NT EDUCATION MUST NOT BE SEGMENTED

This piece was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on June 12 2018

NT EDUCATION MUST NOT BE SEGMENTED

Michael Gunner’s thoughts about Indigenous Education that could be included in a treaty worry me greatly. If a treaty were to eventuate, the Chief Minister suggests that schools in indigenous communities could be given the right to run themselves. “The Government (would provide) money for education and the community (would take) responsibility for how it is delivered locally. Locals could take control of the curriculum … control of children attending school, teachers employed and seeing even more locals becoming teachers.” (Gunner will sign treaty, Sunday Territorian, 3.6.2018) In her story, Judith Aisthorpe reported that several people in high places thought this to be a great idea.

To declare all remote area schools as ‘independent’ and being able to set their own curriculum priorities would be a step backward, not forward. If still working as an educator in remote areas, schools set up under such loose guidelines would be places where I would not want to work.

Some years ago, a Territory politican who represented remote communities, offered a counterpoint. He said that in a mainstream Australian society, English Literacy and Mathematical understanding were key skills. They were necessary for transactional purposes. They were also skills all Australians needed for communication and survival.

Mr Gunner’s suggestions run counter to advice given to me by Aboriginal people in communities where we worked. They wanted ‘proper’ education. A prominent Indigenous Leader at Angurugu in the early 1980’s put it this way. “We want our children to be educated in the same way as children in towns and cities.” That was the brief with which we were charged. There is a place for bilingualism and for education to be culturally relevant. But to deny the need for competence in literacy and numeracy would be totally wrong.

This can only happen if a curriculum emphasising key academic skills is supported by qualified teachers. It is absolutely essential that families play their part by ensuring regular school attendance.

One of the downsides for Indigenous Education (and indeed for education as a whole) is that it has become politically cluttered. Those with and those without qualification feel it necessary to add their opinion to educational debate. People working in schools are busy reacting to what comes down as directives from on high. They have little opportunity to contribute meaningfully to sharing the realities of schools and programs. To uncouple education from an approved Australian curriculum supported by qualified teachers would further weaken remote area education which is already challenged.

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.

EXPENSIVE EDUCATION CAN ESCALATE FAMILY DEBT

This piece was published in the ‘NT Sun’  a free community paper that is also inserted into the ‘NT News’ every Tuesday.   It was published on February 6 2018.

EXPENSIVE EDUCATION CAN ESCALATE DEBT

There is no such thing as a ‘free’ education. This has always been the case for students enrolled in private schools. However this also applies to parents of children attending government schools. Educational costs rise year on year and no families are exempt.

The average cost of schooling is rising far more quickly than reflected by the Australian cost price index. The NT News (Back -to-school trap Warning to parents racking up debt 24/1/18) confirmed that text books, stationery, shoes, uniforms and laptops are among items set to cost families over 40% more than last year. “For a typical family, that’s $829 per year.” (NT News above).

The article cautions about the dangers of buy-now-pay-later schemes which could add to the debt burdens already confronting families. According to the NT News (above) these instalment plan options are being used by around 30% of parents. A better option might be to save a weekly or monthly instalment so money is there to pay for requisites when this outlay becomes due. This would help families to avoid the stress of suddenly having to find money to cover return to school expenditure.

The issue of school costs for parents is partially defrayed by the NT Government providing back-to-school vouchers worth $150 for each child. These vouchers are sent to the schools where children are enrolled, rather than being given directly to parents. The vouchers can be used to help cover back to school expenses. While they don’t meet all costs, the vouchers go a long way towards reducing the amount owed by parents. In addition, the NT Government supports students with two $100 vouchers (one for semester one and the second for semester two) to help defray sporting costs. Many sports programs are organised by schools and the voucher offset is a saving to parents.

The costs of providing technology for students has added a great deal to family bills. Some schools ask families to purchase laptops or iPads for students. Others offer rental or leasing options. Regardless of the method, the outlay is significant. The NT News article quote suggests that school related technology costs will add an average of $260 to the education bill for each child this year. Maybe voucher assistance to help defray this expense for parents could be considered by the government.

