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PC report outlines where govt education spend is going

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Total Federal Government funding per student for Australian public schools rose by 115.2 per cent over the past decade, compared with 15.8 per cent for private schools although the total Federal Government expenditure per student is still higher for private school students at $6434 compared with $1915 for public school students.

Meanwhile total State and Territory funding to Australian public schools per student grew from $9112 in 2003-04 to $13788 in 2012-13. State and Territory funding for the nation’s private schools rose from $2124 to $2378 per student over the same period.

The School Education chapter (chapter 4) of the Productivity Commission’s annual Report on Government Services (RoGS) reports on government funded primary and secondary school education. Some performance indicators are reported for government schools, non-government schools and school education as a whole.

Australian, State and Territory government recurrent expenditure on school education was $47.9 billion in 2012-13. Expenditure on government schools was $36.9 billion, or 76.9 per cent of total government recurrent expenditure on school education. Government schools account for most of the expenditure by State and Territory governments, although these governments also contribute to the funding of nongovernment schools and provide services used by both government and non-government schools.

Nationally, State and Territory governments provided 87.8 per cent of total government recurrent expenditure on government schools in 2012-13, and the Australian Government provided 12.2 per cent. In contrast, government expenditure on non-government schools in that year was mainly provided by the Australian Government (73.0 per cent), with State and Territory governments providing 27.0 per cent.

Nationally, in 2012-13, in-school government expenditure per student in government primary schools was $13763 and in government secondary schools was $16852. Out-of-school government expenditure per student in all government schools was $757 in 2012-13.

Nationally, in 2012-13, government expenditure per student in all government schools was $15703. It increased in average annual real terms between 2008-09 and 2012-13 by 1.0 per cent per year.

Nationally, in 2012-13, government expenditure per student in all non-government schools was $8812. It increased in average annual real terms between 2008-09 and 2012-13 by 3.7 per cent per year.

Nationally, in 2012-13, government recurrent expenditure per student in all schools (government plus non-government) was $13 298. It increased in average annual real terms between 2008-09 and 2012-13 by 1.5 per cent per year.

Government recurrent expenditure on staff in government schools accounted for $23.4 billion (63.6 per cent) of total recurrent expenditure in 2012-13. Nationally, expenditure on staff per student was $8870 for in-school primary, $10 594 for in-school secondary and $457 for out-of-school.

 

OECD: Australia’s funding and policy web holding back education sector

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Australian school funding lacks transparency and coherence, and outcomes of numerous studies have shown the difficulty in determining how individual schools are funded, according to research by the OECD.

The Education Policy Outlook 2015 – Making Reforms Happen addresses the need for improvement in education in a comparative manner, taking into account the importance of national context. Through a review of different countries’ context, challenges and experience in implementing education reform, the report offers directions and strategies to facilitate successful introduction of changes.

The OECD report found expenditure on educational institutions in Australia as a percentage of GDP (for all educational levels combined) is below the OECD average, with a higher share from private sources than the OECD average.

The research pointed at Australia’s decentralised education system and said increasing the clarity of policies and finding within it needs attention, and added that the country’s high education performance can be complemented with further focus on reducing inequities by tackling system-level policies hindering equity in education.

It addressed the need to increase access to education and performance of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, as well as providing continued support for professional development of teachers among key issues.

Last month the Federal Government gave a strong indication that education policy and delivery will remain the responsibility of the states and territories in its issues paper titled Roles and Responsibilities in Education which summarises the progression of both Commonwealth and state and territory involvement in Australia’s education arrangements, along with analysis of the current education system, and forms part of the white paper on the Reform of the Federation, due for release early 2016.

Although the paper acknowledges that not all the pressures on the education system stem from the complexity of coinciding government roles and responsibilities, it says that improving the allocation of roles and responsibilities could make it easier for governments to identify what the problems are, who is responsible for fixing them, and empower teachers, parents and the wider community to hold the appropriate level of government to account for taking the action necessary to improve outcomes.

Addressing equity in the Australian school system, renowned author and educator Dr Pasi Sahlberg said more equitable education systems are those that are able to weaken association of socio-economic situation and learning achievement in school.

He said equity in the Australian school system is above the OECD average, but OECD’s latest PISA survey found that Australia is the only country where differences in learning mathematics between advantaged and disadvantaged students are large, while the strength of the relationship between students’ achievement in school and their family background is weaker than average.

“This indicates that there is an equity problem in Australia rather than a genuine lack of quality in its public schools,” he said.

The Delany Connective – transforming learning and teaching for the 21st century

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Delany College in Western Sydney has turned traditional schooling upside down – almost literally – by developing a contemporary model of learning and teaching that is responsive to the needs of its learners and one that faces head on the challenges of a globally-connected world, writes Julie Fewster.

