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Changing Contexts in Australian Education - Felicity Walter #16137511

Where are we going? Where have we been? What are the contexts that influence Australian education? Edu4CCS Felicity Walter #16137511

Felicity Walter

on 4 October 2013

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Transcript of Changing Contexts in Australian Education - Felicity Walter #16137511

Where are we going? Where have we been?

The priorities of the government of the day affect the way education is run. As Australia is a democracy with competing parties, promises regarding education are often used as tactical moves to win votes. This can sometimes lead to disappointment amongst teachers as politicians aren't always truthful and have competing priorities.
To use some economic jargon, there are 'supply and demand' forces that influence education. In terms of the students themselves, education results in skills that affect their future material wealth. They build skills through their education, skills translate into higher wages, higher wages mean they are more well-off materially and it is likely that a value for education and its benefits in the long term will be passed down through the family. As a nation, Australia is very hard working. Education is often seen as a means to a good job and therefore a strong income.
Pressure can be placed on schools from a number of sources.
Early Australian schools
This is a harder question to answer than you may expect. According to J Allen:

... makes sense.

If that is the norm, then what diversity exists in schools in Australia? Surely they aren't ALL the same?
"Schools as we know them are large, formal institutions for the systematic education of children. They are staffed by trained professionals, who teach a standardised curriculum to age-graded groups of children called ‘classes’. They do so in buildings dedicated to, and designed for, school purposes, and furnished with a range of equipment designed specifically for teaching.” (p. 57)
It would be incorrect to assume that an individual’s experience of education in Australia is indicative of the national experience. Australia is full of diversity, and the type and quality of schools is no exception.

But how did we get here?
There are many different types of schools in Australia. Some examples are:

* Public * Alternative (Steiner, Montessori)
* Private * Special Education

Personal experience at public schools
Three of my four teaching placements have been at public schools. I have noticed huge differences between these schools and the other practicum at a private school and my own private schooling education. In the public schools, many students would arrive at class without any equipment either because they left it at home or because their parents never purchased any in the first place. In discussions with some teachers at these schools I've heard that many of these students' parents don't value education, and that is a big cause of these problems. Attendance was also a big problem at these schools. At one school it was simply assumed that no students turned up for the last week of school.

I am simply writing from my own experience and not meaning to make blanket statements about public vs. private education. All I know is that I have noticed a big gap in the Australian education system, one that I hope will not widen as time goes on.
“Prior to the mid-nineteenth century they were far less standardised (as well as far less common) – their teachers were more diverse and there was virtually no recognised or standardised form of teacher education; and buildings, furnishings, curriculum and pedagogy also varied enormously. Moreover, few people thought there might be anything strange or wrong with this.” (p. 57)
Typical Australian Classroom circa. 1900
Prior to 1872, when the Education Departments were formed, most schools were run as family businesses.
Our history shapes our future. It is essential to take pause and reflect in order to understand how we arrived where we are.
Well... maybe not that Horrible History...
Moving on!
Methods of punishment have changed significantly in the last 100 years. Can you imagine using the strap on one of today's students? Think of the lawsuits!
"War is a supreme test and challenge to and test of a country's institutions" (Lowe, 2012, p. 11)
While generally geographically separated, Australia has been closely affected by the wars such as WW1, WW2 and Vietnam in terms of the national psyche and educational priorities.
Given the sense of security (and resulting apathy) felt by many young Australians today, it would be difficult for them to empathise with the fear and passion experienced by war-time youth. During World War 2, Australia was placed in a very vulnerable position, and the value of education was well respected.

