Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
In the build up to Education Nation (#EduNationAu), The Great Debate, a showdown about public versus private education, was billed as one of the headline acts for the event, featuring two speakers who typically take opposing views. Dr. David Zyngier (@dzyngier) was arguing for the side of public education against Dr. Kevin Donnelly (@ESIAustralia) who was, of course, arguing for the side of private education.
As promised on Twitter, I have recorded and included here the full audio of the debate. The only editing done to it was to bring the audio levels roughly into alignment as some sections, particularly during the questions from the floor, were rather quiet in the recording.
The Great Debate was structured as follows:
Dr. Zyngier opened by talking about the negativity towards public schooling being a product which began with the Fraser Government in the 1960s, who introduced public funding for private schools, creating a sense of entitlement and privilege for the few and is an anti-democratic notion. Public funding of private education has continued since then and has resulted in a constant expansion of the private education sector.
Dr. Zyngier then invoked Joe Hockey, currently the Australian Ambassador the United States, who, as Treasurer in 2014, was quoted in the media as saying “…everyone in Australia must do the heavy lifting. The age of entitlement is over, the age of personal responsibility has begun…” but, in fact, the public funding private education is about to outstrip public funding of public education vis-a-vis the funding per student amount.
This constant growth in public funding of private education has, Dr. Zyngier argued, resulted in a growing perception of private schools as being better and played a role in the residualisation of public schools. There is now a growing disparity between funding and this should be seen and felt as a national shame as there are significant consequences for our children. There is a widening disparity in resourcing for students at different ends of the socioeconomic status (SES) scale.
The priority for the Government should be full public funding for public education to help ameliorate the lottery of birth which resulted in parents having a choice, however, the choice was only available if parents could afford the choice. Stephen Dinham (OAM) was then quoted as having said that “It is hard not to conclude that what we are seeing is a deliberate strategy to dismantle public education, partly for ideological and partly for financial reasons.” Rresidualisation feeds further residualisation, was the message I was hearing at this point.
Dr. Zyngier at this point changed tack, asking the audience who had flown on a long-haul flight overseas, and who had travelled by economy class, business class or first class. There were fewer hands up for the higher classes of course, and Dr. Zyngier made the analogy that as those who choose to fly in business or first class do not expect those in economy class to subsidise their flight, why should those who choose to send their children to a private school expect the rest of us to subsidise that choice. I am not entirely sure the analogy is a valid one, given that airlines are a business and education is an investment in the future.
I am not entirely sure the analogy is a valid one, given that airlines are a profit-based business and education is, or should be seen as, an investment in the future. It also seems a stretch to me to argue this point, particularly given that, as Jamie Dorrington, the Rethinking Reform MC remarked, that the airlines would likely argue that the upper-class prices, in fact, subsidise the economy class prices.
Dr. Zyngier argued that this is in fact what does happen in Australia, with public funding of private schools acting as a subsidy for the lifestyle choice of the parents and that we have the highest level of privatisation of education in the OECD. Dr. Zyngier continued by pointing out that countries in the OECD such as the United Kingdom and the United States, though they have privatised education institutions, and perhaps some of the most well-known educational institutions in the world, do not give any public funds to those private education institutes whatsoever.
In closing, Dr. Zyngier made two points; firstly, he noted that Australia has been reported by the OECD as having very high student achievement results as well as significantly different learning achievements between the students at either end of the SES scale, which should be concerning to us all.Secondly, and his final point, we need to come to an agreement about what it means to have a public education system, which, to me, sounds like a national conversation about the purpose and goals of education. Maybe I am just hearing what I want to hear, though.
At this point, Dr. Donnelly took the podium to make his arguments and opened by listing off the adjectives typically used to describe him; misogynistic, homophobic, and extremist and proceeded to share some of his background with the audience, revealing that he grew up in Broadmeadows, Melbourne, as a child with a father who was a member of the Communist Party, whilst he and his brother were members of the Eureka Youth Movement, which he indicated was the Youth Communist Party, and that he had “…a good Catholic mother” which resulted in, as I can only imagine, some interesting discussions at home. He then commented that he did not want to be antagonistic or vitriolic today, which, I daresay, caused some disappointment amongst the audience
Dr. Donnelly then spoke about how Australia has a tripartite education system and that this arrangement has had consensus from the major parties for some years now, and he quoted then Minister for Education Julia Gillard as saying that “…I am committed to parents’ rights to choose the school that is best for their child.”