In a bold, new initiative the future of contemporary learning and teaching is visible in the newly connected classrooms of Years 7 and 8 at Delany College, Granville, thanks to a first of its kind partnership between Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta and Telstra.

Called the Delany Connective this innovative partnership is aimed transforming learning and teaching by making schooling relevant to learners.

Officially launched in September, the Delany Connective is delivering a contemporary model of schooling to meet the needs of today’s learners and equip them with the skills and knowledge to thrive in a connected, global world.

Delany College is located in a low socio-economic area of western Sydney and has a highly diverse student population – 92 percent of students are from a non-English speaking background.

Like most schools, Delany has been using a traditional approach to learning and teaching which is typically experienced as teacher as expert, student as passive receptor of information, ‘chalk and talk’, ‘sage on the stage’; the learner has little input into the process of learning, with a focus on testing for content knowledge.

However, contemporary research and theory shows students learn best when learning is just in time, personalised and relevant to their experience of the world. Modern life and work requires new skillsets including the ability to learn and relearn; to collaborate and communicate; and to think critically and creatively. This requires a new model for schooling.

The need for schools to change radically has been driven largely by the demands of a knowledge age and the ubiquitous nature of technology saysGreg Whitby, Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta, NSW and author of Education Gen WiFi (2011).

“Technology impacts powerfully on every aspect of our lives and it offers opportunities unimagined by previous generations and educators,” Whitby said.

“Capturing the opportunities of today’s world requires a new approach to schooling that goes beyond simple changes. To participate and succeed in a knowledge age and economy requires learners and teachers to have specific skills and a deep understanding in order to manage the demands of a changing world – specifically, technology and future working conditions which will require enormous adaptability.

“Specifically those skills are known as the four Cs: collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity. Deep learning comes by learning to be a learner,” he said.

“Deep learning is defined as the process through whichan individual becomes capable of taking what was learned in onesituation and applying it to new situations.The product of deep learning is transferable knowledge and skills.”

Embracing the need for change

The principal of Delany College, Peter Wade, said that teaching has changed along with the world’s technology and skill demands.

“When I started in the ‘70s we were given a book and curriculum and told to go teach,” Wade recalled. “In the last 20 years we have had a tight compliance agenda. In some ways I think we have become distracted from learning and teaching. Under increasing demands we certainly lost timeand the ability to see what a learner needs.

“The Delany Connective has given us the time and space – literally – to go back to the craft of being good teachers. Liberating us as well as the students to take risks and change our patterns of behavior. We haven’t thrown out the three Rs – we are seeing them through the lens of the four Cs.”

The National Research Council’s Education Life and Work committeeviews 21st century skills and competencies as important dimensions of human competence that have been valuable for many centuries, rather than skills that are suddenly new, unique and valuable today.

Partnerships are essential

Brendon Riley, Group Executive, Global Enterprise and Services, Telstra, said it has worked closely with Delany to drive thought leadership, as well as provide a range of innovative and connected learning technologies, and has been heavily involved in the development and deployment of the new connected classrooms.

“The Delany Connective has turned the traditional model of teaching on its head and shows what’s possible when the latest technologies are used to change how teachers, students and parents connect and collaborate,” Riley said.

“Activity-based working is a hot topic in the workplace and we are now starting to see this shift in our schools. The Delany Connective is a great example of what’s possible and Telstra is committed to helping other schools develop similar connected, automated and collaborative learning environments.”

Whitby believes that corporate partnerships, such as the one between Catholic Education Parramatta and Telstra, are vital to help educational institutes respond to the changing education landscape.

“It is clear that schooling has to be relevant to learners and presents a challenge – we think an exciting one – for teachers,” he said.

“To make schooling relevant requires new understandings about how we learn and teach. It recognises the need to personalise learning for each student and de-privatise teaching practice so that teachers are continuously learning and improving their practice. As a system we have expressed this in our strategic intent: improving the learning outcomes of each student and ensuring a professionally rewarding working life for teachers.”

The learning space

“We see that collaborative spaces support the personalisation of learning and the de-privatisation of teacher practice,” Whitby said. “Flexible environments not only support new pedagogies that personalise learning such as Project Based Learning (PBL) and the Delany Connective, but promote greater teacher collaboration to work and plan together.”

Flexibility is the centrepiece of the learning space for Year 7 at Delany College. They come together at certain times and they split up into different sized groups at other times. Students also break off into smaller teams to work on projects. They utilise the physical and technological space – mobile desks, media scape room and conversation areas to do this.

The Delany Connective offers a state-of-the-art flexible learning space, which includes education-specific and technology-optimised furniture, audio-visual technology, video conferencing and the ability to show, capture and share ‘teachable’ moments.

