Archive for the ‘*Future’ Category

Long term investment through the pockets of individuals?

…we see in the papers today lots of one-off payments. Now if we’re going to have a series of one-off payments, that will mean the Budget is really about the future of the Government politically and not the future of the nation economically.We need to use this Budget to set our prosperity up for a period beyond the mining boom. What are we going to leave our children? Are we going to give them a world class education and training system – make it the best in the world? Will we see that tonight? Are we going to see a long term commitment to planning for modern infrastructure such as fast national broadband? And are we going to see a comprehensive plan to tackle climate change which is in itself, a very big threat to our economic prosperity and jobs in the future, and the longer we delay, the greater the cost to the country?

Australian Labor Party: Budget (Doorstop interview with Shadow Treasurer, Wayne Swan)

After listening to the budget speech last night, I’m not convinced these questions from Swan (made earlier on Tuesday) were answered. The skeptic in me heard, “goodbye TAFE and hello short-term gains for apprentices”… throw the seeds out to the birds and let them peck at them.
What’s your reaction to the 2007/08 budget from Costello? How does education and training fair in your point of view?

The heavy load of an Education revolution: the chicken or the egg?

It is now generally recognised that there is an acute shortage of specialist teachers of mathematics and the natural sciences. The same is true of foreign languages, while history teaching in many schools is entrusted to teachers who lack training in the discipline. Why is this? Readers involved in the councils of our state secondary colleges will no doubt recall some of the arguments over staffing. Even if you can attract a teacher qualified to teach mathematics, French, history or literature, a case will be made for filling the vacancy with a teacher of one of the vocational subjects these colleges have been encouraged to develop. But all too often you can’t find a young maths teacher to replace the grey-haired one who has retired. This deficiency leads us to the universities. University departments that teach these core disciplines are under heavy pressure. Physics and mathematics used to attract many of the brightest undergraduates: now those with talent for mathematics are more likely to pursue degrees in information or biological sciences, where the career opportunities are greater and the salaries higher.As enrolments decline, so the funding for such departments dries up, and in many universities they have contracted or disappeared altogether.There is a similar predicament in the faculties of education. Since teaching cannot match other professions in prestige and rewards, these faculties struggle to attract the brightest undergraduates. Education faculties are poorly resourced.

Learning’s heavy load – Opinion –

Stuart McIntyre in the Sunday Age, April 1, outlined his observations on the current debate by the two primary parties over Education.

I paid attention when I read McIntyre’s points quoted above. We’ve had Rudd’s plan for early childhood education, as he slowly makes his way through the sectors in time (we hope) for the November election, but on reading McIntyre’s words, I wonder if we have a tragic chicken-and-egg-thang going on? That is, do we prepare our youngest learners in the first instance – then worry about how they might handle secondary schooling, VET or higher education? OR, do we need to look (as McIntyre highlights) to our universities NOW and address the chronic shortage of people who may at least be interested in teaching in these various sectors and thus, teaching our young children to begin with?

Where do we need to invest NOW, to make ongoing changes at later stages across the sectors? One reaction is that perhaps we have silo-ed the sectors a little too much in the past – an education revolution has nothing to do with paper shuffling and rhetoric, and plenty to do with making some real gutsy changes!

So why not have a go? Given the proposition outlined by McIntyre, what might we need from our unis to help facilitate:

  1. more discussion about both the early-childhood-education and national-curriculum-in-schools leads outlined by Rudd,
  2. a turn-around of the brain-drain across education sectors as retiring teachers move on and newer teachers give up in frustration, and
  3. a cultural change in the way educators – and learners – are viewed and treated by various sectors of society?

So, why not have an education “faculty” that stretches across or is embedded within all others? Surely a faculty of science with a strong science education presence is more likely to encourage budding scientists to also contemplate a career in science teaching, no? Perhaps you’d argue that this wouldn’t work because there’s already a good deal of educational research going on in the field of science education in our education faculties currently – but, my point would be, why is this work removed from the discipline itself? How much longer will we continue to extract theory from practice (or practice from theory you might also argue)?

Let’s do a quick scan of a handful of university science faculties to see how ‘present’ a focus on science education really is:

A Singaporean university has an active science faculty with research interests and centres for nano sciences, mathematics, chemistry, and medical imaging (to name but a few), but nothing obvious around science education per se.

Next, a Canadian university which does display some information about the teaching and learning initiatives undertaken by the faculty, promoting project-based learning and with a sense of community orientation, easily found from the faculty’s homepage. A portion of this centre is taken up with processes and procedures to support academics in their teaching, but it’s good to see that centre of this nature has come about from the faculty’s concerns about teaching and learning in the faculty itself.

On to an Australian university, with a range of pure and applied sciences, and although once more we see support services and information for the benefit of students and staff in the faculty, along with some obvious connections across departments, there seems little overt connection to other faculties like education. As with the Canadian university, there is also recognition of the linkages to community.

And finally, to a New Zealand university, whose homepage praises the quality of their lecturers and outlines the range of programmes on offer, yet, again, there is little mention of the education strategy through which such a faculty might engage students as prospective science educators in their own right.

  • Do we require our universities to take stock of a bigger picture view of education, as it relates across faculties and disciplines?
  • We see in two of the four examples above active links to community – could this be extended to include more active pedagogical links?

Not all that long ago universities were talking about a research-teaching nexus (briefly here and here), where one strengthened the qualities of the other to provide a scholarship of teaching embedded in a discipline: so what happened? Instead of an emerging ethos that brings teaching and research together, we have a research quality framework (DEST) audit process  – the expectations of which seem to also extend into learning and teaching – which sees “research” unis separate themselves further from “teaching” unis! AND which seems to also separate teaching from education research! Oh, the tangled web we watch unravel! :o)

Hmmmm. Where do we go from here? How do we somehow contain and try to make sense of these mixed messages about “what’s best” for our education system in Australia coming from various sources (and mostly with a government flavour)? Oh, and will we be hearing more from the state education ministers on this “national curriculum” idea?

Perhaps these words again from McIntyre, may help develop a solution or two:

However, it is mostly the disjunction of school and university that handicaps the country’s educational performance. We are told certain areas of knowledge and understanding are vital to education, yet we do nothing to ensure they are sustained in the universities, and nothing to co-ordinate the two. The school is treated as a command economy, the university as a strange island of entrepreneurialism and consumer choice subject to intrusive regulation from Canberra. As we approach the federal election it would be helpful if the two main parties could attend to the disjunction.

Image: MJA, 2004

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Snippet: support for Labour's national curriculum agenda

Australian Labor Party: Support For Labor’s National Curriculum Plan

It seems there are many educationalists standing behind Labour’s idea for a National School Curriculum, as the various quotes in the link above show. I am tentatively pleased having now read the New Directions for Our Schools document. There’s room to move, an inviting tone to collaborate, an inclusive ethos (without too many buzzy words), and a clear intent.

It’s difficult to make a comprehensive judgement at this early stage, especially when there is little being offered in response (there’s an echo in here!).

So, let’s see.

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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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