Dr. Donnelly, remarkably, called Gonski funding a myth and said that needs-based funding had been around a number of years, which generated a number of raised eyebrows in the room. He went on to comment that the ten-year period from 1998 saw a significantly large increase in enrolments in the private education system, and that those enrollments were predominantly in the low-fee paying schools, and that while this voting with their feet movement had slowed down since 2008, the Catholic and Independent education systems received little overall funding in the 2012/2013 budget from the Government.Additionally, argued Dr. Donnelly, high-profile schools such as Kings and Melbourne Grammar are, in fact, outliers in regards to the education fees and resourcing. and that the Australian Education Union
The Australian Education Union should be arguing, commented Dr. Donnelly, not necessarily against the stances of the parties regarding the Gonski funding model, but against those states who did not ever sign off on it. He continued by noting that Julia Gillard, then Minister for Education, signed off on twenty-seven different agreements with various state education bodies, which means that there are at least twenty-seven different funding models in place.
Dr. Donnelly then broached the argument from critics of private education that private schools only get the good kids, or those with high academic ability, and discussed research that demonstrates that the SES status of a student’s family only contributes approximately fifteen to eighteen percent of the academic variance and that the Government has spent billions of additional dollars on education without seeing the expected growth in learning outcomes. He also argues that the public selective schools, selective for academic or sporting or any other reason, are a contributor to the residualisation of public schooling, but that they do not get mentioned, with private education being an easy target
A paper by the OECD which Professor Geoff Masters (@GMasterACER), CEO of ACER (@ACEReduAu), quoted in a recent paper which indicates that Australia is second only to Denmark in regards to intergenerational mobility and that another OECD report from 2008 ranked Australia as one of the most socially mobile countries.
Dr. Donnelly closed out his opening arguments by calling for a move away from the acrimonious debate and to look at high-performing schooling systems and ask what works there that might work for us in Australia, with a move towards a decentralised education structure with increased school autonomy and choice to create the flexibility and diversity in our schools to encourage schools to be innovative.
At this point, Jamie Dorrington asked Dr. Zyngier for his rebuttal comments, however, I will leave the rebuttal from both Dr. Zyngier and Dr. Donnelly, as well as the questions from the floor, for you to listen to, as I would like to explore what we have already heard in a bit more depth.
From conversations with a few people in the room after The Great Debate, there was a feeling that no-one was actually going to change their mind based on any arguments presented today, and that there were going to be a large number of Donnelly-haters and people in the room who would support Dr. Zyngier purely based on what Dr. Donnelly has previously written and said in the media, and who would not actually be interested in hearing what he was saying. I have also heard that someone was told by their Principal they would not be given permission to attend Education Nation purely because Dr. Donnelly would be speaking.
Irrespective of what you think of Dr. Donnelly, this sort of closed-mindedness is not healthy for education debate in Australia. That sort of thinking creates an echo-chamber, where you hear only what you want to hear which creates a stagnant environment and does our students a disservice. Dr. Donnelly (and Dr. Zyngier, for that matter) made some very sensible comments today.
I do not advocate, let me make it clear, for all of Dr. Donnelly’s views. Personally, I am still working out what my own views are on a range of topics related to education, and trying to work out who I am as an educator and where I fit in the scheme of things. This means that whilst I have made my mind up about some areas, I am open to hearing ideas from all quarters. I engaged in the Twitter conversation that was going on during The Great Debate (you can actually my laptop keys at one point in the audio!) and the reactions I was seeing were a range of adjectives between positive and negative, but I saw some that attacked the man and not the argument which is shameful and contributes nothing.
Dr. Zyngier, as I mentioned, also made some great points in his argument.