Seamless technologies embedded within the classroom play a significant role in the learning process allowing real-time collaboration and connection across the room or across the globe. All teachers and all students have iPads. They share their work via screens in the media scape room, via blogs or via a specially-created system where they upload their work.

The Delany Connective is delivering a collaborative model with an integrated curriculum focused on real-world outcomes and the process of learning, not just what the student learns but how the teacher learns. Students are definitely enjoying this way of working, with the technology providing immediate feedback.

Principal Peter Wade said it is a delicate art to bring the whole school staff on board but the Year 7 learning space core teachers are clear advocates.

“It has changed the way I work because we are not following the syllabus in a traditional way; it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach,” Year 7 core teacher, Kata Collimore, said. “We are deciding what is appropriate for the students at any point in time and are able to change things up when required. So as teachers, we need to understand the concepts really well in order to integrate them into other areas that may not be written down in the syllabus. It is personalising the learning big time and the technology is allowing us as the teachers to see the work and where the students are at, at any point in time,” she added.

The Delany Learning Model

A traditional secondary schooling model is based upon a subject delivery system, where students engage with each subject in 45 to 50 minute blocks of time independent of each other subject. Such a delivery design disengages students from any possibility of deep learning, consistency of teaching, and further, as a result of having up to twelve different teachers over a two-week timetable, from developing strong relationships with their teachers.

A traditional secondary schooling model normally focuses on content, compliance and control rather than engaging students in the learning process and encouraging them to become lifelong learners

The Delany Connective Learning Model is designed to meet the needs of today’s learners and foster a deeper engagement that enables students to apply knowledge and skills from any given subject in more complex and meaningful ways (known as integrated learning). It enhances students’ understanding, the way they communicate and interact with others and their ability to know, understand and manage their own emotions. The social interaction skills our students develop throughout their learning are the foundations of a successful future career.

The model used in the Delany Connective, using the Learning Wheel, is based on original work and research by Dr Miranda Jefferson in the school setting and on international research.

The Learning Wheel is the about educating the whole person, the attributes students will demonstrate and how students relate to each other. Achievement is not seen as either ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ but rather as ‘awakening’, ‘applying’ ‘accelerating’, ‘advanced’ and ‘adept’ – a progression through each area on the Learning Wheel.

The wheel is not just about the learners, it is about the teachers – they have to live the wheel and model the behaviour for new learners introduced to the 4Cs – communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking.

 

Delany Connective Learning Model is designed, first and foremost, on Learning how to Learn. Students will explicitly:

  • learn how to learn
  • learn how to collaborate and communicate
  • learn how to think critically, analytically and creatively

Delany Connective Learning Modelfocuses on three domains, explicitly taught and learnt together in the classroom.

  1. The Cognition Domain: how to learn, strategies to gain and interrogate knowledge, creativity.
  2. The Intra-personal Domain: recognising learning, openness to ideas, conscientiousness and positive self-image.
  3. The Inter-personal Domain: how to respect and collaborate with others, how to communicate and take responsibility.

Delany Connective Learning Modelwill lead to deeper learning.

  • Deeper learning is transferring what is learnt from one situation and applying it to new situations.
  • Deeper learning enhances cognition, intra-personal and inter-personal knowledge.

Delany Connective Learning Modelis visually articulated as the Delany Learning Wheel.

o                    The Learning Wheel captures the “Powers” (or habits) students are to master.

The approach centres around three domains:

 

Cognition Intrapersonal Interpersonal
  • how to learn
  • strategies to gain and interrogate knowledge
  • creativity
  • recognising learning
  • openness to ideas
  • conscientiousness and
  • developing a positive self-image
  • how to respect and collaborate with others
  • how to communicate and take responsibility

 

Dr Miranda Jefferson, Teaching Educator, Challenging Pedagogy and one of the architects of the Learning Wheel says the Delany Connective has provided an opportunity to re-look at pedagogy and learning by changing the curriculum and teaching styles and focusing on the 4 Cs.

“We teach to all the 4 Cs and the kids learn in all those ways and it has actually revealed a new space for them to express themselves, to think for themselves, and to connect with the world through communication,” Dr Jefferson said. “It is a completely new approach to seeing students as a person and as a learner first and foremost and to work with their dispositions for learning. And these kids have some real issues and that exposes how much we have to work with the processes of how to learn.

“We are seeing learners taking a greater responsibility for their work and if there is one little kernel that is right back to what we are on about it, it is that they own their own learning – teachers don’t own it for them, they are not transmitting to students what they need to learn, it is learners having an environment; the constructivist idea of education where they grow themselves, self-directed. But they need skills to do that.”

