DON’T FORCE UNDERSTANDING

This column was published (with abridgment) in the NT Suns on June 20 2017.

DON’T FORCE UNDERSTANDING

We need to be very careful that the development of young children is not detrimental. Little children need time to absorb and to understand the world into which they are growing. In these modern times, that world is increasingly complex and difficult to understand. There is a tendency on the part of many to advocate the ‘forcing’ of learning and understanding on children before they are mature enough to grasp concepts.

Recent Early Childhood supplements in the NT News and the Suns point to the wisdom of gradually presenting learning opportunities to children. Articles in these supplements laid stress on the importance of play and providing relaxed, enjoyable places of learning for young children. The building within them of a desire to learn and having confidence in their learning, will not come if unduly hastened. ‘Force feeding’ knowledge into children goes against both common sense and espoused recommendations.

A significant point made in the Suns EC supplement was that ‘Play makes a lasting impact’. That article went on to confirm that “skills developed through quality early childhood education last a lifetime.” The critical importance of quality parenting, well prepared educators and empathetic schools count for a lot, in terms of young children growing up.

Against this backdrop of thoughtful reflection about development, come Australian Government directives that amount to premature expectation and force feeding of knowledge beyond the ability of young children to comprehend.

There are two recent examples of this imposition. The first was Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham’s decision that all preschool children in Australia should be introduced to the Japanese Language. How can little children possibly comprehend ‘Japan’ and the ‘why’ of this language, when they are still in the initial stages of literacy development in our mother tongue. A directive like this is confusing for them and distorts their key educational needs.

More recently PM Turnbull has decided that ” three year olds in childcare and students from preschool … upwards will be taught about suicide awareness and mental health … .” ( “Aussie youngsters get mental health boost’, NT News, 8.6.17) Specific suicide discussion could happen with children as young as 8 years of age. Introducing children to complexities beyond their comprehensive ability poses distinct risks. It is far better to provide for the emergence of happiness and satisfaction through carefully structured learning experiences, than attempting to educate through hastily conceived programs.

KEEP, CELEBRATE OUR SPECIAL DAYS

Published in the NT Suns in June 2017. This is the unedited text.

 

WE MUST CELEBRATE OUR SPECIAL DAYS

School principals and staff members are increasingly confronted by the issue of recognising and celebrating special days on our Australian calendar. Christmas and New Year coincide with school holiday periods and do not impact during term times. Others, including Australia Day, Easter, Anzac Day, Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day take place during the school year. They are acknowledged in classroom programs and by schools.

Historically, there was no problem with celebrating these occasions. As a matter of course, classroom teachers covered them as days of significance. Australia Day, coming at the start of the school year, was a day recognising a period of changing direction in Australia’s history. Acknowledging and appreciating contemporary Australians and their contribution to society became part of the celebration. Easter cards, letters and cards for mothers and fathers and ANZAC commemorations were regarded as thanks and appreciation opportunities. Easter was about Jesus’ character of sacrifice and forgiveness. ANZAC recognition focussed on our defence force, their families and their selflessness in upholding peace and security. Mothers and Fathers days are timely reminders of the important part parents play in the upbringing of children.

In recent years, community resistance to celebrating these days has been rising to the surface. Some people see Australia Day as having negative connotations for Aboriginal Australians. Easter, in recognising our traditional religious base, could be embarrassing to migrants and others who have alternative belief systems. Others may use ANZAC Day as a chance to comment negatively on the roles played by governments in denying entry to some who would like to call Australia home. Finally, the celebration of mothers and fathers is seen by some as failing to recognise single parent families and families of same sex parents.

The character of Australia’s population has changed. We now have a truly multi-cultural and multi-ethnic population. The definition of ‘family’ is changing. Our evolving society has become more empathetic and aware of the role filled by Aboriginal Australians which was misunderstood for a long time.

While some modifications may be wise, there is no way our special days of celebration should be vacated. Abrogation would be very unfair on people and their need to rejoice as Australians in the country we call home.  Part of this is recognising values, beliefs and people who contribute as family and societal members, to the growth, progress and well being of our country. Broadening the scope of celebrated days to incorporate our diversity would be a wise option.

 

CHILDREN NEEED CONFIDENCE AND REASSURANCE

Column published in NT Suns June 6 2017

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 CHALLENGE OF JOB SECURITY

This column was published in the NT Suns in May 2017

 

THE CHALLENGE OF JOB SECURITY

The way in which staffing works in NT schools can be difficult to understand. One issue recently raised (‘Teachers in class limbo’ NT News May 11) pointed out that the number of teachers on temporary contracts in our schools appears to be growing.

Temporary status poses problems for teacher lifestyle, particularly in the area of housing. Unless educators have a steady income they find it extremely hard to negotiate home loans and this locks them out of the home purchase market.

Temporary contract employment is an outcome of Department of Education organisation. Over time, permanently employed teachers may take maternity leave, long service leave, family leave, or lengthly sick leave. Their absences create temporary vacancies in classrooms which have to be filled. However, those appointed can only be offered end-dated contracts because permanent officers are entitled to return to their positions at the end of leave periods.

This issue is one that creates uncertainty for schools, students and for teachers on short term contracts. School principals and staffing officers within the Department of Education do their best to ensure that end-dated contract teachers are offered contract opportunities in other schools. They aim to support staff about to become unemployed so there is no break in their service. This of course does not overcome the issue of teacher changes for students and schools.

