"There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning."
- Attributed to Jiddu Krishnamurti
Disclosure: My attendance at FutureSchools 2017 is under a media pass provided by the organisers.
The structure of FutureSchools 2017 is going to be rather different to my experience over the last two years. The Australian Technology Park venue in Sydney did not allow for plenary sessions and so it is not a big surprise to see that plenary sessions are on the agenda with the move to the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. I have previously written previews of the five conference streams (read it here) and what they are themed around, as well as a Masterclass Preview article. In this session I am going to explore the agendas for day one of FutureSchools 2017, highlighting the sessions in particular that I will be visiting.
This year’s FutureSchools event will be opening with a plenary session featuring the three keynote speakers, presenting on very different topics. After the welcoming remarks by Jenny Luca of Wesley College Melbourne, delegates will be hearing from Dr. Milton Chen about the role of the Arts, Nature, and Place-Based Learning. The topic intrigues me. I strongly believe that we do not give enough love to the creative and performing arts. Whilst I absolutely agree that literacy and numeracy are important domains of learning, and have a significant impact on a successful life, I believe that the Arts play a significant role in our ability to be creative and empathetic.
The role of Nature and Place-Based Learning is one that intrigues me. I recall a talk at FutureSchools 2015 where a Primary School in Western Australia had created a nature-play space complete with climbing trees, dirt pits for playing in and other nature-based play spaces (though I cannot find the article in question or recall who it was). I am not sure if this is what Dr. Chen is referring to in his title, nor do I know what is meant by the phrase place-based learning, however, the Arts are something I value and I am intrigued as to his view of how they connect with the other two topics.
Following Dr. Chen is Jan Owen, AM Hon DLitt speaking about skills, particularly entrepreneurial skills, needed by today’s (and presumably tomorrow’s) youth. This is a topic that I am generally a little sceptical about. I recently wrote an article about the nature of twenty-first century skills and the fact that there is nothing twenty-first century about them, other than a temporal reference to when we are utilising these skills. The abstract for Jan’s presentation indicates that the session will help us to identify entrepreneurial skills needed by immersing us in leading research and insights into changing enterprise.
I would not personally consider myself an entrepreneur nor would I necessarily be able to list the particular skill set an entrepreneur would need, however, I would imagine that they would be similar to those that entrepreneurs needed in previous generations. Talk about studentpreneurs, teacherpreneurs, and edupreneurs is, from my perspective, concerning. Perhaps I am coming at this from the wrong angle, and I would encourage you to let me know in the comments if you think that is the case, however, entrepreneur has business and commercial connotations in my mind and implies a sense of going about something for commercial benefit or profit. This is not what education is or should be about (although I acknowledge that what education is and should be about is a particularly large and divisive topic in its own right). It implies a focus on teaching our students a set of skills that allow one to be successful, but in one particular area of society; business. The focus on money and keeping up with the Jones' is pervasive in society today and is in my view a sad indictment on our collective societal and cultural drive.
All of that said, I am interested to hear what Jan has to say as I have not actually listened to a presentation on this topic in the past. I will also put my hand up and acknowledge that I could be coming at this topic from the wrong angle. It would not be the first time I have gone into a presentation on a particular topic with a viewpoint and walked out forced to rethink it, such as this PBL session with the Hewes' family).
The final keynote speaker is Prakash Nair under the title of Learning Environments: Optimising Places and Spaces for Learning. I am particularly interested in this talk as my current school has recently undergone a capital building project with the view to removing the twelve demountable buildings on site in order to reclaim play ground space. The demountables are gone, the new building is open, and it is the final preparation of the new playground space that is now underway. The new building looks amazing from the outside, it looks good from the inside, and I am hearing from the teachers in those spaces that they are largely enjoying the team-teaching aspect. I am not in the new building, however my current classroom used to contain three spaces separated by walls; namely the library, the librarian’s office and the computer lab. It has been renovated and turned into a single space for two classrooms, and I am enjoying working in a team-teaching context.
Following the plenary keynote session is the ever important morning tea break, a chance to recharge laptops, connect with old friends, meet other educators and stretch the legs and mind after an intense opening session. The second session is where delegates break into their respective conference streams and this is where the media pass under which I am attending FutureSchools this year kicks in. Part of the agreement is that I attend at least one session in each conference stream, a relatively easy request as each stream has sessions that I am interested in. I will be beginning with the Special Needs and Inclusion conference stream where I will be hearing Deborah Nicholson speak about Bridging the equity gap for vulnerable students through music and arts programs.
There is an equity gap in our schools, a fact that at the moment is inescapable and strategies put in place, such as Gonksi seem to be helping. I have seen students who are not academically inclined light up during music or PE or drama lessons as it is an area they are successful in. I have seen students from difficult backgrounds turn a corner when they are able to be provided additional support in class through a Learning Support Intervention funded by Gonski. The different it can make to the confidence and self-belief for a student who struggles with [insert numeracy or literacy struggle here].
Following Deborah’s presentation, I will be shuffling quickly across to the ClassTech conference stream to hear Linda Ray speak about the impact of technology in the classroom on digital dementia. The abstract contends that neuroleadership ensures that our focus remains on the real, not virtual tasks at hand. This promises to be an interesting session as the impact of technology on students’ ability to focus is still being assessed. There has been some research in this field, however, to the best of my knowledge, the debate is certainly not over. Understanding how to recognise, avoid and combat cognitive overload from educational technology is a skill which I feel will become more and more important as technology becomes more pervasive throughout our education systems.
The final session before lunch and a return to the plenary room is, for me, in the Future Leaders conference stream where Dr. Rachel Wilson will be speaking about …aspiration, trends, challenges and cautions in assessment. This topic is rather timely given the teeth gnashing that occurred when the latest PISA results were recently released, the current public debate about the HSC changes to English and Physics as well as the deplorable changes to being eligible to sit the Higher School Certificate which are being proposed. I will be interested to hear what role the Australian Curriculum has in the talk as well as what role having a national final exam may play, if any.
The current system of assessment is broken if you listen to the media but they do not seem to be able to offer any genuinely viable alternatives. There are certainly areas of opportunity for improving assessment, but the teachers at the coalface can only do so much.
After lunch is when the breakout sessions are scheduled. I have not been particularly impressed with the structure and organisation of this session at the previous iterations of FutureSchools I have attended; however, I acknowledge that the organisers were hamstrung with the spaces available to them at the Australian Technology Park. I am hopeful that this year, with a new venue, that greater consideration to the logistics and acoustics of the breakout sessions is given and that they are more beneficial to everyone who attends the, not just those who sit nearest the presenter.
The final session of the day will see delegates return to the plenary room for two final keynotes. The first, from Marita Cheng focuses on the impact that the Victorian Government’s TechSchools Initiative is having, particularly in the STEM area and the impact that early exposure to technology and engineering is having on students. Finishing the day off is Lisa Rodgers, the CEO of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) presenting under the title From Young Learners to Lifelong Learning. It should be an interesting session as the abstract promises to [b]uild insight to raise achievement and improve system effectiveness. Discover the levers that really lift educational attainment. Given that it is the final session of the day, it will either be very well or very poorly attended. I do not know what the wider educational community’s attitude towards AITSL is, however, I personally have heard a range of opinions.
Day one of FutureSchools 2017 will of course be concluding with the customary networking drinks event and I look forward to seeing some old friends and meeting some new ones. Let me know in the comments what you think will be the highlight from the FutureSchools timetable and what your thoughts are on the edupreneur conversations which seem to be taking place more frequently.
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.