Dr Jefferson said the change has not only been with the students, but also the teachers.

“In the last nine months, teachers have had a massive cultural change and a complete mindset change. For teachers, it is not about teaching but about learning processes,” she said. “There is a sense of excitement because there is such tangible, profound change happening – you can see it. It’s very challenging too because there is a lot of coming to terms with letting go of old practices especially if you have been a teacher for 30 years.”

What learning looks like

Every morning students engage in physical and mental exercises – known as brain push ups – to fine tune the brain and ensure that body and mind are in sync and open to learning. Research has shown that exercises like these get blood flowing and improves not only how you feel but means you can think better

“The brain push-ups really get the students focused for the day,” Principal Wade said. “But more than that it really is about connecting the mind and the body. So if we can excite the body and connect it with the mind it really deepens the learning. It is based on the concept of embodied cognition that recognises the way the body influences the mind.”

Following on from brain push-ups, communication and navigation (encompassing literacy and numeracy) which are the focus of each morning, the day then leads into the following topics:

• Being a scientist
• Being an artist
• Being a designer
• Being ‘us’
• Being ‘me’

Wade said the initiative had turned the timetable totally on its head to allow students and the staff to closely work together. “Our day doesn’t look like a school day in any secondary school,” he said. “Most secondary school students I come into contact with have 10 to 13 teachers – we have five core teachers plus our assistant principal and myself. In this space, using this model, we’ve gotten to know our students very well pastorally and as learners. It throws up challenges of course. Many teachers say, ‘I am a teacher of Mathematics or English.’ We need to say we are ‘teachers of learners.’ We have been teaching to give kids their HSC – we want to be teaching them to be life-long learners.

Nine months into the new approach, the principal and teachers say it’s not only the students who are growing in their confidence as learners and are more articulate. Assistant Principal and Mathematics teacher Richard Grech is very open about how modeling the Delany Connective has changed his own practice.

“Leading Navigation in Year 7 at Delany College has required a considerable re-think about how students best engage with Mathematics and more importantly how, as the leader, the teacher forms the engagement in learning of the students,” Grech said.

“My traditional mode of delivery for Mathematics would have included specific strategies and questions to achieve a desired response, namely the correct answer. This approach misses the key concept of ‘why’, the deeper conceptual understanding of how we navigate our way through our world. I have the opportunity to challenge students, individually and in a group setting, with open-ended questions that help build their conceptual understanding of their connections in the world around them, within a Mathematical context.

“Students of Navigation at Delany College are encouraged to be responsible for their own learning. Creativity, initiative and curiosity are fostered as they explore the world of Mathematics. The students are certainly engaged in the process, they are willing to explore new ideas, they look forward to the challenges of teamwork and remainin focused. The need for working collaboratively has brought a sense of harmony to the group that is reflected in their attitude and behaviour.

“Personally, this change of practice has revitalised my approach to motivating and engaging students in the learning process. It has challenged me to examine my teaching and method of delivery. This approach has heightened my understanding of the need to know each student as a learner.”

Bold vision for the future

Schools have tremendous opportunities to be bold and courageous in creating new and relevant learning experiences.

Powerful learning only occurs when powerful teaching connects with 21st century thinking and tools. We need to revolutionise – to transform – our schools and the way we teach, away from mere knowledge transmission to workshops where co-creativity, ingenuity and imagination sit at the heart of learning.

According to Dr Jefferson, the innovative model at Delany Catholic College is a taste of what needs to come – turning all schools into centres for interdisciplinary innovation with global connections.

For Principal Peter Wade it’s simple, “To be the best school, to be the best teachers and to be the best learners we have a moral imperative to have a change of practice – with the Delany Connective, we are doing just that.”

For more information about The Delany Connective please visit www.delanygranville.catholic.edu.au

 

 

A learning adventure with lifetime memories

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Education Maters magazine reports on how you and your students can benefit from taking your next school excursion to the Northern Territory.

Believing that a hands-on experience is the best learning tool, the Northern Territory government’s tourism body, Tourism NT, has worked uniquely with the state’s tourism operators, schools and universities to create ‘NT Learning Adventures’ that offers school excursions aligned with the Australian curriculum.

The unique partnership offers both students and teachers the opportunity to cover key learning areas, general capabilities and cross-curriculum priorities in an adventurous and exciting way in a truly captivating part of Australia.

In particular, this educational tourism program links with science and history and the cross curriculum priorities of sustainability, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and culture as well as Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia.

Earlier this year some Australian teachers were given the opportunity to experience their own learning adventure in the Northern Territory. Incorporating experiences such as a night with the stars at the Earth Sanctuary, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and sunset camel tours, they walked away with a greater sense of understanding and appreciation for our great southern land, along with everlasting memories.

