Archive for the ‘Election2007’ Category

Barak and his education campaign

He talks of transforming American educational culture. A beautiful dream. He says, “the single most important factor in determining their achievement today is not the colour of their skin, or who their parents are but…who their teacher is.” “If we are going to give our kids a chance, it is time to start giving our teachers a chance” Wow.

leading from the heart » Barack Obama and Education

This from Tracy’s edublog. Nice words Tracy!

Image: acaben

I’m seeing parallels with Obama’s presidential campaign and Rudd’s Education Revolution – there’s a personal campaign and then there’s a party line from Labour.

Education as campaign has struck me as a recent arrival (or maybe I’m just seeing it for the first time!)…it ties in with emancipatory action research processes, activity theory and practitioners at the coalface of teaching and learning, but does so expanding on social justice, acknowledges productivity and, I hope, emphasises the dynamic relationship between individual and society.

I’ll write more on this as I reflect and flesh it out more.

But…before I go, why does John Howard think that education has nothing to do with him and his government? It’s been a “mixed message” week for our PM!

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Has technology failed education?

Why Educational Technology Has Failed Schools by Paul D. Fernhout (January, 2007):
Educational technology has been a big success at homes, in libraries, in museums, and in business. Let’s say you have an interest in, say, Aardvarks. At home and want to know the weight of a typical aardvark right now? Google it:
Want to buy one? 🙂 Try Amazon:
Want to sell one you no longer need? Try ebay:
Want to collaborate with others on making one better? Try sourceforge:
Want a 3D simulation written by an aardvark?
Want to make your own educational simulation about aardvarks? Try one of the tools linked here:
An endless variety of information related to just one arbitrary topic, easily accessible using Google or another search engine.

Fernhout’s article is straight to the point (and thanks to Bill Kerr for his link to this; I got to this via Bill’s recent post about Alan Kay).

I especially like this line from Fernhout:

…to recall from my own pre-computer elementary school experiences in the 1960s, there was a big fancy expensive “science kit” in the classroom closet — but there was little time to use it or explore it — we were too busy sitting at our desks. 🙂

Likewise, I have every intention of getting the most out of my wedding cutlery on a daily basis! OK not so “educational” but living for the moment, as children do, and do well. Fernhout notes that children don’t need to be coerced into learning, they do so naturally when left, naturally, to do so.

I’ve been thinking about playbased learning since Rudd and Macklin announced their early childhood plan as part of Labour’s education revolution and also reflecting on Stephen Smith’s words about establishing a curriculum of core subjects; and what this all means in terms of educating for the future. Fernhout’s probably hit the nail on the head when he says that schools aren’t in the business of just-in-time learning, rather its just-in-case learning. Bill picked up on this point too. I’d agree that schools will need to change in order to respond and remain relevant to an everchanging world.

The thing is, don’t we generally think that what we are doing is right? Good? Necessary? Sure, politicians are out to score brownie points from the voting public, but generally we all like to think we have good, decent intentions. The notion of the public good is changing, especially as we seek the soul-satisfying pursuits of yesteryear through farmers markets, more flexible work and holiday arrangements; returning to community and cottage based activities:

It is only the last ten thousand years of agriculture and then industrialization that have been the anomaly — changes in part driven by rising populations and growing bureaucracies. But truly modern technology like nanotech replicators or flexible manufacturing powered by internet connected computers means we can allow the masses to go back to that sort of lifestyle revolving around family and community humans are so well adapted for, where production of food or goods is only incidental, not central.

  Image: Zach K

I’m reminded (cynically) though of Terminator’s Sky-Net, where AI robots, left to tend to menial tasks of production (and defence of the nation, as the sub-plot goes), then took over. So, how much do we set to auto-pilot?

