Simon Gipson – How Education Defines Opportunity
On Monday, David Gonski released his second Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools.
Gonski’s call to action to transform Australia’s industrial approach to schools and schooling is neither radical nor new, but it is well overdue. Without doubt, as nationally we slip further into educational irrelevance and mediocrity, we need whole scale systemic change that is both impactful and practical.
As Gonski points out, across the country, we continue to maintain traditional organisational structures and approaches to learning that owe their origins more to legislation of the 1870s than contemporary understandings about how young people learn best.
In the late 19th Century, here in Victoria the progressive government of the day saw the importance of free, secular and compulsory education at least up until the age of 12 – though provision was made within the 1872 Education Act for schooling up until 15. Indeed Victoria was one of the first jurisdictions in the world to legislate free and compulsory education. Whilst there was philosophical underpinning to the legislation, there was also a fundamental pragmatism that drove it: the rapidly developing industrial base of the young colony demanded workers with basic skills in literacy and numeracy. Hence, the first government schools, were primary schools, which educated students up until what is now described as Year 6 – 12 years old.
Secondary schools, as such, did not really become prominent until after World War II. Of the 60 government schools in Victoria in 1936, only 6 were post – compulsory (that is for students over the age of 14) and three of these were selective. The vast majority of schools engaged in the latter stages of secondary education were in the independent sector.
In the post-war mood of social reform, demand for secondary education expanded and a number of new “comprehensive” high schools were introduced. But, the focus and mode of instruction was still decidedly different from that of the primary years.
In the 21st century, we continue to maintain the divide, despite all the educational research on how children learn and the well-documented shortfalls of an educational structure that makes a fundamental distinction between primary and secondary schools. It is well understood that young people learn at different rates and hit different developmental levels at different times. Twelve-year-old children do not all learn in one way in December and then morph into different learners by way of the intervention of a few warm days over summer.
As research keeps telling us, and as Gonski reminds, effective learning is differentiated to suit the needs of the individual student.
Additionally, our demands in curriculum have shifted enormously in the last 150 years. No longer do we look to schools simply to turn out compliant literate and numerate workers. Our needs are much more complex. In the last 20 years, in particular, the nature of schools and learning has been dramatically transformed by the ubiquity of technology and the rapid access to information. No longer is the teacher in sole charge of the knowledge. Learning is much more than simply regurgitating the content of a narrow curriculum to satisfy the expectations of a pen and paper examination. Instead it is more about accessing, authenticating, synthesizing and re-presenting knowledge, and in so doing creating understanding.
Schools need to be able to build effective learning environments that will prepare young people for their lives as creative, contributing citizens in the 21st century. Every one of Australia’s 3.8 million school students deserves at least this opportunity for success.
Gonski has provided a roadmap on how we might direct schools to the future; a world where education will provide opportunity for all.
Simon Gipson, CEO of The Song Room