Wendy Kincses, a science teacher from Victoria’s Flinders Christian Community College, said along with the memories there will be many opportunities to enrich her curriculum from her Top End experiences.

“Much of the information given was probably more relevant to the History or Indigenous Studies curriculum, but I can see many links to science, my curriculum area,” she said.

“Some examples are:

  • At the telegraph station I saw the Le Clanche cell was used to power the signal, this is directly relevant to senior chemistry;
  • The low energy house and astronomy night, how to find south and north, the emu formed by the black of the milky way;
  • References to mega fauna in Indigenous dreamtime stories link to evolution;
  • Adaptations of Indigenous flora and fauna as shown in the desert park and observed in other locations; and,
  • The environmental impact of buffel grass introduced to stabilise the ground but now has led to destruction of habitats.

“Some of the best teaching happens when we get off track and ‘hook’ students with interesting titbits of information, I have a wealth of experiences from this trip to share with students. I hope that I can fascinate and inspire them to travel to Central Australia. I would like to encourage students to travel to the NT for their gap year and experience a different culture.”

Northcote High School teacher Natalie Wood echoed these sentiments and said schools should place more emphasis on Australian explorations rather than international trips, as she came to the realisation that our own backyard is rich with history and culture. Natalie is in the process of producing a proposal to offer a school trip to the Top End in place of a Gold Coast or international trip.

“With everything we participate in on a school level, we need to be able to articulate the impact on the student learning experience and what NT Learning Adventures has achieved is having the tourism operators directly inform the schools of the outcomes and clearly identify the educational purposes behind a tour to the NT,” she said. “In addition, this highlighted to me in a positive manner the partnership between tourism and education, I was thoroughly impressed with the background work that had commenced prior to showcasing to teachers the value in a Northern Territory tour.”

Teacher Ken Kincses, also from Flinders Christian Community College, said he would like to see the same educational and life opportunities available to all children across Australia.

“I feel the key from an educational perspective is to help students to appreciate, understand and respect Indigenous culture and values, but also into the future to form meaningful links between European and Indigenous culture,” he said.

All teachers enthusiastically encourage other schools to take their own learning adventure through the Northern Territory.

“Complete your investigations before going, understand why you are going, that it is not merely a sighting trip, that the students need to be prepared to engage with the opportunities and need to be prepared to absorb a rich array of information,” Northcote High’s Natalie Wood said.

Flinders Christian Community College’s Wendy Kincses said there are many resources available for teachers and students to gain an insight into remote Indigenous culture that challenged many of her presuppositions.

“I was both encouraged and appalled by what I saw and heard, and I think more of us urban-based Australians need to see the differences in the lifestyles,” she said. “The beauty of the environment needs to be seen to be believed – the desert is truly alive with so many unique species.

“All of the people we met were knowledgeable and passionate about their work and more than willing to answer our questions. I had been to Central Australia before but one significant difference about the NT Learning Adventures journey was the real emphasis on educating people, especially about the Indigenous communities. The Northern Territory is a great place to holiday but it’s a fantastic place to learn so much!”

Ken’s NT tour highlights

Bush food tours: There is the opportunity to undertake a bush food tour with an indigenous chef and tour guide, Bob Taylor. He prepares traditional foods and shares his experiences about being a person of aboriginal heritage in modern Australia.

Earth Sanctuary: The focus of the Earth Sanctuary in Alice Springs is sustainability. The site aims to be carbon neutral, and offers tours of the site that gives students an opportunity to understand the desert environment. There are also geodesic dome houses on site which are basically self-sufficient, and these are lived in by staff. Students have the opportunity to meet and link with local aboriginal students. A rhythm/drumming/dancing group has been established and can involve up to 30 students. These students present items to visiting groups and encourage involvement.

King’s Creek Station: It is possible to house student groups at this station, which is run by Ian and Lynne Conway. Ian has an interesting story to tell, and has a passion for educating indigenous children. He has funded efforts to educate children in Adelaide and appeared in an episode of Australian Story about five years ago.

Lilla: An interesting opportunity for students to live and work in an aboriginal settlement, including working with students in the local school. There are significant sacred sites on the property, which our host explained to us. He was part of Remote Education tours.