As the majority of today's students do not have to contend with the challenges of having their relatives at war, or the impending possibility (or desire for) their own conscription, it is understandable that their education experience is different to that of their parents/ grandparents.
It is important to understand that there are always political agendas that affect what we teach and how we teach it.
Gough Whitlam is an example of a politician whose values affected the education system. During his term as Prime Minister from 1972 - 1975 Whitlam implemented fee free tertiary education. If only that was still the case!
Many teachers were very disappointed when Victorian Premier Ted Bailieu's promise to make Victorian teachers the highest paid in Australia was reneged in 2011.
They weren't happy!
Just so you know...
“Changes in the physical characteristics of schools, combined with the dedication of buildings to school purposes, made it possible to install special teaching technologies: in the 1850s, blackboards, standardised desks, globes, wall charts, maps and illustrations, sand trays and so on. The fact that they are so taken for granted in the schools we are accustomed to can also deceive us into thinking that they are universally part of schools. They are not. They are historical inventions, part of the invention of the ‘modern school’… However, by well before the end of the nineteenth century, these innovations have come to be accepted as standard.” (Allen, p. 58)
“Schools and schooling stand in complex relations with other social institutions and practices. One set of these relations is found in the purposes people – whether individual parents and their children, or governments and interest groups – attach to schools. In either case, the stakes are high: families see their children succeed or fail, governments and businesses see economies boom or languish.” (Allen, p. 60)
It is easy for people to assume their experiences of education are representative of the global experience. This is not the case. Indeed, it is essential to have an awareness of the different approaches to education, in order to understand the ‘Australian approach’.

This is my Form 3 (year 9) class from Honiara, Solomon Islands. They range in age from 15 to 21. I myself am 21 in this photo. Why the discrepancy in student age?
As the majority of my students grew up in their village in remote jungle parts of the Solomons, their starting date for primary school varied.
There were also big differences in the courses studied by my female and male students. While the boys all studied trades in preparation for their future careers in those areas, most of my female students studied "Life skills", a course designed to prepare them for life in the village or work in a Western hotel.

This is my friend Steph skyping with her class in Indonesia. She first visited their village a couple of years ago and has been returning to volunteer as often as possible since then. In between times, they skype!
These are the kinds of connections we need to be forging with our neighbouring countries who aren't as fortunate!
The big industries of a country affect its government's educational priorities. What are the country's jobs that need to be filled? The need will determine the focus. For example, currently in Australia there is a shortage of engineering graduates - particularly women. As a result a lot of funding has been filtered into the areas of maths and science to try to encourage more students to follow that path. These priorities are different for different countries.
"Their endless passion for learning and the value they place on it as a gift and not a chore really continues to strike me"
Here I am with some students from a rural school I met on a recent trip to Cambodia. In the few short hours I spent with them I was overwhelmed by the excitement and eagerness they had to learn from me. I was bombarded with questions.

This gave me hope as, as a nation they are still recovering from the horrors of the Khmer Rouge. Unfortunately, they are not taught about the genocide as part of their curriculum. My hope is that through education, they will develop the necessary skills in critical thinking to view their government with clarity.
It's all a competition!
Being one of the big bad developed countries, there can be pressure to 'keep up' with the other kids in the first world playground. We need the best results, best behavior reports and most qualified teachers.
I don't think it should be about that.

I think we should be focusing on the students as individuals.
There are many contexts that influence the way education is approached in Australia. Schools are the way they are because of a number of factors.

