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Teaching professional development.

Catering to gifted students

Australian school systems are failing to identify and cater for the best and brightest students according to an Edith Cowan University education researcher.

Dr Eileen Slater from ECU’s School of Education said gifted and talented students make up around 10 per cent of Australian school kids but policies for their identification are inconsistent, unreliable and lack accountability.

“Much of the debate around our education system is focused on how we best provide for students who are struggling. But little attention is paid to students who perform or have the potential to perform better than their peers,” she said.

“Research shows that if we don’t cater for gifted and talented students they can disconnect from education because they aren’t being challenged or learning.

“The purpose of education is to ensure all individuals are catered for to reach their maximum potential and gifted students have as much right to that as anyone else.”

In a review of Australian education policy on identifying gifted and talented children, published in the journal TalentEd, Dr Slater identified three ways to improve policies to best cater for gifted children.

Identify students early
Teachers and schools should be looking for indicators of gifted and talented children as soon as they enter the school system at kindergarten or pre-primary.

“Students in the Western Australian government system are currently tested when they’re in year four and year six and research shows that gifted children have already started to disengage from their studies by that point,” Dr Slater said.

Test more often and more widely
In many states the identification of students is made in a one-off test taken at some point in primary school.

“Multiple sources of evidence for gifted students are vital to make sure we identify those students in need of specific educational intervention,” added Dr Slater.

“Paper and pencil tests can form one part of identification but checklists for children’s gifted characteristics and discussion with parents are also valid ways to identify gifted and talented students.”

Lack of accountability
Only New South Wales and South Australia mandate criteria for schools to identify gifted and talented students. However she said that even then, how those criteria are enforced is not known.

“Schools and teachers must be held accountable through detailed policies which outline clearly the ways in which students should be identified and what action should be taken to provide for them. Schools then need to be provided with the support and resources to do so.

Dr Slater is currently recruiting schools to be a part of a new research project aimed at identifying gifted students at age 6 and 7. For more information on the study and taking part, contact Dr Eileen Slater.

Funding program to improve science education

The first of 200 transformations of primary school classrooms into science laboratories has been completed as part of the Western Australian Government’s $17 million Science in Schools program.

Belmont Primary School, which is the first to reveal its new science laboratory, also received $25,000 to purchase laboratory equipment.

“Our focus on science in schools means more students across the state can take part in new learning experiences in a well-equipped, contemporary science lab, and teachers have more resources to plan hands-on activities,” said Education and Training Minister Sue Ellery.

The Science in Schools program will involve 200 public primary schools from across the state, selected based on their plans to grow and improve science education to skill students for the jobs of the future.

A total of 100 schools were allocated funding in the first round, with half of the allocated schools in low socio-economic areas.

“The generic skills students will learn in these new labs are vital for their future job prospects and for the state’s future economy,” added Minister Ellery.

From 24 July 2018, public primary schools can express their interest in the second round, which will see another 100 science laboratories delivered from 2020. . Expressions of interest will close on 17 August 2018.

Inclusive education funds boost for schools

Government schools across Victoria will share in the Victorian Government’s $12 million Equipment Boost for Schools, which aims to strengthen inclusive education for every student.

Schools will receive an additional $5000 to invest in specialised equipment and assistive technology that supports students with disabilities and additional learning needs.

“The new equipment will have a positive impact on students with disabilities and additional learning needs by providing them with the tools and technologies they need to fully participate in learning and school life,” said Minister for Education James Merlino.

Schools identifying a higher level of need also have the opportunity to apply for additional targeted funds to access high-value or highly specialised equipment and technology that assists students’ participation, learning and success at school.

Funding will also expand the range of technology available for students who are blind or partially sighted through the existing blind and low vision technology library, run through the Statewide Vision Resource Centre.

“It’s vital that our schools inspire a lifelong passion for learning and it’s essential disability isn’t a barrier to that,” added Minister Merlino.

The Equipment Boost for Schools is part of the $61 million suite of inclusive education initiatives announced by the Victorian Government last year, giving schools extra resources, guidance, access to specialist expertise and support to embed inclusive education in all aspects of school life.

