As I read more, I can see that the issues with education in Australia are pretty much the same issues that others are having elsewhere in the world. Why is that? The more problematic nations seem to be Britain, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and some European nations. Why? What do they have in common? There must be something, so my reasoning goes, because they are all experiencing the same issues.
Technology? Maybe. Let’s face it, we are trying to cope with the most disruptive technologies we have ever seen on this planet. Even after 20 years, we are still trying to cope with computers, still trying to work out how to use them.
Just what the answer would be is unknown here, but something my beloved spouse said to me this very day has made me think. She went to a conference and a speaker told the group that as educators they should stop trying to control the technology, stop trying to use the traditional role of teachers with technology. Students are really at ease with it, they use it, they have grown up with it, so stop trying to “teach” them, try learning from them.
Taking that thought one step further, if I was to try this, then there are some advantages, for me, I was thinking. My wife then said that she thought this was a liberating statement because she adopted that principle. To her own amazement, she found she was beginning to use a whole lot of different methodologies, blogs, for example, wikis, student made video for ways of demonstrating their learning. The results she is getting, btw, are really encouraging her – levels of re-engagement are improving.
But that is only one thing, how about school administration itself? In Oz, we have always used strong centrally controlled administration processes and procedures. This, by and large, left school admins to deal with curriculum and other school issues – but not any more. Two states, recently, have introduced “Independent State Schools”. In this State, South Australia, the State Government is, wisely, refusing to follow that path, but the Opposition is touting this as “the solution” to all our problems in education.
Essentially, this means “Here is all the money we are giving you. How you spend it is up to you.” To me, this is an act that Pontius Pilate would easily identify with.
In what sense is this a “magic bullet”? More importantly, why is it going to fail? For starters, it does not address the basic issues. (As noted above, we are facing huge technological issues, and without successfully integrating e-learning into education how are we fixing anything? How does “local autonomy” repair or improve anything?)
One of the most basic issues is that our school administration teams are not at all versed in the differences between the centrally fixed model and the business model that the Right want schools to move to. This is, I suggest, why a well established and proud Adelaide private school, Annesley College, went bust recently. I understand the principal was an excellent teacher, a wonderful educator, but I suspect lacked the necessary business skills to run a private school. If we go the Independent State Schools route, I suggest that Annesley is going to be seen as the harbinger, the example that everyone missed, the precursor that revealed lots but few understood its implications.
There are direct reasons for Annesley’s collapse, but the underlying issue was, essentially, poor management. This was stated, but was couched in those non-commital/business/political double speak terms that say nothing but imply a lot without opening anyone to a potential libel action.
I suspect that there is a huge number of issues around Independent State Schools that will only surface years after they are introduced. In short, the people who introduced them will not be wearing the consequences of them, but their successors will. This means, future tax payers – ie. current students, tomorrows parents.
We do not know, in most cases, how far social failure and success are due to heredity, and how far to environment. But environment is the easier of the two to improve.
John B. S. Haldane
Why then are we making such a mess of it?