Education Matters - News impacting schools, teachers and students
Maths and pencil

Quality of Australian education falls behind Kazakhstan's

TIMSS) ranks Year 4 student results from 49 countries and Year 8 results for 39 countries. The recent report card from TIMSS shows Australia falling behind, with our results moving us from 18th place to 28th in Year 4 maths and from 12th to 17th in Year 8 maths and science. Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham recently addressed the concern that countries like Kazakhstan have now surpassed us in four of the TIMSS categories. “I don’t want to denigrate Kazakhstan, or indeed their artistic skills with movies like Borat,” Senator Birmingham said, according to ABC News. “I think though Australia should be seeking to be amongst the best in the world and declines like this are unacceptable and that we need to be working hard to turn it around.” Other nations currently ahead of Australia in the TIMSS results include the US, Singapore and England. Naturally, the news has added fuel to the education funding debate, causing Senator Birmingham to call for unilateral support in improving education outcomes. “What I am urging the Opposition — the Labor Party — and the states and territories to focus on is how we can best use what is a record and growing investment in Australian schools to get the best possible outcomes for the future rather than continuing a debate that pretends that money itself is the solution.” Labor’s education spokesperson. Tanya Plibersek has taken the opportunity to highlight the need for the Gonski model to be implemented. “The results are very concerning and they show exactly why we need to invest extra in our schools,” Ms Plibersek said. “They show that kids from poorer families in poorer schools in remote and regional areas are doing worst of all.]]>

NT Learning Adventures, 2016

Trip report: 2016 Red Centre tour

Planning school camps and trips to remote locations can be among the most stressful tasks for educators, who must juggle logistics challenges, unfamiliar locations and the unpredictability associated with caring for young people.

That’s why familiarisation programs such as those offered by Tourism NT are so useful when it comes to making hard choices so much easier. By giving teachers the chance to experience all the things a given region has to offer, they can be confident their new school trip will be a success.

Ten teachers from Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra were lucky enough to visit Central Australia in July this year, witnessing the historic and cultural delights of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Watarrka National Park and all the iconic sights the region has to offer.

From Travancore School in Melbourne, Kate Tyndall found that her participation in each of the experiences on offer over the six-day trip gave her “a better indication of the outcomes, rather than reading about them online or in a brochure,” she said.

“Meeting the activity leaders has also given me more confidence in reaching out to them in the future to discuss potential school trips,” said Kate.

The educators were afforded a tour of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta cultural centre, and were also given a guided tour of the extremely scenic Kings Canyon rim early in the trip. However, there were also visits to Alice Springs telegraph station, Earth Sanctuary, and Alice Springs Desert Park. Potential camp locations were scouted at Ooramina station before lunch at the Royal Flying Doctors Service HQ.

“Not only was it a great professional opportunity, but I also appreciated the ability to meet other teachers in a different setting, which gave us the ability to reflect and discuss school trips and planning,” Kate explained.

For David Sherwin from Fort Street High School in Sydney, the standout highlight was a heartwarming cultural experience.

I have so many fond memories from the trip, but camping overnight with Jungala Kriss and his family just outside of Standley Chasm was a real treat,” David said.

“I think it would also be unfair not to mention our visit to see Brolga at Kangaroo Sanctuary. His passion for animal welfare and the care of injured kangaroos was inspirational.”

In his capacity as a social sciences teacher, David found the opportunities to learn more about Indigenous culture and the traditional owners of the region a core aspect to the trip, providing him with the ideas and inspiration required to help him begin planning potential learning experiences for his students.

“As a teacher who educates students who have not been outside of an urban area, I believe it would by highly beneficial for them to see the ongoing close relationship that Central Australia’s Indigenous people have with the land,” explained David.

“Many students in an urban school understand the disadvantages faced by our Indigenous people but do not get to see the spiritual connection they have to the land.”

Of course, teachers are humans as well, and the key to a truly memorable experience for most people are memorable dining experiences. To this end, the group was treated at every meal, with special mentions going to a self-cooked BBQ at Outback Pioneer on their first night in the Red Centre, and the three-course Mbantua dinner with Bob Taylor on Day Five.

“Getting to know new friends while eating great food as the sun sets on a stunning backdrop – it doesn’t get much better than this,” said Kate.

While the latest group to experience the Tourism NT’s Central Australian teachers’ famil reflect on their experience, some of those who went on the first famil in 2014 have already gone on to take students back on camping experiences. One such teacher, Lisa-Marie O’Connor from Viewbank College in Victoria, recently returned from her school’s first Central Australia camp in over 15 years, where she led a group of Year 9 students. The feedback her students gave provides a real insight into the education benefits on offer in Australia’s Red Centre.

“I really liked visiting the Lilla Aboriginal Community because I have been to some other Aboriginal Communities and I felt very privileged to get to know a central community’s culture, beliefs and way of life. It was beautiful to see Australia and the land around me in their eyes.”

“My favourite experience on camp would have to be The Valley of the Winds. After a hectic couple of days at camp, it was relaxing to sit in the middle of nature and reflect on ourselves and our experiences.”

For Lisa-Marie, the importance of the assistance offered in the famil is summarised in her message of thanks for the team at Tourism NT:
“I just wanted to express to you my gratitude. I truly believe that without this familiarisation trip it would have been very difficult to plan a camp of this magnitude and in this location (We had a total of 130 students and 15 staff attend our 2016 camp). I also believe that you have to not just speak to the people involved or read about it but really experience what the students will be experiencing and this was only possibly by being a part of this familiarisation trip.”