Yulara, Uluru, Kata Tjuta: The Yulara resort has areas for group accommodation, and a viewing area for Uluru. Uluru and Kata Tjuta are a short drive away. Walks and/or bike tours are available around the base of Uluru. Guides highlight stories that can be told by observing features of the rock. Close to the resort, groups can undertake a camel tour with views of Uluru. There was also the opportunity to participate in a dot painting workshop at Yulara resort, to learn how different symbols communicate different aspects of indigenous life. We took the sunrise tour to the park, which was located halfway between Uluru and the Kata Tjuta. After a short base walk and informative talk, we drove back to the resort. As we were driving back, I was fortunate enough to witness an eagle catching and flying off with a snake. Other tour companies, such as SEIT Tours, have access to remote areas of Australia such as Cave Hill in northern South Australia, which is a highly significant rock art site. They also incorporate traditional bush foods into their tours, the type where what you catch is what you eat.

Cyber safety education is the key for keeping students safe online

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Unless all parties are educated and vigilant about cyber safety, children cannot stay safe online, writes Leonie Smith.

Cyber safety education for all parties charged with the responsibility for student safety online is vital. Cyber safety is a community responsibility. The safety of students from primary school all the way through high school cannot be simply one stakeholder’s duty. Unless all parties are educated and vigilant about cyber safety, children cannot stay safe online.

A recent study showed that parents overwhelmingly see their child’s school as being entirely responsible for their child’s cyber safety education, according to 85 percent of Australian teachers surveyed by AVG Technologies1. In leaving their child’s online safety education entirely up to schools, parents are then not seeking out or accepting responsibility for educating themselves on cyber safety, and are then not able to adequately protect and supervise their child online. This is most evident by the reluctance of many parents to attend cyber safety or technology nights at most schools.

Most of my colleagues and the educators I speak to, readily complain that only a small fraction of a school’s parent body are receptive to cyber safety or technology nights. So much so, that some schools have given up holding them for parents altogether.

Furthermore, statistics show that most cyber safety issues occur outside of school grounds and most often in students’ homes right under the supervision of their parents2. Without parents being educated on how to supervise their kids online, they are not able to effectively protect their children at home from cyber safety issues such as talking to strangers online, cyber bullying or unsafe sharing.

Teachers feel underprepared to deal with cyber safety issues at schools

Educators are also reporting that they feel under-qualified to educate children about cyber safety. This job is often left to outside resources or one of the school’s ICT staff, who often don’t have the specialised expertise that a dedicated cyber safety educator has about popular social media platforms and other apps that children use1.

Cyber safety is a specialised field, one which requires a deep understanding of internet culture, digital technology and more importantly, how children are actually engaging with the social side of the digital world, including gaming, messaging, blogging, sharing and chatting online.

Issues that a cyber-safety educator might have to address are: 

  • Teaching students how to have an abusive post removed;
  • Teaching students about privacy settings and security settings on apps;
  • Education around safe sharing and posting only to friends how to do this;
  • Education around which apps are safe or unsafe;
  • Issues around cyber bullying how to prevent, report and block;
  • Safe downloading of games, and other apps;
  • Identifying well known scams on social media;
  • Tips for safe online gaming; and,
  • Password and account safety, passwords and security

Staying up-to-date with technology in respect to cyber safety is a full time job. And it is harder to stay up to date if you are not ‘out in the field’ dealing with all types of situations that insist that you keep you up to date with the issues that children are facing in the digital world.

What about the parents?

Educators can certainly help support safe internet use by educating and holding talks and discussions amongst students in the class room, but teachers cannot be held responsible for supervising students when students most need it, outside of school. Student education on cyber safety isn’t enough to keep students safe online. Students still need informed and educated supervision and boundaries around digital technology in and out of the home environment.

It is very important that parents can also help in a crisis if, and when, something goes wrong for their child online, taking some of the burden from schools who are inundated with reports from parents of upsetting incidents that happen to students online. The better educated your parent body is, the less online incidents there will be amongst students and the less reports schools will have to deal with. It is imperative that your parent body is educated about cyber safety.

How to educate parents?

There are a huge amount of resources for educators and parents to help with cyber safety, but more often the resources are very generic and not specific to the issues the parent might have. For example, “How do I have an abusive post removed from Ask.FM?” General online cyber safety resources are often difficult to navigate for parents who more often are looking for a link to speak directly to an advisor to get help. In many cases parents will simply Google for an answer to their problem. The most common question that gets searched for on my website is, “Is Kik Messenger safe for kids?” This search term links to an article I wrote on Kik Messenger.

Judging from feedback from my talks and from what I’m hearing anecdotally, the most effective way to help educators, students and parents to stay safe online – and to know what to do when they have a problem – is through education. Achieving this through a talk or a workshop that involves some of the school staff, a cyber-safety educator and possibly the local police seems to get some good results.

Most of my parent talks on the Northern Beaches here in Sydney are done in conjunction with the local area command police and the teaching staff of the school I’m presenting at. This gives parents an opportunity to hear from three involved parties about the issues that need to be addressed. Parents want advice on the dangers, technical solutions and digital parenting tips, but in a very practical down to earth level.