The matter is exacerbated by staffing policies in rural and remote schools. Personal and family circumstances mean that many CDU graduates, relief and contract teachers are not able to accept positions in schools outside urban centres. In order to attract teachers to rural and remote schools the Education Department has to offer inducements. Two of these are the early offer of permanency and an undertaking that after a few years, efforts will be made to place these teachers in urban schools. This adds to pressures on the offering of permanent positions to contract teachers in Darwin, Palmerston and Alice Springs.

The Education Department has periodically offered permanency to contract teachers, holding them against the system rather than schools. This goodwill gesture has meant that excellent temporary teachers have had to move on because permanent officers have appointment priority to urban schools.

The issue of staffing is vexed. There will always be winners and unfortunately some losers.

EDUCATION FUNDING SHOULD BE BALANCED

EDUCATION FUNDING SHOULD BE BALANCED

Over the years, “steady state” advancement and predictability have not been hallmarks of education. Nowhere is this better illustrated then in respect of providing physical facilities.

Prior to 2000, it was extremely difficult to obtain capital works money for major school improvements. Budgets were limited and competition for building programs quite fierce. Rejection and deferments of funding submissions were common and approvals rare. It was not unusual for a program costed at say $4 million, to be funded to a level of $2 or $3 million without the full amount being approved.

Applications for Minor New Works had no guarantee of being approved. Repairs and maintenance money carried qualifications and could not be used for everything that needed fixing. In total, the amount of money available for capital needs was strictly rationed.

This all changed when the Gillard Government introduced the ‘Building Educational Revolution’ to support and upgrade school infrastructure. From that point in time onward money has been poured at schools, but with the proviso that it be used for construction of physical facilities.

In the NT, Gonski funding came unattached to requirements that it be spent on classroom focussed programs. This allowed the NT Government to use the money for capital works. Henbury Avenue and Bellamack Special Schools were constructed using this money, while Acacia Hills (Alice Springs) was significantly upgraded.

Weekly reading of tender invitations in the ‘NT News’ confirms bountiful dollars still being found to support the extension of school infrastructure

Most recently, the Northern Territory Government has promised $300,000 to each Northern Territory school. However that money has to be used for physical upgrades and capital expansion.

There needs to be more to education expenditure then supporting the construction industry. While good physical facilities are necessary, so to are programs that best support students and staff in teaching learning situations.

It’s ironic to consider that schools have to constantly and minutely scrutinise internal budget management for the sake of teaching and learning. If the recent $300,000 per school allocation could be used to support these programs, that may have been a wise investment. It is the way in which students are educated now that will translate toward the future of our Northern Territory.

Educational expenditure needs to be balanced. Facilities are important, but teaching and learning programs are really what education is about.

MONEY SHOULD BE UNDERSTOOD

Column published in NT Suns in April 2017.  Note rthat publisged columns are sometimes edited for the sake of space.  Posting of Suns columns on my blog are unedited.

MONEY SHOULD BE UNDERSTOOD

Over time, there have been many changes in education. Some have been brought about through the growth of technology. A prime example is the replacement of handwriting with computer and iPad keyboards.

In spite of ongoing change there are things that should be retained and reinforced. One of these is teaching children about the value and importance of money. This experience ought not to be deferred until students reach the middle and upper primary grades. Research at the University of Cambridge was commissioned by the United Kingdom Money Advice Service. The research revealed that children’s habits and attitudes about money are formed by the time they turn seven years of age.

Many children have little chance to learn about and understand money. Household living costs are looked after by the adults. When shopping with parents, many children will not see notes or coins being used to settle accounts. Credit cards, PayWay and mobile phone applications are used to pay for goods. This makes money an illusion rather than a reality for many children.

There are ways at both home and school that can help children when it comes to handling and understanding money.

• A weekly or fortnightly payment of pocket money can aid young people in understanding currency. Encouraging children to spend and save from this allowance helps them understand and apply the principle ‘save it, you have it, spend it, its gone’.

• Encouraging children to handle coins, appreciating their size, weight and value encourages familiarisation with currency. Extending this to include appreciation of the value of notes is wise.

• Talking with children and answering their questions about money is part of their home and school education.

• School banking programs encourage children to establish the saving habit. This is important because so much advertising focus encourages people to spend everything and save nothing.

• Allowing students to shop at the school canteen can help with understanding money including item costs and change given on purchases.

• Understanding the use and purpose of money can be supported by classroom activities. Having a classroom shop with shopkeepers and purchasers learning about buying and selling through drama is one approach. Another is understanding through maths problems that are about money matters.

As young people grow up, learning about credit, credit traps and the ease with which debt can be incurred need to be included.

Money is a part and parcel of everyday life. It’s understanding and use should not be foreign to young people.

NURTURE BY PARENTS THE BEST CARE

Published in the NT Suns in April 2017.

NURTURE BY PARENTS THE BEST CARE

The best love and care that children can have, is that which is offered by parents. Too often this is overlooked. Some believe that early learning educators, teachers and after school carers can stand in the place of parents. A recent Sunday Territorian article (April 2) touched what might be a raw nerve. ‘Hands on parenting is what helps children’ is so true. A study conducted by the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY) focussed on this truth.

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.”

In these modern times, the need for parents to work, too often distances them from their children. Before and after school care have become a way of life for children whose parents leave 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 made tired by work, making quality time with their children during the week a rarity. While family catch-up may happen on the weekend, there is a need to attend to domestic chores and get ready for the working week ahead. In these contexts it can become easy for children to become somewhat overlooked. They may also 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.” They want their parents around, wishing to identify with them in school settings. Parents attending assemblies, participating in parent teacher nights, and supporting their children’s extra-curricular school activities is a part of what their children want.

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.”

Children need room to move and develop as independent human beings. ‘Helicopter parents’ who constantly hover around children can be very stifling. They suffocate the 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 that their children want and need.