Education is a major cost item. Parents and families might consider building this into a savings programs that can be sourced to meet bills and other school contributions.

STRESS NEEDS TO BE MANAGED

This was published in the ‘NT Sun’ on 30 January 2018.

 

 

STRESS NEEDS TO BE MANAGED

Teaching is a very stressful job. A great deal of that is due to the increasing demands placed on schools and teachers.

Whenever issues of community concern are raised, schools and staff are expected to be fixers. The most recent example of this is the expectation that schools will take the issue of cyberbullying on board and immediately fix the problem.

This will add to a requirement that on the first day of every semester, principals have to inservice all staff on the subject of any inappropriate conduct they might see happening to any child they teach. All staff and those connected with schools have to sign a disclaimer that they have been inserviced and understand their responsibilities to report any and all concerns about student well-being.

These requirements add to educational expectations held for schools and teachers. Curriculum requirements are being constantly broadened and deepened. Content is regularly tweaked and modified to include changes and this also comes with the need for school staff inservice. Professional development is occupying more and more time for teachers either before or after teaching time. Periods of weekend and holiday time are increasingly taken up by compulsory professional development requirements.

A drive past most schools early on most mornings, after hours, during weekends and at holiday times confirms that many teachers and support staff seem to spend almost more time at work than at home. This may be necessary in order for staff to meet obligations, but it distorts life and work balance.

There have been significant educational developments in the Territory since self government in 1978. While some changes have been excellent, others have been insufficiently considered. One of the major and ongoing issues has been an exponential increase in workload levels for school leaders, teachers and support staff.

This overload is due to the fact that advice offered during the 1980’s was ignored. We were told by an experienced educator, Jim Spinks, that our system and schools were in danger of being overwhelmed if we simply added things into curriculum requirements and dumped on teachers. Spinks said that order to achieve educational balance, we also needed to drop some requirements off school agendas.

The school year should be one where balance is considered. If not, teacher stress and lack of wellbeing will continue to be major issues.

 

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.

 

TECHNOLOGY CAN LIMIT LEARNING

This article was published in the ‘NT Suns’ on November 21 2017.  The subject is one that has always resonated with me.  What do readers think?

 

TECHNOLOGY CAN LIMIT LEARNING

A great deal of what happens educationally is driven by technology. Computers, iPads and other technologies have their place in supporting students. However, they should always be tools used to enhance assignment preparation and work requirements. If students rely on devices to provide spellchecking, grammatical correctness, accurate mathematical formulae and so on, they may satisfy learning requirements without understanding what they have done.

Reliance on technological assistance starts in primary school and extend all the way through to tertiary study. Indeed, the list of student requirements to be provided by parents often includes the need for an IPA or similar device to be supplied. Relying on the capabilities of iPads and computers can take away the ability to reason and think from students. Computers and iPads become a crutch on which they lean too heavily to help satisfy learning requirements. There can be nothing more dissatisfying for students, than not understanding solutions to questions that are solved by technology, rather than their own brain power.

A great deal of data, both anecdotal and empirically validated, suggests that the concentration span of young people is diminishing. Relying on technological devices can interrupt concentration. If students become overly reliant on computers as learning aids, self confidence and independence can be eroded.

Communication Basics

Listening, speaking, reading and writing are essential communication skills. Use of technology often takes the place of live conversation. Texting and messaging have their purpose, but ought not replace face-to-face speaking and listening. Correct sentence structure, including the use of punctuation, word choice, intonation and clarity should be built into verbalisation. Children also need to clearly hear messages so they understand what has been said. Unclear speech and poor listening skills can develop from lack of practice and the substitution of keyboard communication. Reading from texts may be supplemented by electronic media, but should never be totally replaced by screen reading. Nothing beats books.

Keyboard skills and the ability to electronically produce written text should never be at the expense of handwriting. Mastery of pen and paper communication is important, enabling the written word to be produced anywhere and at any time. That includes the ability to hold a pen or pencil correctly and comfortably.

Technology supports education, but in no way should it replace traditional literary and mathematical teaching and learning. Should that happen, students will be the losers.