Both men threw out numbers, statistics and made references to research with no citations provided. Neither man changed anyone’s mind. The debate, though interesting, and generating a lot of interest, contributed nothing to the overall debate about education in this country. I wholeheartedly agree with Dr Donnelly when he said that “we need to move on from this debate and its acrimonious nature.” The discussions about the impact of a child’s SES background depends on which research you read, is what I drew from that facet of this argument.
We need to move on, there are important issues that need to be addressed.
If you have missed any articles in the Education Nation series, you can find them here.
Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) in June is through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
Times listed in this article are correct at the time of publishing, but are subject to change.
It is interesting timing, sitting here composing this article, with Education Nation only a week away, considering that the topic for #satchatoz this past weekend was how [do] conferences help us grow professionally. I have been amazed at the response to both my interview with Professor Geoff Masters and the interview with Dr. David Zyngier. I am excited to announce that I have just received the interview with Dr. Kevin Donnelly, who is arguing the side of private education in The Great Debate against Dr. Zyngier. You can get involved with The Great Debate by submitting a question for the moderated questions from the floor component of the Debate by clicking here.
Today, however, I want to have a look at the programs for the various conference streams. There is a lot to be excited about on the program for Education Nation, making it difficult to choose a particular stream to be involved in. Of course, each stream has a particular focus and which you will choose will vary according to your context and your needs. I am in the position of being able to move between the event streams thanks to the media pass, and it made for some very difficult choices, as I wanted to engage with at least one session in each stream across the two days.
I have included a copy of the EduNationAu Timetable, which I have put together from the separate programs on the Education Nation website to allow for seeing what was happening at any time and it showed that the events do not necessarily line up in regards to timings for each session. I have chosen the sessions I will be attending according to a few criteria:
The first session I plan to attend is in the Rethinking Reform stream, and will be my first opportunity to hear Brett Salakas (@Mrsalakas) speak. He will be exploring the subject of PISA and the growing fascination with the results and our place in relation to the other OECD member nations. It promises to provide an open and frank exploration of our current relationship with PISA pipe dreams and the cultural contexts involved. Following Brett’s session was my first dilemma.
Do I stay and listen to Professor Geoff Masters (@GMastersACER) identify and discuss the five most important challenges facing schools, or alternatively, head across to the Digital Dimensions stream to hear Simon McKenzie (@connectedtchr) identify if we have just made everything worse with the rollout of technology in schools, from both positive and negative perspectives. Simon’s session promises to be very intriguing and potentially controversial given the explosion of one-to-one and BYOD programs in recent years.
Both options are incredibly appealing, however, in the end, I decided to remain in my seat for Professor Masters’ session. Primarily due to time; both sessions are scheduled to commence at 0940, and though there is typically some fluidity in the actual timings at conferences, I wanted to avoid being that person who enters a room late and then proceeds to become the show as they attempt to find a seat, get there and then set up for the session. I look forward to reading the tweets stemming from Simon’s session, and please, if you write a blog article from that session (or any other), send me the link so that we can re-share it with the wider Education Nation PLN.
After the morning break, I plan to spend the entire second session engaging with one of the deep-dive workshops, The Leader. Specifically, I will be attending the session which examines strategies for bridging the gap when policy and practice diverge, presented by Peter Mader (@Mader_Peter). It is an interesting area to explore, and also a common problem. Educational policy is typically slow to respond to new information and requirements, particularly when it is required to run the gamut of a bureaucracy.
Michael’s session finished and provides me with a ten-minute window to move across to my next session, hearing from Ed Cutherbertson and Prue Gill (@Ed_Cuthbertson and @Prue_G) of Lanyon High School share strategies that teachers are able to utilise in their classroom to provide their students with voice and agency, allowing them to feel valued, and encouraging students to become active participants in their own learning. This session is a lengthy one, which gives me that it will provide a wide range of strategies to assist teachers in building those relationships, in providing the voice and agency to their students. Student voice and agency has been a topic of discussion more and more on social media and there is a body of research building around this issue.