Or flipside, how about this? Technology is used specifically as an enabler:

“Mitra simply left the computer on, connected to the Internet, and allowed any passerby to play with it. He monitored activity on the PC using a remote computer and a video camera mounted in a nearby tree. What [Dr. Sugata Mitra] discovered was that the most avid users of the machine were ghetto kids aged 6 to 12, most of whom have only the most rudimentary education and little knowledge of English. Yet within days, the kids had taught themselves to draw on the computer and to browse the Net.” [See Hole-in-the-Wall experiment.]

I won’t quote anymore from the essay, but you get my drift anyway; read it! if you haven’t already. If you’re an advocate for unschooling (and have followed previous conversations along these lines), you’ll no doubt have come across this already. :o)

So, back to Labour’s education revolution then. Does it mean a revolution in terms of changing what “School” means? Does it mean a revolution in terms of opening up rather than closing down connected spaces (virtual and otherwise)? What is it we are trying to protect exactly?

As a (future) parent, I think I’d want to protect my children from the closed mindedness of a stifling, standards-driven learning environment that teaches conformity instead of creativity and original thinking! And don’t get me wrong, our teachers have to find ways to survive in these environments too!

So, I’m left wondering about curricula, (un)schooling and technology-enabled learning and how Labour’s push for an education revolution and aspects like playbased learning will look in reality; or will we only end up with the chess pieces returning to their conforming starting positions? As we get closer to election time, I’m sure the debate will really heat up and I hope our highly capable educators will jump in and offer their opinions based on their practice and experiences. Only, will they be heard?

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Does a national curriculum champion diversity?

Well one of the first things I said when I became Labor’s spokesman on Education was to say I strongly supported a national curriculum, that having a national curriculum would be in our national interest. We are now a much more mobile workforce nation and as a consequence a much more mobile education nation. People are entitled as they move from State to State for employment purposes, to see their children being taught the same things in our primary schools and in our secondary schools.

Australian Labor Party: National Curriculum; Polls

Stephen Smith - Shadow Minister for Education & Training

Labour’s Stephen Smith made this comment in a doorstop interview earlier today.

I’m in two minds about having a natinal curriculum for our schools. In saying this, I’m also conscious that we have a national system for vocational education and training via the national training packages. How well is this working? What are the drawbacks? How is a national curriculum necessarily better than a state-by-state education system?

Acknowledging the increased mobility of our families and our workforce is one aspect, yes. Perhaps this is more a fly-away line: “to see their children being taught the same things in our primary schools and in our secondary schools” from Smith, but it made me wonder whether it won’t carry more weight in standardising curricula in such a way as to become homogenous. I worry about our diversity and the fact that we do not seem to value diversity across business, education and governance. At the community level, diversity is the very heart of community, however.

Image: inkynobaka

Perhaps I shouldn’t jump the gun too quickly, as in an earlier interview, Smith said:

If you have a national curriculum, there will of course be sensible
local and regional variations, but we can have consistency very much in
the core subjects, the important subjects of maths and science and the

I think there is still much debate to be had over what these core subjects actually are. Maths and Science are certainly core to numeracy, problem solving and teamed with English and Communication for developing literacy and socialisation, you have what appears to be a straightforward and relevant curriculum. I recently viewed this video
referred by the Eide Neurolearning Blog, about the need to revisit the way maths is being taught in US schools. What this indicates, and reaffirms for me, is that there is little consensus as to what we mean by core subjects or core skills.

Wouldn’t we be better off to converse on this issue of a national curriculum with a view to outlining a sense of purpose to underpin further decisions? Should we perhaps leave some room to talk about what IS working at the state level, so we don’t throw the “baby out with the bath water”?

Image: carf

What might our “ideal” curriculum look like if we consider Rudd’s education revolution close up? What would we like to “revolutionise”?

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Chapter one of ALP's Education Revolution: Early Childhood Education

There’s a lot of work to be done here because of the undersupply of qualified early childhood education teachers. That’s why there is a long implementation period proposed for this.This is an important document for Labor. It is an important document for our country’s children. It is an important document for the future of the economy. When we send our kids off to their first day of school, we want to know they’re getting the best start possible in life. This document is about helping that process along because we value our country’s children and we value their contribution to the economy.

