"I would argue that the most important infrastructure we have are minds, educated minds."
- Amel Karboul, Oct 2017, TED@BCG, Milan
Podcasts are a great way to keep up with new ideas and thoughts as well as to broaden the mind and challenge yourself. TED Talks Daily is one of the podcasts I listen to, and occasionally I will skip an episode because the subject is too far away from my interest to engage, or the speaker is not at all engaging. Recently, however, I listened to the global learning crisis and what to do about it. It was just merely the next episode in the list.
When the Dr. Amel Karboul opened by commenting that she is "the product of a bold leadership decision," and goes on to say that the first Tunisian President, Habib Bourguiba, made a decision to invest twenty percent of the country's national budget into education to ensure high-quality, free, education for every child, both girls and boys.
Immediately, my ears perked up. I did not know what percentage of our budget was dedicated to education (I have since looked and for 2017-18, it appears to be 7.28% based on this document) but I did not think it would be anywhere near twenty percent. There were protests, cries of what about...with lots of key infrastructure needs pointed to, however, Amel made an interesting point when she commented that she sees educated minds as the most important infrastructure.
Without an educated populace, how do you advance society?
Our national budget for 2017-18 is $464.3 billion dollars, investing twenty percent of that would be $92.86 billion. What could be achieved in education if that amount was invested? What gaps across early childhood, primary, secondary, and tertiary could be filled? Personally, I believe there would need to be a mix between investment in paying educators properly, particularly in early childhood, and investment in infrastructure. How many schools have old and ugly demountable buildings? How much more effective would it be to provide more space for the students to run around and play games during breaks if we built up? My school had thirteen demountables. Removing those and going three stories (at one end, only two stories at the other due to slope) provided so much more space for the students.
Forgetting about politics and the discussion around the funding split, what could be achieved if the government decided to invest in the future and value education so highly?
This point about valuing education and how much is invested is not even the most important point from Amel's talk, but it was one that struck me as significant given the current climate around education funding here in Australia.
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.
Education Nation is fast approaching, and this time next week, the final session of the conference will be concluding. One of the most hotly anticipated events of Education Nation is The Great Debate between Dr. David Zyngier (@dzyngier) and Dr. Kevin Donelly (@ESIAuatralia). Last week, I published an article from an interview with Dr. Zyngier, which was widely read. Dr. Zyngier is speaking on the side of public education at The Great Debate, and there are some strong arguments available for him to draw upon. This article will be an exploration of Dr. Donnelly’s responses to a series of questions similar to those presented to Dr. Zyngier. As with the previous interviews,
Dr. Donnelly provided a short summary of his stance on the issue of public versus private education. He posits that the claims that private schooling systems, e.g. Catholic and independent schools, are over-funded and cause residualisation of government schools, particularly those with disadvantaged students, is incorrect. He cites the simple fact that non-government schools receive significantly less public funding than government schools. For example, the below graph shows the relative expenditure across the two sectors and highlights the disparate nature of the level of public funding.
Dr. Donelly also decries the claim that private schools only achieve strong learning outcomes comparative to public schools because they take the best students, noting that public schools are not truly open to all. This is a valid point to make as there is a range of public schools, particularly secondary school, which are selective based on academic results, requiring a certain academic ability for enrolment into those schools, often requiring prospective students to sit an entrance exam. Additionally, Dr. Donnelly notes that many public schools are situated in suburbs which are classed as high socio-economic areas (SES) and are therefore unaffordable for many people. Linked to both arguments, Dr. Donnelly notes that the socio-economic status of a student’s family is only ten to eighteen percent of the overall factors influencing learning outcomes.