Following the afternoon break, my first choice, actually, it was the first thing I marked down as wanting to attend, is The Great Debate between Dr. David Zyngier (@DZyngier) and Dr. Kevin Donnelly (@ESIAustralia). The debate surrounding public versus private education is a hot one, and both sides have some excellent arguments. I have not heard the two sides facing off in a debate before, and this is sure to be interesting and fiery. I have already published my interview with Dr. Zyngier and tomorrow I aim to publish the interview with Dr. Donnelly. Dr. Donnelly is well known in the media for his provocative statements, and I look forward to engaging with his responses, and to hearing the feedback on the article.
Do not forget to submit your questions about public education versus private education. There is still time!
Though my choices for the final session of day one of Education Nation were guided by The Great Debate, I am genuinely interested in hearing what Teresa Deshon has to say about the role of the pastoral curriculum in her case study; People of Character – Your Best Self. The academic curriculum takes the majority of our teaching time and Teresa’s question, “…[b]ut what of the pastoral curriculum?” is an excellent one. I am looking forward to hearing the strategies that Teresa and her colleagues have employed to change the focus to the pastoral curriculum, and still maintained the academic curriculum learning outcomes for their students.
At the end of day one of Education Nation, I will be attending the live #AussieEd event at Kirribilli Club (view map), tickets to which are still available. It will be my first AussieEd event, and am looking forward to it.
Day two begins bright and early, and pending Ministerial commitments, will begin for those in the Rethinking Reform forum, with an Address and Question and Answer session with the incumbent Federal Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham (@birmo). I requested a pre-Education Nation interview with Minister Birmingham, which was accepted, however, with the announcement of the impending Federal election made shortly thereafter, I daresay I ended up down the priority list as neither myself nor my speaker liaison heard back regarding the interview. I am very curious to hear about his views on the future of education in Australia, as well as what questions from the floor will be accepted and how they will be answered.
The timing of Minister Birmingham’s address meant that I am unable to attend any other event streams in the morning session as I would be arriving midway through, which is never pleasant. That said, Lila Mularczyk’s (@LilaMularczyk) subsequent presentation examining trends in education policy and the translation to the Australian context will be very interesting. I feel that this session will follow on nicely from Brett Salakas’ day one keynote address. Both keynotes will be examining the Australian relationship with global educational systems, from slightly different perspectives. I look forward to seeing what crossover conclusions the two share.
I will be spending a significant portion of day two in the Rethinking Reform session, as returning from the morning will see me settling in for two sessions which I suspect will provide a lot of food for thought. Murat Dizdar will commence the session with an examination of how some schools in the NSW public education system are adopting the national education reform platform a discussion of the operational lessons that can be taken from those schools.
Following on from Murat, is Dr. Kenneth Wiltshire, presenting an exploration of the future of curriculum in Australia. Dr. Wiltshire is not likely to hold back, having been openly critical of the national curriculum and the process through which it has been developed. Dr. Wiltshire lays blame on the doorstep of ACARA itself, specifically the structure and functioning, labelling it a largely discredited body within education circles. I am very much looking forward to hearing him speak. As an early career teacher, the future of the curriculum is a rather important topic for me and my students, both now and in the future.
After Dr. Wiltshire’s presentation, I plan to take some time out. His speech will finish at roughly the same time as the concurrent sessions from The Leader, The Learner, and The Educator, and with all due respect to Phillip Cooke (@sailpip), who is presenting immediately after Dr. Wiltshire; a discussion of the HSC and how it prepares students for life after school is not in my area of interest at the moment. I believe that I would gain more benefit from taking some time to refresh my brain, to re-engage with my notes, get some writing done, explore The Playground and network and meet up with some educators that I have chatted with on Twitter in the past.
Following the lunch break, I will have the opportunity to hear Olivia O’Neil speak in the Digital Dimensions forum about redeveloping a school by engaging the emerging Gen Y teachers. I am looking forward to hearing Olivia speak, as I know a lot of what has been occurring at the school she is Principal of, Brighton Secondary College from conversations with Jeremy LeCornu (@MrLeCornu), whom I heard speak originally at FlipConAus last year. I am looking forward to hearing about a journey of which I already know a little bit from the perspective of the Principal, and the challenges that were faced from that vantage point and how they were dealt with.