Australian Labor Party: Early Childhood Education Announcement

The ALP has released chapter one of its Education Revolution. Again, we see the term “value” featuring here, as in the quote above. The links to childcare services is also prominent and certainly for our national vocational education and training (VET) system this will mean more of a focus on those institutes providing training in child care and early childhood studies. It seems Rudd is starting young and working his way through the levels of education – could be a good move (starting with the “egg” perhaps?). I think it also adds value to child care more generally and perhaps parents will view that as value-adding to what is otherwise currently an under-resourced service.

Anyone familiar with / experienced in play-based learning? I’d like to hear more. It’s a refreshing look at educating our children as opposed to ramming the country’s history down their throats! Compare this view with that of Howard’s a couple of days ago:

“I don’t think we need a revolution in education.” Mr
Howard said in Canberra. “I tell you what we need in education more
than anything else: basic standards. “We need basic standards of
literacy, of numeracy, a proper and rigorous understanding according to
an appropriate narrative sense of the history of this country. the
history influences that have made and conditioned this country
.” —The Hobart Mercury: Battleground on schools: PM dismisses Labour’s education ‘revolution’ (24/01/2007).

Long live creativity! :o)

I think making the links between education, productivity, and economic growth will speak volumes to people, families and businesses alike. We’ll have to see how the States respond to the push for the Commonwealth to negotiate the funding structure for this early childhood education push. It does make sense though to have an overall vision for education starting with child care and early childhood education. I can see the other education sectors lining up for their turn too!

Rudd has also been fairly clear about presenting this revolution as a bi-partisan issue and also without separating the responsibilities of private and public education providers. At this point he’s kept things broad, providing overarching views and statements that highlight a national need. Who would disagree that education is not a key concern across the nation? Is the ALP taking a step in the right direction?

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Rudd: "Education Prime Minister"

If I want to be known as one thing, if I’m elected as Prime Minister later this year, it will be as the Education Prime Minister. –Rudd

JONES: Well, surely with that public investment in education, because I think it’s a very good point, now surely we must start with what we pay lecturers. I mean, if they are poorly paid and researchers are poorly paid, they move into the private sector, we lose them from the instructional role they play in universities, but the quality of instruction is devalued, the quality teaching for them going to secondary school is devalued, and the whole problem multiplies. Are we paying university staff, academics, enough?
RUDD: The answer to that is no. And I think it goes to the question of how do we, as a nation and as a community concerned about who we are and what we value and what we do with out[sic] future, valuing education –

Australian Labor Party: Polls; Traveston Dam; Education; Tristar

Kevin Rudd - Federal Labor Leader

This from an interview by Alan Jones with Kevin Rudd on 2GB radio, 25th January 2007.

Reinstating values seems to be a fundamental driver in putting Rudd’s education revolution into action I’d say. I’n not a fan of Jones, but he asks some pertinent questions during this interview, concerning the devaluing of lecturers and teachers, the demise of HECS for the working family, the tension between State and Federal control over education, and the standards of university education in Australia. And points like this:

…only 250 students a year now graduate from universities with honours
degrees or higher level qualifications in mathematics and statistics,
250. Now, that’s going to affect the quality of our teachers in
mathematics. So, if there’s a problem in the system about enough
engineers, about enough mathematicians, enough scientists, enough
dentists or doctors, shouldn’t we build a bias into the system whereby
we give people scholarships to follow that academic pursuit and
indenture them after they graduate?

I’d say we need to go back further and into primary schools and assess how we approach teaching maths and science at an early age. Rudd is right to look at all levels of education, as each impacts heavily on the next.

Wouldn’t it be great to see all levels and sectors of education talking to one another? But what came first the chicken or the egg?

P.S. Might be worth noting that after reading Christopher Sessums’ post on the US also needing an education revolution, it seems that their “next president needs to be an educator — a visionary who understands the importance and value of teaching, learning, technology, and its social significance” is equally as strong.

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