NT Learning Adventures are currently looking for the next round of educators to join them on next year’s famil. Find out more here.

Boys using an abacus, Shutterstock.

Changes to Tasmanian Education Act pass parliament

Tasmania’s State Government has reformed its Education Act in an attempt to improve literacy and numeracy rates.

The bill passed the Tasmanian parliament yesterday, bringing into effect the option for students to start school at four-and-a-half years of age, as proposed by Premier Will Hodgman at the beginning of 2016.

Previously, starting age in Tasmania was set to five years old – the oldest minimum starting age for schoolchildren in any state or territory of Australia.

After the act passed yesterday, Tasmania’s Education Minister, Jeremy Rockliff said the bill is part of a long-term plan to to improve education outcomes in the state, and that it “will help close the gap where currently Tasmanian students can receive up to two years less schooling than their interstate counterparts.”

However, not all Tasmanians are convinced that the change will be beneficial, with various interest groups raising concerns, including the Union of Childcare Workers and Early Childhood Australia’s Tasmanian branch.

A ‘Stop lowering the school age in Tasmania’ petition has been signed by 5,204 people, more than doubling in size over the past few months.

Children crossing sign, Shutterstock.

Sex abuse rates climbing in Victorian high schools

Secondary students in schools across Victoria will soon receive instruction to look for signs they are being groomed for sex, with recently released figures revealing 258 suspected cases of sexual abuse in the state in 2015.

The Age reports that new guidelines, published by the Education Department, will warn students of the signs that someone is grooming them, saying a perpetrator could be ‘someone who you like and trust’.

Behaviour that could constitute grooming, the resource states, may include gift giving in the form of phone credit, money, clothes or even added attention.

The resource also covers online grooming, with reference to the sending of sexually explicit images or the soliciting of such images online.

The number of sexual abuse cases reported by schools in Victoria has almost doubled since 2006, growing from 132 to 258 last year, with cases ranging from the use of sexualised language to allegations of abuse.

Education Minister James Merlino said the resource is intended to “help parents, school staff and students to identify, prevent and respond to child abuse”.

The new resources are designed to help schools adopt Child Safe Standards, which were introduced in response to an inquiry into child abuse earlier this year.

The President of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals, Judy Crowe has said Child Safe Standards will increase the administrative burden on schools, but that it’s nonetheless critical for schools to be aware of these requirements.

“We need to make sure that the people working in our schools aren’t overly burdened by these requirements, and that this doesn’t detract from their ability to get on with their core business,” she said.


University of Melbourne

Report: School leavers disadvantaged by university entrance system

As part of today’s Higher Education Summit as presented by The Australian Financial Review in Melbourne, Education Minister Simon Birmingham is expected to present a report that indicates students from poorer families may be disadvantaged by issues of clarity regarding university entrance.

Read more

Preschool kids play instruments

Early childhood education awareness campaign launches in NSW

Last month the NSW Early Education Minister, Leslie Williams announced $115 million in funding for Start Strong, a program designed to make early education more affordable for all NSW families, while removing nearly all fees for Aboriginal families and low-income families.

Now the NSW Government is launching what is described as a ‘thought-provoking campaign’ that draws attention to the importance of early childhood education.

The campaign, dubbed ‘It Makes You Think’, has a stated aim of increasing the amount of hours children are enrolled in day care or community preschool in the year prior to entering primary school.

“A child needs a great parent, and a great teacher.  Many do not know that a preschool program, whether it’s in a dedicated preschool or a through long day care, provides the foundation for your children’s future health, happiness, growth, development and learning achievements at school and in life,” said Mrs Williams.

“It’s a confusing area and there are many myths about cost, availability and the real benefits to children – which is why it’s so important to break down the barriers.”

It Makes You Think campaign poster
The It Makes You Think campaign aims to drive awareness of the Start Strong initiative in NSW.

One of the key statistics underpinning the campaign is the fact that 90 per cent of brain development occurs before the age of five years – and this is the kind of detail that the NSW Government hopes will impress upon parents the importance of ensuring their young children gain maximum benefit from early education.

“Our social and emotional skills known as ‘soft skills’ are critical to success in school and life – for instance how to control emotions, take turns, share with others and pay attention to instruction, actually begin forming in childhood and learning these skills in preschool could prevent harder problems later in life,” explained Mrs Williams.

“Unlocking a child’s brain is the key to helping parents understand why early learning is such a must for their child’s development.”

Other Facts from ‘It Makes You Think:       

  • Kids who participate in early childhood education are more likely to have an IQ score higher than 90 at age 5
  • Preschool puts disadvantaged children at a level playing field with other children
  • In the first 3-5 years, there is a dramatic growth spurt, as approximately 90-95 per cent of cells organize and create pathways to more sophisticated brain functions
  • A child’s brain undergoes an amazing period of development from birth to 3 – producing 700 new neural connections every second
  • Young children have a unique ability to learn more languages easily and their vocabulary often quadruples between the ages of 2 and 4

Beginning in January 2017, the Start Strong initiative will deliver $115 in funding over 18 months to reduce the cost of early education and encourage parents to enroll their kids in 600 hours of early education each year.