I plan to remain in the Digital Dimensions forum to hear Leanne Steed and Elizabeth Amvrazis as they examine the purpose of education through a lens of technology-laden classrooms and the way in which technology can empower our students.
I will then be moving back to the Rethinking Reform forum to hear someone whom I admire greatly, Corinne Campbell (@Corisel) as she speaks about the relationship between the focus on using evidence-based pedagogies and the feeling of empowerment or disempowerment by teachers. Evidence-based pedagogies are another hot topic (I quite enjoy reading Greg Ashman’s (@greg_ashman) articles in this area). If the discussions about performance-based pay for teachers come to fruition, it will be an issue of even greater importance, and make the difference, perhaps, between teachers keeping and losing their positions.
The final Education Nation session on my agenda is part of The Educator stream, and I have chosen it specifically as it is a presentation on a topic that I am not still somewhat skeptical about. The Hewes family will be closing out The Educator with a workshop giving deeper insight into Project Based Learning (PBL). The workshop is slated to allow participants to design a PBL project, ostensibly, I presume, to take back to our classroom and implement. I am not entirely sure why I am skeptical about PBL. I suspect that a lot of it is most likely misconceptions, and I have heard some local horror stories about PBL gone wrong. That said, I am looking forward to engaging with this workshop, and hopefully coming away with a new understanding and appreciation for PBL and its place in my pedagogical toolkit.
That, as I mentioned, is the final session for Education Nation 2016. I am very much looking forward to the two days and fully expect that I will need the ensuing few days to recover mentally. What are your expected highlights for the event? Let me know via Twitter using #EduNationAu which will be the main event hashtag.
As always, thank you for reading, and stay tuned tomorrow for the interview with Dr. Kevin Donnelly.
For the full list of articles in this series, please click here.
Yesterday I published an article as a result of an e-mail interview I was fortunate enough to be able to have with Dr. David Zyngier in the lead up to Education Nation. I have made a few changes to the article as a result of a follow-up conversation with Dr. Zyngier.
“In Dr. Zyngier’s view, it is not the quality of teachers that is necessarily the problem, but the quality of the teaching. Dr. Zyngier’s position is that the general public have heard successive Federal Ministers for Education, beginning with Julia Gillard and continuing with Peter Garret, Christopher Pyne, and the incumbent Simon Birmingham, quote that main influence on a child’s academic outcome is the family, the parents’ education levels, and their socio-economic status (from Professor John Hattie’s Visible Learning (summary here).”
I am embarrassed to say that I somehow managed to completely flip Dr. Zyngier’s position between my reading of the interview and my writing of the article. The article now reads as follows:
“In Dr. Zyngier’s view, it is not the quality of teachers that is necessarily the problem, but the quality of the teaching. Dr. Zyngier’s position is that the general public have heard successive Federal Ministers for Education, beginning with Julia Gillard and continuing with Peter Garret, Christopher Pyne, and the incumbent Simon Birmingham, quote from Professor John Hattie’s Visible Learning (summary here) that the main influence on a child’s academic outcome is the teacher."
To clarify the following Dr. Zyngier’s position, the word cram has been removed from this sentence, and the phrase “…while in Shanghai…” has been added in.
“Furthermore, research indicates that these schools are typically reserved for the elite, while in Shanghai they “…actively exclude lower performing rural students whose parents do not have the necessary residency permits that will enable them to attend…”
My apologies for any issues this may have caused.
For the full list of articles in this series, please click here.
“I am on the record stating that if we as a nation want to improve the standard of our teaching we must make teaching harder to access as a career. However, we have too many universities using teaching courses as a cash cow to cover the costs due to diminishing federal funding of research.”
-Dr. David Zyngier. E-Mail correspondence, 2016
Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) in June is through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
All quotes in this article are taken direct from the interview with Dr. Zyngier unless otherwise noted. All interpretations of Dr. Zyngier’s views are my own and any misinterpretation also mine. The Interview with Dr. Zyngier has been included for the sake of transparency. Aclarification article has been published here.
