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Brain neuroscience EduTECH

UK neuroscientist to discuss digital disruption in the classroom at EduTECH 2016

As a scientists, writer, broadcaster and member of the House of Lords, Baroness Susan Greenfield (CBE) has an extensive and varied education, but her favourite topics include how emerging technologies influence the brain – a subject that is of particular interest to educators.

Due to speak later this year at EduTECH, Baroness Greenfield will present on the topic ‘How the digital world will change the way we think and learn’. Seizing the opportunity, Education Matters put in a call to discuss the future of technology in the classroom with Baroness Greenfield.

One of the topics high on our interview list relates to the push towards promoting STEM subjects in Australian classrooms, and in particular with a number of experts predicting that coding will soon become synonymous to literacy skills. Baroness Greenfield, however, is skeptical about these ideas.

“The word ‘literacy’ is very emotive, I think,” she said. “You can become skilled in coding and many other similar tasks, but literacy implies an understanding and application to a wide variety of life’s aspects. To say someone would be literate in computing and robotics means something much narrower than the way we apply it to reading.”

“Coding doesn’t open up an understanding of the world in the way books do.”

Nevertheless, it’s undeniable that technology is changing rapidly, and often ends up having unintended consequences for the classroom paradigm, but Baroness Greenfield doesn’t think educators need to feel like their losing touch or struggling to keep up.

“The crucial issue that’s often forgotten is asking yourself, ‘What do I want to achieve?’. Until you know that, it’s hard to identify if you’re achieving anything. Most educators would agree that the focus is still very much on teaching kids to give the right answers to specific questions, but I don’t personally believe that’s ever been the real objective of education. Rather, it’s about facilitating students’ abilities to join up the dots in new ways, to foster confidence in new ideas – and that can only be achieved through inspirational teaching.”

Rather than replacing the work of a good teacher in any way, Baroness Greenfield believes that technology fills the role of an “adjunct” rather than an alternative, and that inspirational teachers will therefore find inspirational ways to engage with children via technology. But, she stresses, we’re yet to see the full impact of the digital generation.

“People talk about millenials, but we have to remember that Facebook only arrived around 2006,” she said. “That means the generation that are truly immersed in the digital world are still at school. Once they graduate and start taking part in the workforce, then we’ll begin to see the real impacts of digital disruption, in my opinion.”

While change is inevitable in some respects, Baroness Greenfield is quick to point out that the changes we see are nevertheless mediated by the current generation and how we shape education decisions and policy as a guide for future generations. As such, there are a few key issues she’s particularly keen to address before they become larger problems.

“Teachers continue to be overworked and underpaid in most places in the world, with many leaving the professions as a result. There’s too much regulation and so the career is no longer an attractive scenario. People need to feel relaxed and happy if they’re to do a job well over a long period of time.

“Ultimately, the notional of the teacher/pupil classroom will never change,” she said. “The best way to learn is for someone to teach you. For example, I taught medical students for many years within a traditional Oxford/Cambridge teaching system of question and answer. Just like the Ancient Greek dialogues – that’s how you develop ideas, that’s how you develop teaching that should never change. You could use screens or other technologies to facilitate that relationship, but you can’t move away from what is a very exciting human interaction.”

EduTECH will take place from 30 May – 31 May, 2016 at the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre this year. See the website for further details.

Little girl reading

Study: Preschool quality and attendance need urgent attention

A new report indicates that a significant number of early childhood education services do not meet minimum standards and that over 60,000 children start school with poor social skills and emotional wellbeing.

The document, entitled ‘Quality Early Education for All: Fostering creative, entrepreneurial, resilient and capable learners’, was published this month by the Mitchell Institute.

Drawing on a broad variety of research, including the latest ABS statistics on preschool education, the authors highlight the ‘unacceptable divide in both opportunity and outcome between the poorest and wealthiest communities, between cities and very remote towns, and between children from different cultural backgrounds’.

Perhaps most interesting is the statistic that one in three Australian children aren’t attending early education for the hours required to make a difference.

According to the authors of the report:

There are substantial differences between the way education experts and Australian families understand child development and early learning.

In particular, while experts see early education as a critical site of development and learning, families often see child care primarily as a place where children are looked after safely while they work or study.

A national campaign is needed to highlight just how important quality early education is for kids, not only for helping parents to work.

The full report can be found on the Mitchell Institute’s website, while a summary of the findings has been released via The Conversation.

Primary school kids.

Keep sexual content out of primary schools, says Matthew Guy

The anti-violence education program, Respectful Relationships is generating concerns that it may introduce sexualised content to children too young to be exposed to it.

The program, which was initially designed for high school students is expected to be extended to primary classes in Victoria has part of an ongoing push to stamp out domestic violence.

It has since been reported that children as young as 12 would be taught about the objectification of women in the media by displaying ‘raunchy music videos’ and ‘explicit advertising’, creating concerns for parents regarding the trend towards the hypersexualisation of children.

The issue was first raised by State Opposition Leader Matthew Guy last week, who said he wanted his kids “to be kids”.

“I want them to act like kids, I want them to think like kids,” he told reporters.

Meanwhile, Victorian Education Minister James Merlino defended the program, saying that its continued roll out comes in response to the findings of the Royal Commission into Family Violence, and justifying the position by highlighting the access young children already have to sexualised content.

He said the program for younger children would be specifically developed.

“If we really want to tackle this scourge, and tackle it over a generation, then we need to engage with our kids at school,” he told 3AW. “We can’t as a society, stick our heads in the sand and think our kids aren’t exposed to this.”

He also said that teachers will have the freedom to exercise professional judgement in selecting the specific examples they use to teach the children.

Queensland school funding cuts

Education Minister takes aim at Queensland’s Labor Government over school funding

Following the news that the Federal Government is contemplating changing the funding model for public schools, a round of finger pointing has ensued, most recently culminating in the Federal Education Minister attacking the Queensland State Government’s stance on the matter.

In recent weeks, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull raised the prospect of the Commonwealth withdrawing funding for the public school system and instead allowing the state’s to raise funds through their own taxes.

“It’s not that Mr Turnbull and his Liberals can’t afford to fund public schools, it is that they’re choosing not to,” said Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, in a subsequent statement.

It’s understood that should the changes go ahead, the Commonwealth would continue to fund private and independent schools.

In Queensland, the issue was brought under a broader discussion on income tax-sharing, with State Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk saying the Turnbull Government has underestimated her state’s needs and intends to push for further funding, despite securing $445 million for hospitals in the current deal.

The Federal Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham has denied Ms Palaszczuk’s stance, saying that “it is an utter lie” to suggest Federal funding for Queensland schools will decrease.

“Our investment in Queensland schools is increasing by $844.7 million or 27.5 per cent from 2014-15 to 2018-19, despite the scare campaign being peddled by Labor and the unions.  Beyond that it will keep going up, each and every year,” Mr Birmingham said in a statement, released yesterday.

“This increased investment is in stark contrast to Queensland Government school funding that from 2009-10 to 2013-14 actually contracted by 0.4 per cent, while Commonwealth funding increased by 30.2 per cent.”

Mr Birmingham asserts that all allocation of Queensland school funding is controlled by the State and its Education Minister, Kate Jones.

“If a government school receives a cut in funding, the blame squarely falls at the feet of Ms Jones who has complete autonomy over how much each school receives and, most importantly, how it is used.”



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