We better start at the beginning...
Alternative schools
“There have been some very famous schools that stand out against the bulk of schools for their different approaches to students, curriculum and the purposes. Some are associated more with their founder, such as AS Neill’s Summerhill, while others, such as the Montessori schools or Steiner schools, have built a small alternative band of schools around the world that embody different assumptions about how children learn best to the ordinary primary school… Many of these schools, however, disappeared for what seemed to be two main reasons. The first is that as these schools became known in their community for caring relationships with students, students with a wide range of social, emotional and academic problems flocked to the schools. This tended to mean that the surrounding schools had a safety valve for their unwanted or difficult students, so that the community school was treated as a problems ‘dumping ground’, while the mainstream school could continue with existing practices without having to adapt to a wide range of students… the second main reason for the ending of the community-based school is the downsizing of funding to schools." (Wolf, 2008)
Many theorists have pondered over the nature of learning in an effort to find the 'Holy Grail' of teaching.
As teachers, it is crucial that we view students as individuals, and continue to be philosophical about the nature of learning.
It is about the INDIVIDUAL victories.
It is also important not to have tunnel vision or to become complacent. It is dangerous to assume that our current schools are the best and only education option for all.
“Recognising that schools in the form we know them are historical inventions, and recent ones at that, can help us to see them with fresh eyes, and to avoid assuming they are the only way to educate. This is a first step to understanding how they work, to evaluating their practices and our expectations of what they can do, and to considering possible alternatives.” (Allen, p. 58)
Make it about the students.
The attitude of students regarding their school and schoolwork can be heavily influenced by the attitudes of their parents and teachers as well as the socio-economic status of the area where they live. My experience has been that the culture of a school filters down from the top. If the principal has a clear vision and positive attitude and shares it with the staff and student body, then the school is more likely to operate under the same vision. Adolescence is a time of great change; it is important that schools accommodate that.
“Adolescence is often characterised in the media as a time of rebellion, crisis, pathology and deviance, rather than as a time of evaluating, decision making, commitment and of carving out a place in the world.” (Allen, p. 146-147)
The world is changing, and as teachers we need to embrace these changes.
“Education has often been labelled the most resistant profession in terms of its ability to take on change and look forward to the future… Despite our need to move forward our fears and confusion lead to tendencies to cling to the institutions and understandings that we are familiar with. Teachers are often caught in the middle.” (Groundwater-Smith et al., p. 78)
“Teachers are caught in a temporal paradox. They belong to a notoriously conservative profession whose job is to prepare the next generation for the world of the future. Their source of expertise is knowledge of and from the past, but they need to be futurologists as well.” (Hodge, 1993, p. 148)
More sophisticated ICT
Technology is developing at a very fast pace and as teachers we have a responsibility to keep up with it. Are you a digital immigrant? Our students spend hours and hours of their spare time playing games, browsing the internet and using apps. By incorporating more ICT into our lessons, we will enable a smoother transition into their learning.
More public reviewing methods for teachers
“A recent phenomenon that has come about as a result of the burgeoning of the World Wide Web has been a website RateMyTeachers. Covering schools in the US, the United Kingdom, India, New Zealand, Canada and Australia students can rate teachers on a scale of one to five on easiness, helpfulness, clarity, popularity and overall quality. On the face of it the website would appear to give students and their parents an opportunity to comment on teachers and schools in a ‘safe’ environment. However there are some real problems with it… Authentic student feedback on teachers and their work requires a careful and ethical set of processes.” (Susan Groundwater-Smith, p. 58)
An increasingly multicultural society
As teachers we need to promote acceptance of diversity in our students. We are a part of a nation that is home to hundreds of different cultures. We need to be accepting of this fact and educate our students to do the same.
More collaboration between faculties
“We signal the need for teachers to be linked with a wider discourse beyond their local circle of colleagues, study groups or networks. An important goal should be to expand the community of educators and education resources to which teachers turn to inform and support their work, a shift from the pattern in which teachers focus exclusively on their own work or the work of those close by, with little external contribution, challenge or support.” (Ball & Cohen, p. 18-19)
There are so many contexts that influence education in so many different ways. As teachers we must focus on the influence that we most directly control: Ourselves. We are the ones that see students day in and day out. We are the ones that can track changes in behavior and overall performance. We are the ones who (with their families) will guide them through their learning path and help them grow.
woah! Prezi inception!
Allen, J (2000). “Watching the Clock: Changes and Continuities” Sociology of Education: Possibilities and Practice, 3rd Edition

Connell, R. (2007). Teachers. In R. Connell, C. Campbell, M. Vickers, A. Welch, D. Foley & N. Bagnall. Education, change and society. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 262-78.

Teaching – A Changing Profession. Chapter 3, Susan Groundwater-Smith, Marie Brennan, Jane Mitchell, Mark McFadden, Geoff Munns, Secondary Schooling in a Changing World, 2nd Edition

From adolescence to young adulthood, chapter 4, Susan Groundwater-Smith, Marie Brennan, Jane Mitchell, Mark McFadden, Geoff Munns, Secondary Schooling in a Changing World, 2nd Edition

Teaching, learning and curriculum in a changing world, chapter 6, Susan Groundwater-Smith, Robyn Ewing, Rosie Le Cornu, Teaching Challenges and Dilemmas, 4th Edition

Hodge, B. (1993). Teaching as Communication, Longman: London
The Gonski Review aims over the next six years to "put in place fairer, more consistent funding arrangements around Australia. It's all about the money $$$
Let's keep it consistent!
In 2008 the Australian curriculum was developed. It is expected to be complete in all subjects by 2014. The AusVELS website states: "AusVELS has been designed to ensure that schools and teachers are not required to manage two different curriculum and reporting frameworks during the development of the Australian curriculum."
But I'm getting ahead of myself! There's a little more history yet...
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