In addition to being granted an e-mail interview with Professor Geoff Masters, I have been privileged to gain an e-mail interview with Dr. David Zyngier, currently a Senior Lecturer in curriculum and pedagogy with the Faculty of Education at Monash University. There are a number of presentations at Education Nation which promise to generate significant food for thought, and which I suspect will generate heated (yet hopefully constructive) discussion and debate within Education circles.
Potentially one of the most interesting sessions scheduled, certainly perhaps one of the most provocative, is The Great Debate: Australian democracy at risk – the future of Australia’s education system, a moderated debate on the age-old topic of public vs private education, taking place within the Rethinking Reform conference stream. This debate will feature Dr. Zyngier arguing the case for public education and Dr. Kevin Donnelly arguing the case of private education. I am expecting a highly interesting debate, particularly during the (moderated) questions from the floor component. Given that there is sure to be a capacity crowd, I asked Dr. Zyngier to provide a short summary of his position on the issue.
Dr. Zyngier’s view is that the continuing rise in education funding being provided to private education is having the effect of denying a fair go to the students who need the most support in favour of students who are blessed to be born into socio-culturally advantaged families. This is a significant factor in the increasing socio-economic divide between the working class and the upper class. Ultimately, this issue may result in public schools turning into “…ghettos or sinks of disadvantage leading to an ever increasing decline in educational achievement in those schools as the flight of cultural capital takes its toll.”
The quality of teachers and of initial teacher education (OTE) programs has come under fire again over the last twelve months, to the point that just this week, a grammar training manual has been launched for teachers, again prompting a wave of backlash and criticism against the poor quality of teachers. When asked about the quality of teachers and of calls for minimum standards for entry to ITE programs, Dr. Zyngier pointed out that “Teacher education is apparently the most reviewed area of society undertaken by state and federal governments with on average at least one each year over the past 30 odd years!” In fact, a brief switch to Google Scholar returned over seventeen thousand results with the required keywords teacher education research Australia with the articles.
“Each review makes the same basic recommendations to improve ITE – student teachers need more time in the classroom and more practical experience – but the funding required to do this is never forthcoming.”
During the last few years, a number of articles have been published in the media calling for better teachers and higher quality ITE programs, particularly during the period of time when Christopher Pyne was the Federal minister for Education, though it has continued since he left that role. In Dr. Zyngier’s view, it is not the quality of teachers that is necessarily the problem, but the quality of the teaching. Dr. Zyngier’s position is that the general public have heard successive Federal Ministers for Education, beginning with Julia Gillard and continuing with Peter Garret, Christopher Pyne, and the incumbent Simon Birmingham, quote from Professor John Hattie’s Visible Learning (summary here) that the main influence on a child’s academic outcome is the teacher.
Dr. Zyngier observes that teacher impact makes up to twenty-five percent of the difference, which, though a significant impact, is not as significant as we are led to believe from Professor Hattie’s work (as seen in this article). One clear source, in my view at least, of improving the quality of teachers and the quality of teaching, is the ITE programs from which our teaching force gain their qualifications. Dr. Zyngier indicated he is on record as having stated that “…if we as a nation want to improve the standard of our teaching we must make teaching harder to access as a career.”
It is a sentiment I can agree with as there were a number of pre-service teachers in my own ITE program who openly admitted they were only there because mum and dad told them they had to get a job or a degree, and so they took the easy option. It is an indication of the rigorousness of teacher ITE programs that they are seen as being an easy option. There have been discussions about raising the minimum tertiary entrance scores (currently the ATAR), however, Dr. Zyngier indicates that this change should be made in conjunction with aptitude testing. Personally, I believe that there are changes required. However, my concern is that the personality and aptitude of a nineteen-year-old is not indicative, necessarily of the kind of teacher they will be at the age of thirty. It would, I suspect, serve to screen out some people who are categorically unsuitable to the teaching profession or those who are entering into ITE programs purely because they have told they need to get a degree or a job. Whilst I acknowledge that medicine is a different field requiring some different character traits, I believe that an examination of the entry into medicine programs would be a useful process to guide restructuring entry requirements for ITE courses.