Why aren’t parents showing up for cyber safety talks?

Within the cyber safety community worldwide, parents are seen as the ‘weakest link’ in keeping kids safe online. Parents expect schools to do all the heavy lifting as far as cyber safety goes, and are then not equipped to effectively supervise their own children in the digital space. They don’t know how to enable safe technology or behaviour and cannot help effectively in a crisis because they don’t know what solutions are available.

When I talk with parents and teachers about why parents are not attending cyber safety talks, the types of responses I get in regard to why parents are not showing up can be summarised like this:

  • We have it all under control we don’t need it;
  • I’m terrified about what I will learn;
  • It’s the schools responsibility;
  • We will never be able to keep up with our kids so we just hope for the best;
  • Our kids aren’t really using technology that much (they often don’t see iPods as an internet connected device);
  • We are too busy;
  • We can’t get a babysitter; or,
  • My husband/wife/brother/nephew looks after all that.

The first objection is by far the most popular. It’s because parents simply don’t know what they don’t know. They often base their understanding on the safety of the internet on their own experience. The parent may not have had a problem online, so they feel the internet is safe for their child. The biggest problem with this is that children don’t use the internet in the same way as adults do. Children are far more exploratory. They will click on flashing pop ups, search for things that might bring up adult content, talk to strangers for a thrill, collect a massive amount of followers to look popular and appear like a celebrity. And if threatened online may comply with a predators wishes, out of fear and to stay out of trouble. And according to a recent study 70 percent of them are hiding their online interactions, including negative ones3.

The second objection is a real problem if you have had a cyber safety talk in the past where the parents have ended up feeling more fearful and confused than when they arrived. If the presenter only provides scary stories of pedophiles and strangers and cyber bullies. If parents feel castigated or shamed for not being vigilant enough, it can put parents off from attending the next talk. It’s a fine balance between telling parents the cold hard facts, and helping them to put some strategies in place that will start to bridge the gap between them and their children. A positive approach to cyber safety has been found to be far more effective than an overall negative and fear driven approach4.

So how do we encourage parents to attend education on cyber safety and digital education?

The community needs to start talking.

If parents don’t feel their children are at risk, if they feel there is nothing they need to be aware of, it’s because no one is really being honest about what is going on.

Students are not telling adults when they have an upsetting experience online. Teachers can’t talk about the issues their students are having online to the general parent population because of privacy issues. Parents are not talking to other parents about some of the incidents that are happening because they often feel guilty and shamed by it, and they are concerned with their child’s privacy. So there is an unintended ‘conspiracy of silence’ around cyber safety, with parents being the ones being kept largely in the dark.

Some schools are so desperate to have their parents more educated, that they have resorted to compulsory technology/cyber safety nights before they will allow their students to take responsibility for a school supplied laptop or iPad. And I personally think that it is probably a good suggestion, but only if the outcome of the education creates positive change.

Cyber safety education has to provide:

  • Education about dangers, and how to avoid those dangers;
  • Education on how children are using technology differently to adults;
  • Advice for parents on managing devices at home;
  • Solutions for finding out more about privacy settings, safe search settings, family friendly filters for modems and devices;
  • Solutions for preventing and dealing with cyber bullying;
  • Education about online behaviour and self-moderation, screen time;
  • Education around online scams;
  • Education on how parents can also stay safer online;
  • Advice on how to communicate better with their children about their digital world;
  • Education about what is coming up in the future, trends new technology; and,
  • Advice on how to keep up with your kids online.

Parent education versus parent/student combined education

It’s important for parents to have a separate cyber safety education session apart from their children so that parents can hear solutions to help them with parenting a child in the digital age. I call it ‘secret parent business’. Some educational talks are held in conjunction with students and this can also be beneficial to get parents and students both on the same page, but it is difficult to deal with ‘parent only’ issues in this space.

Note: Many parents want student/parent nights, but be warned, it is often because the parents don’t have the confidence to address the issue one-on-one with their child and again are wanting the school to back them up on cyber safety. I’m often asked if I can pop over to see a family to have a ‘word’ with their child about their online behaviour. Parents need to find the confidence and courage through their own education, to parent in the digital space and not outsource it to The Cyber Safety Lady, or their child’s school.

Education for teachers

Schools have a responsibility to ensure that their staff are up to date as much as possible with how their students are using technology.

  • What apps are students using now or in the future?
  • What are the potential dangers?
  • What can be done if a student needs a post removed from a platform?
  • Where to go next if you can’t help?
  • What types of solutions will help prevent cyber bullying between students?
  • What is the first thing that needs to be done if a student posts an abusive message about another student?
  • If a parent won’t protect their child at home on the internet what do you do next?

