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.

 

NAPLAN IS A TESTING MONSTER

 

Published in the NT Suns in October 2017.  This subject continues to be a hot topic.

 

NAPLAN IS A TESTING MONSTER

 

The National Assessment Program in Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) testing, introduced for year 3, 5, 7 and 9 students in 2009 is about to enter another phase.

The tests started off as being “pencil and paper” related, with students completing tests in booklets. These were then sent for marking by panels of appointed teachers. That marking was done by people qualified to examine responses, moderate and then allocate levels.

We have now moved to a point of where NAPLAN testing is about to be undertaken by students generating online computer responses. From 2018, tests will be marked by computer rather than people. This will even apply to literacy tests.

While computer assessment may be okay for tests where boxes are being checked, there are issues around the marking of text. Taking people out of the marking equation, means computers are being asked to interpret innuendo, understand colloquialisms and appreciate local references. While test results may come back to schools within weeks rather than months, one would have serious doubts about marking accuracy.

The NAPLAN program has become one of distance and remoteness, with students removed from those who are gathering the data. With online computer generated answers coming from all schools around Australia, we can look forward to systems becoming overloaded and crashing. The idea of the same tests being sat on the same day at the same time by all students will have to change.

Before NAPLAN, each State and Territory had its own internal assessment system. These individual programs generally worked well in terms of data feedback. Nationalised testing might satisfy the idea of “oneness” for all Australian students. However, specifics relating to NT school locations and student characteristics, which may impact upon test results, are not taken into account. That is one reason why results for the Northern Territory show NT students in a dismal light. Each year, our teachers and schools are battered with a “sea of red” results. Unhealthy contestation by comparison of results between schools can add to student stress.

One has to ask what real difference this testing regime has made in terms of enriching and enhancing Australian education. A further question might be whether the many hundreds of millions of dollars spent on this program might have been better spent on meeting school and student needs.

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.

‘NEW’ IS NOT NEW

 

This paper was published in edited form in the ‘NT Suns’ on September 19 2017.

 

  NEW IS NOT NEW

Educational ideas and changes are often presented to the public as being innovative and new. This is often not the case. Proposed changes are in fact there to have a great article re-introduction of old practices, previously discarded.

Within education at both schools and system levels of management, there is a fairly constant movement of staff. Those new to education in the NT, may introduce ‘new’ practices without being aware of their past use and history. This happens because there is little in the way of written and recorded NT educational history.

From time to time, those earning degrees, may study aspects of our Territory’s educational past. However, their dissertations and theses at best, find their way into the university’s library archive, often never seeing the light of day after they have been assessed and filed. This means they benefit no-one. The research devoted to their preparation and what they reveal is largely wasted.

When appointed CEO of Education in 2009, Gary Barnes observed to a meeting of school leaders that his job as incoming leader was not helped by the fact that we had no recorded and readily available history of education in the NT. He suggested that to understand educational history would help leaders in planning the way forward.

Any hope there might be some changes to overcome this deficiency have never occurred. Consequently, many educators who come to the NT remain blind to educational history. They make decisions and introduce policies without realising how much of their ‘new’ content is old hat. The following are a few of the policies that have been re-run:

• Regionalisation of educational management which has been on, off and on again several times since the late 1970’s.

• Introduction of Aboriginal languages into schools. Over time, bilingual education and other approaches have been embraced, rejected and re-endorsed.

• Developing programs for the study of languages other than English (LOTE) in both primary and secondary schools has had the same on again, off again, now on again history.

• Teacher training methodologies have been re-modelled so many times, that confusion has resulted.

• TAFE, VET and life education approaches are in a constant state of flux, posing huge challenges for schools, training institutions and students.

Innovation and change are important to grow educational systems and the schools they support. However, so too is consistency and predictability. Introducing, dropping, reinstating and changing focus by habit, is not wise. For the sake of stability we need to reflect on our educational history.

 

 

 

 

SHOWS GIVE CHILDREN A CHANCE TO SHINE

Unedited text of column published in ‘NT Suns’ on. July 25 2017.

 

SHOWS GIVE STUDENTS CHANCE TO SHINE

When people talk about the NT’s show cycle, thoughts turn to sideshow alley, pluto pups, show bags and lighter wallets. However, there is another side to shows which take place at Fred’s Pass then in Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Katherine and Darwin. It is the chance for Territorians to display handiwork and share creative prowess.

Children and students from many schools share in this celebration. Classes enter art/craft competitions and are other categories. Individual students representing their schools or entering privately, go for art, craft, construction, cooking, and for some the making of clothes. They are justifiably proud of their prize and participation certificates. Many take these awards to school to share with classmates.

Some aspects of shows extend the work of particular educational institutions. The Katherine Show provides an excellent opportunity for students from the Katherine Rural College (an arm of the Charles Darwin University) to demonstrate agricultural, animal husbandry, and equestrian competence. The same opportunities are offered to students of Taminmin High School at the Royal Darwin Show. A visit through Exhibition Hall during the Royal Darwin Show confirms that many students and schools use this as an opportunity to display their artistic, cooking and creative talents.

Shows are an educational extension. They provide urban and town based students a chance to learn about animals and plants. Animal husbandry and horticultural awareness for many students is an experience only available during show times. Shows provide a chance for other young people to demonstrate their competence in these fields.

The show circuit also offers our Education Department and various schools the chance to let the public know about educational trends, directions and developments. Displays are often interactive and many queries for later follow up are raised by members of the public to educational personnel operating the display. Maybe more schools could consider having promotional stalls at the show when it comes to their city or town.

Sideshow alley and the various rides are of course a part of every show. However, there is much more to the show than amusement. Exhibiting and learning opportunities are very much a part of these annual events. Without doubt shows support both student learning and their sharing of skills with the NT public.

NT – SCHOOL HOLIDAYS CHANGING

 

SCHOOL HOLIDAYS – CHANGE ON THE WAY

Students and teachers from government schools in the Northern Territory are enjoying the fourth week of their midyear school holidays in the Northern Territory for the last time. From the beginning of 2018, our holiday organisation is going to change.

The four week holiday period in the middle of the year (June, July) will be reduced to 3 weeks. The extra week will be moved into the break between term three and term four (September, October).

The decision to change school holiday structure in the Northern Territory was an outcome of surveys conducted by the CLP government during its last term in office. Parents, teachers and community members were asked their opinion of the present structure and whether they believed change was necessary.

Responses indicated that the majority of Territorians felt that a change was overdue. The decision was between the holiday model of southern states (six weeks at Christmas and two weeks at the end of each term) and the one that has been adopted.

• Six weeks at Christmas
• One week between term one and two
• Three weeks between term two and three.
• Two weeks between term three and four.

I believe the new model will be good for students and teachers. It may also help parents when it comes to childcare arrangements in the middle of the year as there will be one less week for which to provide.

A week’s holiday at the end of term one is usually sufficient. The four day Easter holiday often adds value and length to the break. As well, there are a number of public holidays during term one and two, adding to recreational time. There is only one public holiday in the second half of the year.

There is a case for shortening the mid semester holiday, adding a week to the break between terms 3 and 4. Traditionally, the second half of every school year is more intense, more mentally draining and physically exhausting than the first half. This has to do in large part with pressures around final assessments and exam preparations.

A single week between these terms does not give teachers and students a meaningful break. Hopefully the longer break will enable them to enter the last stanza of the school year feeling more ready and refreshed than has been the case.

Time will tell whether the change makes any significant difference to student and teacher wellbeing and educational outcomes.

 

Edited version published in NT Suns newspaper on July 18 2017