Dr. Zyngier is a proponent of ITE programs being at the Masters level (as is the case in Finland), rather than remaining at the current Bachelor level, Though I am not sure about that, I can certainly understand the perspective, but I wonder, given the number of classroom teachers we currently have with postgraduate qualifications listed (this is shown in all public school annual reports), what impact this would have on teacher recruitment. Further, Dr. Zyngier’s view is that ITE programs should include a research component to educate teachers how to engage with and evaluate education research for their own practice. The added challenge to this is to ensure equitable access opportunities for those from under-represented communities, creating an additional layer of complexity in the process.
I agree wholeheartedly with the belief that a research component should be a requirement for ITE programs. Completing the Honours course as part of my own ITE program, though incredibly challenging, was rewarding and provided a very different perspective to research and the processes which researchers undertake as part of their work. This ability to engage with and discern quality research, understand the results and conclusions and implement them within a teacher’s specific context is particularly important given the importance of establishing the basic framework around which the entire education system is structured; the ability to read, write and understand use numeracy principles.
Finland has a high-performing educational systems vis-a-vis the OECD PISA and TIMMS testing regimes and therefore is often looked to as a beacon of educational hope. Given the disparate nature of the educational contexts in Finland Australia, is it realistic, or even fair, to uphold Finland’s educational system as something we should aspire to here in Australia? Dr. Zyngier acknowledges that Finland is very different to Australia, not least in regards to climate, geographical size, and population. The key difference, however, lies in what Dr. Zyngier terms the policy trajectory.
Education policies in Finland are a non-political issue, being determined by education experts informed by evidence-based research. This is in stark contrast to education policy in Australia, where each new government, and even successive Education Ministers during a Government’s term in office, work to make their mark on education through either ideological or political policies. Again, in contrast to this, education policy in Finland was, and is, based upon equity first, which through a range of other policies, has led to a high-quality education system.
Teachers in Finland are highly valued. Dr. Zyngier points out that this does not equate to highly paid. The system also trusts teachers, allowing them to teach. Dr. Zyngier also wrote that privately run schools are rare (approximately two percent of primary and middle schools) and that if they charge additional fees, their public funding is stripped. Dr. Zyngier also indicated that Teacher unions are heavily involved in education and act as a significant resource for both policy and practice. This last point sounds very alien to me. As a public school student in the early 1990s, my recollection is of regular strikes and an ongoing sense of frustration and some anger from my parents towards the union due to the number of strikes and the impact it had on our education. Fast forward to today and it feels like the NSW Teachers Federation is seen as outdated and useless by many colleagues, with “what do they do for us?” being an oft-repeated critique. A Teachers Federation that has a strong, healthy and positive working relationship with the Government and which contributes, as a partner, in the policy-making process sounds like a great environment to work in.
Dr. Zyngier notes that the driving emphasis in the Finnish education system has been an equitable education for all students whereas in Australia, it appears that the impetus is on quality outcomes with equity a distant second-place priority. This is played out in the choices parents have as to which school to send their child to. Dr. Zyngier indicates that almost all children attend the local suburban school in Finland, whereas in Australia there is currently a three-tiered educational system. Whilst there is the option of the local comprehensive school fully funded by the public, parents may also choose from schools which receive the majority of their funding from the public (typically most Catholic schools and low-fee religious schools), as well as elite independent schools which receive less than fifty percent of their funding from the public.
The subject of school funding is a particularly lively topic of discussion at the moment, with the impending Federal election and the promises made by both major parties about the way in which they will fund education. My personal view is that education is a basic right of all children and should be free to all, per Article Twenty-Eight of the United Nation’s Conventions on the Rights of the Child. I have issues with independent schools who charge exorbitant enrollment and tuition fees and still receive government funding. The entire staff at my current school would receive an average salary of just over AUD$80,000 each based on just the Year Five and Year Six student enrollments at one local independent school, never mind the rest of the enrollment fees from Kindergarten to Year Four at that school. Whilst I do not have a problem with independent schools per se, I do not believe they should receive any public funding, those funds should be reserved for, dare I say it, the public schools.