I have noted in previous articles in this series the recent discussions that have appeared in the media regarding teacher quality, and admission to and the quality of, initial teacher education (ITE) programs. Dr. Donnelly’s views on this are somewhat similar to Dr. Zyngier’s views. Dr. Donnelly cites Parsi Sahlberg (@pasi_sahlberg), a Finnish educational researcher who found that although half of the first-year ITE students are drawn from the fifty-one to eighty percent range, rendering the argument that pre-service teachers should be drawn from the academic top thirty percent, invalid. Sahlberg has also commented that “a good step forward would be to admit that the academically best students are not necessarily the best teachers.” Dr. Donnelly also notes a 2012 submission to a Commonwealth inquiry into teacher education by Professor Geoff Masters, who commented that restricting entry to ITE programs to top academic students “…is a blunt approach to improving the selection of teachers and falls well short of international best practice.”
In addition to discussing the prospect of restricting pre-service teachers to those with the top academic results, I asked Dr. Donnelly for his views about a different method of raising the expectations of ITE programs. In Finland, ITE programs are delivered at Masters level, rather than Undergraduate level here in Australia. He explained that research conducted by Andrew Leigh into effective teaching showed that holding a Masters degree does not necessarily equate to being an effective teacher, which seems to be consistent with Pas Sahlberg’s comment mentioned, regarding the fact that there is not a causal link between the academically best teachers and the most effective teachers.
Dr. Donnelly points to Pasi Sahlberg’s findings that a teacher’s commitment and ability to engage and motivate students, along with their communication skills and, of course, subject knowledge are more influential factors in identifying effective teachers. He also points to findings in the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group report, Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers, that the level of the degree, Bachelor or Masters, is not particularly important. What is important is the quality of the ITE program and whether trainee teachers have been properly prepared and are ready to begin teaching in a class on their own. I have written previously about my own ITE program, and I would agree that there is scope for improvement
After discussing the subject of ITE, the interview turned to Finland and our relationship and seeming obsession with modelling the Finnish educational model. Dr. Zyngier is critical of this obsession, noting that Finland’s results in PISA and TIMSS have been falling in recent years. Dr. Donnelly is also critical of the way that educationalists jump on the bandwagon of whichever country is generating the best results in international testing, which has moved between Singapore, Sweden, Finland and is currently Shanghai, particularly given that Finland’s results have been falling as shown in the below images from Trends in the Performance of the Top Performers on PISA 2003-Pisa 2012.
The above image shows that the number of Finnish students performing in the lower levels of PISA mathematics tests has increased significantly. It makes sense, therefore, that the number of Finnish students at the top end has fallen in the same period.
Dr. Donnelly, after acknowledging Finland’s falling results in recent instances of PISA, notes that translating educational characteristics of other countries can be very difficult due to the variation in contexts. This is an interesting comment, and one I look forward to hearing expanded upon further, particularly, I suspect in the presentation by Lila Mularczyk’ (@LilaMularczyk) on day two of Education Nation, where she is examining trends in international education policy and the translation to the Australian context. Dr. Donnelly reminds us that we can learn from international education systems, however, it needs to be evidence based.
Dr. Donnelly co-chaired the National Curriculum Review alongside Professor Kenneth Wiltshire. Given that the National Curriculum has not been implemented nationally I questioned whether or not a National Curriculum should have even been the goal for Australian education. Dr. Donnelly indicated that greater autonomy and flexibility at the local level, should have been the goal, not a one size fits all curriculum that has been torn apart and rebuilt to suit the needs of some states, and implemented as-is by others. Dr. Donnelly points out that under the Australian Constitution, the government does not have a responsibility for school education. Dr. Donnelly believes that “…we should abide by the fact that we have a federal system where all roads do not lead to Canberra.
Social media is playing an increasingly important role in the professional learning of teachers around the world. It is free, available at any time and on any range of topics, providing an alternative to the often expensive and/or boring and untargeted professional development sessions that teachers’ typically receive. Dr. Donnelly’s view is that whilst social media has a place, there is no substitute for providing teachers, particularly new-career teachers, with time to learn on the job, receive mentoring, and the time and ability to effectively reflect on and evaluate their own practice.