Schools also need to address issues and place boundaries around behaviour before it happens. For example, filming and photography by students on school groundsor messaging and texting at school. Students posting disparaging posts about staff and other students online consequences. Wearable technology and smart watches.

Educating students

Educating students is ineffective if students feel they are being spoken to by someone who knows less than they do about the digital space. They quickly tune out if the cyber safety ‘expert’ starts talking about online platforms that were popular last year, or ones that students are moving away from. It is vital that whoever is educating students is honest about their knowledge of the digital world and understands the needs of students and the world they are living in online. Fear tactics only work so far, and don’t work on all students. Patronising cartoons with silly songs don’t really engage students in a way that is realistic or relates to their real world issues.

Students I speak to are overwhelmingly looking for practical advice on how to use the messaging apps and online platforms so that they can share with friends without being hassled by weirdoes and cyber bullies.

The cyber safety hands on privacy settings workshops I hold for high school are embraced by students because the workshop addresses a need that is almost never covered. How to set up your social media platforms and messaging apps so that they don’t get hacked and you don’t get hassled by people you don’t want to communicate with. This is a very new area, and one that most cyber safety experts or teachers are unable to help with, due to the fact that these settings change all the time, and many cyber safety educators are not technical but work mainly on behaviour online.

A school cyber safety blog or newsletter

Another effective way to educate parents and students is to include relevant cyber safety education and alerts in regard to unsafe online behaviour in school newsletters. A few schools have a dedicated cyber safety blog as part of their website where parents can read weekly updates on new issues in regard to online safety, this is usually staffed by a cyber-savvy teacher.

Different styles of cyber safety educators

Cyber Safety education is so new that you simply cannot do a course on it to acquire a recognised qualification. There is no cyber safety degree. You can certainly have other degrees and certificate-style qualifications that help you to understand the technology or the criminal side of cyber safety, but most cyber safety educators have come into cyber safety from another related field.

Many cyber safety educators are either working for online security companies, or Telcos or ISPs or government-backed organisations or charities. They may be qualified computer engineers or software engineers or police, or psychologists or online community managers like myself.

So who is the best person to teach your school and students and parents cyber safety? I don’t think there is one best person. Every cyber safety educator brings their own perspective and experience with them to inform the approach they have to cyber safety education. In the same way as you might bring an educator or facilitator to your school to talk about drug and alcohol education, or positive body image education. Deciding on a cyber safety educator very much depends on the approach that your school wants to take in regard to this issue. Harm minimisation verses zero policy for example, behavioural or technical solutions or both? Many schools vary their cyber safety education and presenters for this reason. Different perspectives and styles can be very helpful and appeal to different personalities and school cultures. The bottom line is results!

Upcoming issues for schools to be aware of and start planning for

  • Violent porn shared/viewed on mobile devices, potential for legal action;
  • VPN apps – apps used for circumventing school Wi-Fi internet filter;
  • Wearable technology – smart watches that play games, texting/messaging, photos;
  • Drones – yes they are getting smaller and smaller with cameras;
  • Anonymous photo/messaging/email sharing apps – sharing a photo anonymously with random strangers in your school or community has the potential for blackmail and cyber bullying;
  • Anonymous confession style apps – Whisper, Secret & Yik Yak; and,
  • Chat with strangers and hook up apps like – MeowChat and Tinder.

 

References:

  1. AVG Jul 2014 http://www.newsmaker.com.au/news/31051/aussie-teachers-struggle-under-weight-of-parents-expectations-for-child-online-safety-education-in-schools#.U-8E_Utzqf1
  1. AIFS Parental involvement in preventing and responding to cyberbullying http://www.aifs.gov.au/cfca/pubs/papers/a141868/cfca04.pdf
  1. McAfee Aug 2014 http://www.mcafeecybered.com/cybered/files/McAfeeTweensTeensTechnology-DataSheet-fnl.pdf
  1. Telstra 2014 http://telstra.com.au/uberprod/groups/webcontent/@corporate/@aboutus/documents/document/uberstaging_279130.pdf

 

Leonie Smith is an Australian cyber safety educator. She educates teachers, parents, students, seniors and business groups on safe use of online platforms and digital technology. Leonie is an early adopter of the online world starting in 1996. 

She is one of the founders of Aussie Deaf Kids, an online support group for parents of deaf and hearing impaired children which started in 2000. She was an ambassador for the Federal Government’s 2013 stay safe online campaign, and is a founding board member of the anti-bullying charity The Community Brave Foundation.

www.thecybersafetylady.com.au

www.twitter.com/LeonieGSmith

www.facebook.com/thecybersafetylady