The educational system that is often presented as an alternative model is that of Singapore, one of the so-called Asian Tigers (along with Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Taiwan). Dr. Zyngier points out that though the high results achieved in PISA and TIMMS are discussed, how those results are achieved is not. He continued by pointing out that research indicates that almost all students attend intensive afternoon cramming schools in addition to their regular schooling and private tutors. Furthermore, research indicates that these schools are typically reserved for the elite, while in Shanghai they “…actively exclude lower performing rural students whose parents do not have the necessary residency permits that will enable them to attend…”
Interestingly, and disturbingly, students who are adjudged to be under-performing in class, are often asked to stay home on the day of testing, which is a phenomenon we have seen in Australia in relation to NAPLAN testing.
Cultural attributes have rarely been a factor in conversations or articles I have read regarding educational impacts, however, the research has shown some interesting results. On standardised testing, students from Chinese backgrounds have been found to achieve higher results than their Australia, American or European-borne peers. Dr. Zyngier notes the implication that cultural attributes are potentially more significant than previously thoughts, indicating that it is not the school or the teacher having the most significant impact on a student’s academic outcomes, but the family.
When I began my ITE, the Australian Curriculum was in the burgeoning stages of its implementation. When it was introduced to us during those early stages, it made a certain kind of sense; one country, one curriculum. When asked if a national curriculum should have been a goal, Dr. Zyngier pointed out that Canada and the USA, two countries of comparable physical size and political structure to Australia, do not have a national curriculum. He also commented that the impetus behind the apparent importance of the creation and adoption of the national curriculum was never made clear.
His view is that nationally agreed competencies and skills should be of higher importance than concrete factual knowledge “…which was the subject of the overtly political review led by Donnelly & Wiltshire in 2014.” The result of the review was predetermined by the selection of Donnelly and Wiltshire:
“…cultural warriors…their selection by then [Federal] Minister [for Education] Pyne. They found too much emphasis on Asia, Indigenous Australia, the Environment and not enough reference to Australia’s European and Christian heritage, a lack of focus on the basics, and too much faddish constructivism.”
Social media is prevalent now as a source of free and readily available professional learning. I personally find Twitter to be incredibly useful as a source of inspiration, feedback on practice, a source of ideas and a way of staying in touch with research. I do, however, acknowledge that is should not be the only source of professional learning or development, nor should is it necessarily designed to replace face-to-face mentoring and professional development opportunities. Dr. Zyngier agrees that there is a role for social media and online courses as part of a teacher’s ongoing professional development. However, the needs of individual teachers vis-a-vis professional development are varied and more support and time needs to be made available to teachers to allow them to adequately access those opportunities, whether this is working alongside a mentor, visiting other schools, online courses or attending a university course. I have seen on Twitter, some teachers talking about observational rounds, wherein teachers observe each others practice to provide feedback on a predetermined goal.
The media have been consistently reporting in recent years (for example; here, here and here) that approximately forty percent of new teachers are leaving the teaching profession within the first five years. I asked Dr. Zyngier what advice he would give teachers embarking on their EdVenture so that they do not join the forty percent. He responded that teaching is only for those who can commit to working very hard, very long hours, with a high workload and who can handle being blamed for societal failings and problems. Enjoying working with children is, of course, a must. This is advice I can certainly agree with, and from conversations that I have had with other educators, it would certainly appear to be quite sound advice.
I hope that you found this article as interesting as to read as I found it to write. I also hope that you get along to Education Nation in two weeks time, at Luna Park, to hear what is sure to be an interesting and thought-provoking conference. If you have not yet done so, I would also recommend you consider attending the live AussieEd event which is being held at Kirribilli Club after the conclusion of Day One of Education Nation.
As always, thank you for reading and keep an eye out for the Education Nation conversation on Twitter under #EduNationAu.
For the full list of articles in this series, please click here,