I asked Dr. Donnelly was his advice to early-career teachers that would help them avoid joining the forty percent of new teachers who are shown to leave the profession within their first five years. His advice was straightforward, yet challenging to implement:
Beware of education fads and do not be drowned in the bureaucratic and the time consuming micromanagement that is being forced on schools. Also, understand that student misbehaviour is on the increase and that a lot of students, especially at the primary school level, are unable to sit still, focus and concentrate for an extended period of time. Most importantly, realise and appreciate that being with young people is a great honour and responsibility, as there is noting more important than teaching – except being a parent.
When I interviewed Professor Masters early last month, I asked him about John Hattie’s comments regarding teachers as researchers and his sentiment was that it is unreasonable to expect teachers to be both highly trained and effective educators; and highly trained and effective educational researchers. It is reasonable, however, to expect teachers to be informed users of research evidence; evidence which should be a consideration for teachers when engaging in the informal research process of evaluative reflection upon their pedagogical practice.
I asked Dr. Donnelly for his views on Hattie’s comments, and he replied that the relationship between researchers in universities and ACER, and classroom teachers, has been fractured. Dr. Donnelly acknowledges that it has been some time since he has been a classroom teacher and that he would love to see the results of academic researchers in the classroom, attempting to implement the practices they promote in their research. He sees a strong connection between theory and practice and would argue that many teachers are capable of undertaking research, which would provide the benefit of the research being grounded in the realities of a classroom.
Dr. Donnelly presents some interesting arguments, and I very much look forward to hearing him speak in The Great Debate. Remember, you can submit your own questions for The Greate Debate by clicking here. If you have not yet registered for Education Nation then click here to register.
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,
“I want to have a direct relationship with the non-government sector…Having talked to the Prime Minister about this matter many times, it is his view that we have a particular responsibility for non-government schooling that we don’t have for government schooling.”
-Christopher Pyne, Education and Training Minister
Recently I wrote a series of articles regarding initial teacher education (ITE) (the first of which can be viewed here), which included an article discussing the public perception of education and teachers, and the relationship that education and the teaching profession have with the current Education and Training Minister, Christopher Pyne (which can be viewed here). This series generated some insightful discussion around ITE and the public perception of education, and I had intended for this article to be a continuation of that conversation, based on themes which emerged from responses I received.
However a newspaper article has emerged overnight which has created a storm of controversy all over social media which requires discussion. My Twitter and Facebook feeds were inundated with postings of the article and comments regarding the decision which the government is considering adoption as to Commonwealth funding for education. If you have not yet read the article, here are the key points (in my opinion) of contention that have emerged:
It must be pointed out that the government has indicated that this is only a green paper. My understanding, and I am happy to be corrected, is that a green paper is an introductory discussion paper used to test the waters on a concept. It must also be noted that it is a green paper on Federation Reform generally, not education specifically. Even with that in mind, given the four options that have emerged from this green paper in regards to education, there is certainly cause for concern. This article will make a start on unpacking the potential ramifications for each of the emergent themes.
Ultimately, this latest political uproar raises further questions about what kind of society the Abbot-led government wants. They were thwarted in their attempt to push through a user-pays fee for our universal healthcare system last year, touted as a GP co-payment, and the deregulation of tertiary education fees is ongoing, and now this has emerged. My interpretation is that Abbot and co are attempting to return us to a time of aristocracy, with more distinct upper and lower classes defined by economic standing and education. It is an erosion of the basic principles of democracy as well; I highly doubt you will find many people who believe that withdrawing Commonwealth funding for our students education is a positive decision.
This is a critical time to be involved in the education discussion. It is incumbent upon us all to be involved, and to be informed. Allowing the government to roughshod over the needs of the public in this case will have critical and dire affects on our country’s future, economically and socially.
I implore everyone to contact their Member for Parliament (if you are not sure who your member is, click here and scroll down to the search box) and question them as to how removing Commonwealth funding, which seems to be the ultimate goal, can be beneficial for the country. Let them know that you want your child to have access to the same thing that we all did – free public education. To send a message via the GetUp campaign, click here. If you want to read a different perspective, I would suggest this article by Glenn Savage or this article by Stewart Riddle (re-posted by Corinne Campbell)
Let your voice be heard.