to properly dispose of rubbish. There are rubbish bins inside classrooms and buildings and strategically located around school, in toilets as well as communal areas.

It can be extraordinarily difficult for schools to maintain a clean, litter free appearance. A drive past some schools, particularly late in the afternoon, reveals a scatter of paper, plastic cups and other rubbish. A proliferation of rubbish detracts from the grounds appearance, giving the impression that all students are litterers. That is true only of of a minority.

Awareness of the need for classroom organisation and tidiness should be part of student development. In many classrooms there is a roster, assigning students to specific tasks. They might include the following:
• Cleaning whiteboards
• Delivering and collecting notes from the office
• Taking lunch orders to the canteen
• Collecting lunch orders from the canteen
• Tidying shelves and classroom storage areas
• Giving out and collecting work books
• Collecting recyclable materials.

All students take responsibility for:

• Tidy desks and personal storage areas
• Stacking their chairs at the end of the day
• Disposing of food scraps and their own rubbish into bins
• Putting litter into outside bins
• Personal hygiene including toilet flushing and hand washing
• Using classroom bins rather than floors for pencil shavings and scraps of paper.

Some would argue that attitudes of cleanliness and tidiness should be automatic. However, recognising effort and rewarding enterprise can help reinforce personal and civic attitudes. Recognition of class responsibility for care and maintenance of school appearance might include the following:

• The awarding at assembly of a mascot that ‘visits’ the tidiest classroom until the next assembly.
• Recognition of the class that looks after the verandahs and public areas adjacent.
• Giving small rewards to children caught ‘doing something good’ when it comes to  environmental care.
• Presenting class or principal’s certificates to classes and children who always do the right thing when it comes to school and classroom appearance.

Schools have cleaning contracts. Contractors attend to daily and weekly cleaning together with a ‘spring clean’ during each long holiday period. However, it is up to students and those using the school to look after and take pride in their facilities. Along the way, habits of cleanliness and tidiness that should last a lifetime, are reinforced.

PHONES AT SCHOOL SHOULD BE A ‘NO GO’.

This piece was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on February 13 2018. I would welcome reader feedback on my position. This reflection takes account of my experiences with mobile phones in schools while a school principal.

 

PHONES AT SCHOOL SHOULD BE A NO GO

The issue of mobile phones and students accessing them while at school has again come to the fore. The issue has become more critical because of self harm and suicides apparently motivated by the receipt of macabre messages.

Cruel messages and heartless pictures have a deleterious impact on the well-being of many students. From anecdotal evidence it seems that the impact of these messages on younger students is particularly pronounced.

We hear of students misusing their telephones during the school day to send such messages. They are also being used to “steal” photographs of others which can then be shared online. There are also stories of older students (in both primary and secondary schools) using their mobile phones during recess and lunch periods to share pornography between themselves and with younger students.

That this sort of thing is happening in schools is mind-boggling! The suggestion that it’s okay for students at school during the school day to access mobile phones when ever they want, is beyond all common sense.

We are also learning that very young students have their own devices which they are able to freely use, seemingly, whenever they wish

The latest scenario is that federal and state politicians suggesting that students should not be able to use mobile phones at school during the school day. This should not even be a point of debate. Students should not have phones and free access to the use at school during the school day. That used to be the way it was. If there has been a relaxation of the “no phone“ rule, it needs to be immediately reinstated.

Children and students bringing phones to school should be required to hand them to the front office or to a teacher for minding until home time. It would be better in the altogether for parents to resist pressures from children to supply them with “phones without operating rules”.

There are mobile phone options available which can be programmed to limit incoming and outgoing calls to pre-set numbers. The use of a limited device should be sufficient to enable necessary contact between parents and their children.

While some schools require students to bring their own devices to assist in study programs, these are usually laptops and iPads, which lend themselves to better control and monitoring. To continue unfettered phone use at school will continue the bullying and harassment trends which should not be a part of school culture.