“Inclusive education means that every child, no matter their background or circumstance, are valued and supported to fully participate, learn, develop and succeed,” said Minister Merlino.

As part of the overall inclusive education agenda, the Government has also funded 360 scholarships for Victorian teachers to undertake a Master of Education specialising in inclusive and special education or applied behaviour analysis, as well as an Inclusion Boost for schools to strengthen their inclusive education policies and practices.

Prioritise capabilities or risk falling behind

The current education system isn’t doing enough to prepare students for success after school, according to the New Work Reality report, released as part of the New Work Order series by the Foundation for Young Australians.

It states that half of 25 year olds aren’t in full-time work, despite nearly 60 percent having a post-school qualification.

Mitchell Institute Director, Megan O’Connell, said the findings should act as a warning that Australia’s education system isn’t working for too many people.

“We can’t keep focusing on last century’s education milestones, it is not enough anymore to get good high school grades or even go on to further study and training,” said Ms O’Connell.

“The goal of a good education system should be to make sure every young person is on a positive pathway by their mid-20s, in meaningful employment and on a real trajectory for lifelong success.

“Careers education needs to start earlier than what we’re currently seeing. We can’t wait for students to reach tertiary education before they learn about what work they might want to explore.

“Students can start thinking about what they enjoy and what they are good at as early as primary school and learn about how they might contribute to different jobs. We also need better support for industry partnerships across all areas of education to strengthen capabilities that are needed for jobs.”

Ms O’Connell added that capabilities like curiosity, creativity, critical thinking and communication skills are essential for jobs and should be prioritised across all levels of education.

“If we don’t prioritise capabilities, we risk falling behind international education standards. Capabilities are not a new or novel concept, they have a long history in education systems around the world,” she said.

“We need young people to be able to recognise and talk about their abilities and talents, and assess themselves and others in different learning environments.”

Diversity issues in computer science classes.

Minecraft to help build digital tech skills for students

Victorian government school students will have access to Minecraft: Education Edition, a classroom version of the popular game Minecraft, specifically created to immerse students in various Minecraft worlds to promote creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and collaboration.

This is the result of a new agreement between the Victorian Government and Microsoft. “This is about giving our schools and students access to the best digital technology and programs to prepare them for the jobs of the future,” said Education Minister, James Merlino.

Through the partnership, Minecraft: Education Edition, and a broad range of other software, is now available for use by all Victorian government schools, students and staff.

The Education Edition of Minecraft is tailored to teach collaboration and build students’ skills in technology and science. “We know our kids will need skills in science and in technology as well as critical thinking, and programs like this give them the opportunity to develop in these areas,” added Minister Merlino.

Students can interact with virtual learning experiences that directly link and expand on the subjects being taught in the classroom.

Teachers can also use the program to engage students, meet their learning needs and build their skills around a particular subject such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), History, Geography or Coding.

Voiceless launches new animal protection education program

Animal protection institute, Voiceless, has released its first education program for high school students – ‘Dolphins in Captivity’. It aims to introduce students to a wide range of issues and concepts by encouraging research, discussion and debate.

According to Voiceless, which works to promote respect and compassion for animals, the program is the first of its kind to be offered in Australian schools.

“Our Animal Protection Education (APE) programs are created by educators for educators and are very easy for teachers to use in the classroom,” said Ondine Sherman, Co-founder and Managing Director of Voiceless.

The programs investigate key animal protection issues and ethical and legal concepts through a suite of resources including videos, podcasts, fact sheets and infographics, as well as classroom activities which are linked with the Australian Curriculum. It includes resources developed to run alongside activities in Geography, English, Science, History, Civics and Citizenship, and the Arts.

“This approach encourages students to think critically about the future of dolphin captivity, providing them with all of the information they need to develop an informed position on the issue,” added Ms Sherman.

“Resources, including interviews with scientists, lawyers and advocates, introduce students to some of the key issues raised by holding dolphins in marine parks, aquariums and research facilities around the world, encouraging students to consider the arguments both ‘for’ and ‘against’ keeping dolphins in captivity.”