Sunday Tasmanian - - News -

THERE are three dis­turb­ing signs that in­di­cate trends in Aus­tralian ed­u­ca­tion.

First, there has been a sharp de­cline in our rank­ing among the 72 coun­tries in the Pro­gramme for In­ter­na­tional Stu­dent As­sess­ment (PISA).

Sec­ond, Aus­tralia’s own NAPLAN test­ing has shown that, at all year lev­els and in all states, stu­dents’ writ­ing skills have de­clined over the past six years.

Third, teach­ers re­port the high­est lev­els of oc­cu­pa­tional stress among all the pro­fes­sions. Low teacher morale af­fects ed­u­ca­tional out­comes. Lower stu­dent out­comes af­fect teacher morale. There is a down­ward spi­ral.

Un­less the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the trends is recog­nised and ad­dressed, the spi­ral will not be re­versed.

If sys­temic strate­gies are hav­ing neg­a­tive ef­fects, do­ing them more in­ten­sively and ex­pen­sively will only make the prob­lems worse.

A sec­ondary teacher told me she had to spend so much time and ef­fort as­sess­ing and re­port­ing on her stu­dents she had nei­ther the time nor the en­ergy to pre­pare lessons.

On the sur­face, the govern­ment pol­icy of stan­dard­i­s­a­tion and na­tional test­ing is push­ing rip­ples to­wards a de­sir­able shore­line. Un­der­neath there is a strong con­trary un­der­cur­rent hav­ing an op­po­site ef­fect.

The un­der­cur­rent is the changed role and cul­ture of teach­ing.

Older Aus­tralians will re­mem­ber the iconic teach­ers who did such things as teach chem­i­cal equa­tions by dance, who sat with stu­dents un­der trees to talk about pho­to­syn­the­sis, who took week­long maths camps, and who re­quired stu­dents to gen­er­ate the ques­tions that would be tack­led in class.

They were teach­ers who took in­for­ma­tion and owned the knowl­edge that they shared with stu­dents.

Teach­ing was about un­der­stand­ing and re­con­fig­ur­ing knowl­edge in a way that could be cus­tomised to meet the in­ter­ests and un­der­stand­ings of their par­tic­u­lar stu­dents.

Now de­spite the in­ten­tions and fore­words of the na­tional cur­ricu­lum writ­ers, teach­ing has too of­ten be­come the art of flick­pass­ing the syl­labus to stu­dents.

The process is of­ten ster­ile, the teach­ers dis­en­gaged.

Teach­ers are forced into mod­el­ling dis­em­pow­er­ment (“the next thing we need to cover is …’’).

It is time to ac­knowl­edge the im­por­tant role of teach­ers as pro­fes­sional peo­ple who are more than just mes­sen­gers trans­fer­ring a cen­trally de­vised cur­ricu­lum to their stu­dents. Pol­icy-mak­ers should fo­cus on fund­ing and en­cour­ag­ing teacher net­works so that suc­cess­ful prac­tices and strate­gies can be de­vel­oped and shared. Michael Mid­dle­ton Opos­sum Bay

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