BULLYING IS ALL TOO COMMONPLACE

 

BULLYING IS ALL TOO COMMONPLACE

The consequences of bullying behaviour have played out in the saddest possible way. The passing of Amy Everett, a 14 year old girl from Katherine, again highlights an issue that continues to press upon modern society. In Australia, suicide is the major cause of death for children between the ages of 5 and 14. While there may be a number of factors contributing to this sad loss of young lives, bullying and harassment, has without doubt, become the number one contributor.

The online access people have can encourage bullying. While face-to-face bullying has been a traditional tactic of harassment, the coming of cyberspace communication has added an exponential element to the problem. Bullying, much of it sharp, vicious and aiming for maximum hurt, has become a 24/7 occupation. Keyboard bullies can get at anyone, anywhere and at any time.

Amy Everett’s passing is the most recent case of a phenomenon that is ending the life from far too many people, especially young people. And it is happening all too often.

The ‘Courier Mail’, in covering the Amy Everett story (January 11) intimated that online bullying can be taking place without parents having a real understanding of what might be happening. Clearly there is a need for children and young people to be protected from online savagery. The following sound advice was offered to parents and those responsible for children.

“ 1. Regularly talk with them (children) about technology and their online activity.
2. Put filters in place and set security levels to high restrictions.
3. Make sure their passwords are changed regularly and kept private even from friends.
4. Many children don’t want to talk about online bullying for fear they will have their social media access taken away. Assure them this won’t happen.” (Courier Mail April 11, 2018)

Many very young children have access to social media platforms and can be reached by unscrupulous persons. Michael Carr-Gregg an eminent child psychologist, believes that 60% to 70% of primary school aged children are on social media and this should be discouraged.

It is suggested that social media companies should not allow children under the age of 12 to use their platforms and this should be enforced.

Children, along with everyone else, can and should be encouraged to eliminate vicious and hurtful online bullying. Young people should be taught to bar access to their accounts by those seeking to harm them through vicious words and vile statements.

ARE SCHOOLS REPLACING PARENTS?

Published in the ‘NT Suns’ on 28 November 2017.

 

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.

 

EDUCATIONAL DISAFFECTION A REAL ISSUE

 

Published in NT Suns on October 17 2017

 

EDUCATIONAL DISAFFECTION A REAL ISSUE

Rather than being straightforward, education these days has become a kaleidoscope of confusion. Many graduate teachers are quickly disappointed by the realities of a teaching profession that fails to meet their preconceptions.

Rather than finding that teaching is about “teaching”, they discover there is a huge emphasis placed on testing, measurement, assessment and evaluation, often of areas outside their teaching fields. It seems the children are forever being monitored and confronted by batteries of tests.

It quickly becomes obvious to teachers that education is being driven by data. Teaching and teaching methods are dictated by data requirements.

Academic competence is important. However holistic education (the social, emotional and moral/spiritual elements) seem to be given scant attention. Graduate teachers have a strong desire to work as developers of children. Many are quickly disillusioned because education seems to be about a fairly narrow band of academic outcomes.

For many graduate teachers, the gloss of teaching soon wears off. They find themselves unable to cope with the ‘teaching for test’ dimension that now underpins education. The brief years they spend in classrooms are disillusioning. In turn, they may share their perceptions of the teaching profession with others, negatively influencing their thoughts and opinions.

The discounting of their observations is a hard reality for classroom practitioners to accept. Unless verified by formal testing, teacher evaluations are considered to be be invalid.

Preoccupation with the formalities testing and examination are not always priorities generated by schools. Rather, requirements are set by departmental administrators and schools have to comply. In turn, these priorities are not necessarily what administrators want, but are a compulsory response to the demands of politicans.

Sadly, Australian education is deeply rooted in the art of comparing results at primary, secondary and tertiary level with those achieved by students in overseas systems. Often those students are from countries totally unlike Australia, but that is not taken into account. The fact that educational objectives are dictated by comparison to overseas systems is an undoing of Australian education.

Education should be about the needs of children and not influenced by the desire of political leaders and top educationists to brag about how good Australia education is, compared to other systems. Many graduate teachers find themselves caught up as players in this approach, quickly wise up, and quit the profession. Our students are the losers and perceptions of education are sadly discoloured.