Tag Archives: school improvement

Reflection on education

I began my teaching career in a multicultural inner suburban high school in Melbourne. My motivation was to share my passion for English language studies with my students and to provide them with engaging and challenging learning experiences. I understood that education provides the foundation for life by enabling access to further study and employment. Education also develops mature individuals; their ways of appreciating others and understanding the self. I learned that the development of intercultural understanding is essential to the creation of a harmonious society to which individuals from different backgrounds can contribute. My educational philosophy has grown from there, founded on the belief that schools should be committed to nurturing the whole person: to exercising both the mind and body and to caring for the social, emotional and spiritual well-being of each individual as they become mature citizens.

The challenges facing education in Australia today are not unique to our country. Schools play a crucial role in preparing students for life in a world that is changing so rapidly that we cannot accurately predict the skills and knowledge they will require in the future. Educational programs must excite students’ curiosity, foster inquiry, creativity, problem solving and thinking skills. The link between the quality of teaching and student achievement is well understood and the school should be a community of learners – teachers and students alike – focused upon excellence in learning.

The quality of teaching must be a high priority in our schools. This involves building a culture of professional learning where teachers are committed to working on improvement in their own practice both individually and collectively. This involves professional review, goal setting, action research, collaboration in learning and peer review. Moreover, as technology and social change increasingly effect the delivery of education, teachers must be prepared to innovate in the way in which learning is organized and student academic progress monitored and supported. Traditional models of classroom delivery are now but one option for the organization of student learning.

Student engagement in learning is essential to success yet research indicates significant levels of disengagement in Australian students. Formal learning experiences will be authentic, have purpose and meaning, and allow student agency. Informal learning experiences should be acknowledged and provided for in school programs.

The high levels of anxiety and depression experienced by young people pose a significant challenge for Australian educators. We talk to students about our rapidly changing, uncertain and conflicted world but we must give them personal skills and strategies for understanding and coping with complexity and uncertainty. This enables personal growth. A cohesive school community is one in which care is demonstrated, in which the actions of its members reflect the values of the school, in which significant rituals are observed and achievements are celebrated. Schools should enable all students to enjoy success in their individual achievements and to be equipped for life as mature, responsible and caring members of our world.

These are exciting and challenging times in education as we respond to technological innovation, to new knowledge about learning and the brain and to ways to promote student wellbeing and achievement. We do not know what the future of education will look like, save that those who will grasp the future are those that form part of a community of learners; students that engage in a variety of learning experiences and teachers that engage with the best in educational research, are open to exploring new ideas and maintain an abiding commitment to improving the learning for our students.

Gonski and beyond – improving Australian education

The move by the Federal Government to cut tertiary funding to fund the recommendations of the Gonski report is a short-sighted approach to education funding in Australia. The education system needs adequate funding from early childhood through to university. Our children should commence their educational journey with the guarantee that at every stage through which they pass – pre-school, primary, secondary, vocational and university – the education they receive is of a high standard. This is an educational journey that should continue throughout their lives with opportunities for further education as mature learners as well. It does not make sense to compromise the quality of one part of the education system by cutting its funds in order to give to another.

The measures announced by the Federal government do not result in additional funding for quality education in Australia. The contribution that education makes to the wellbeing of individual citizens, our economy and Australian society as a whole is widely acknowledged and proper resourcing across all phases of education is needed. According to OECD data the proportion of national wealth spent on educational institutions in Australia in 2008 was below the OECD average. Expenditure for all levels in Australia as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product expenditure is below the average and lower than a variety of countries including Korea and New Zealand.

The level of funding of education is not the sole or necessarily the most significant factor in determining the standard of education. A challenge to this premise is presented in the most recent Policy Brief of the Melbourne institute. Proper resourcing of education in schools is but one strand of the complex fabric that is a high standard education. Discussion of educational achievement in Australia demands a more complex response.

The impact of the quality of teaching on student achievement is significant. How can we ensure that teaching practice is of a high standard; that the curriculum guiding what happens in schools across the nation is not simply standardised, but enables the development of essential lifelong attributes such as analytical thinking and problem solving skills, creativity, the ability to work collaboratively – and independently.

Cuts in State Governments’ funding to the TAFE sector have already had a significant impact on the vocational educational sector. Cuts in federal government funding to universities will mean that universities will need to decide which courses, subjects and student services they can no longer afford to offer. Small, specialised courses may disappear, subject offerings in courses will be reduced resulting in a narrower range of electives available. Student services such as counselling, study skills and language support are also likely targets for cuts.

The Prime Minister argues that universities have a vested interest in increased funding of schools so that students are better prepared for university entry. It seems illogical to privilege one level of education at the expense of the other.