LEARN FROM THE GOOD OLD DAYS
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