Teachers are leaving the profession in record numbers and without a comprehensive long-term approach that focuses on attracting and retaining quality teachers, this problem will continue to worsen over the coming years. Andrew Smith, CEO of Education Services Australia, discusses how technology could help.
For good reason, the attention of education ministers and policy makers has turned to the teacher shortage that is confronting schools across the country. There is no single solution that will reverse the trend because the causes are varied and complex.
I am confident that with the full attention of education leaders from ministers to principals, we will find an effective response.
In the meantime, there is much we can do to support those already applying their expertise and skill in classrooms across the country through effective design and deployment of digital technologies.
Education technology, or edtech, is not new to our classrooms. Since the early 2000s, the education sector has been willing to explore ways in which technology can help students to learn better, help teachers to teach better and reduce the administrative burden in schools. Not all our efforts on this front have been successful but there is no doubt that the role and impact of technology in education has grown exponentially.
These education technologies, new and emerging, are important assets in our efforts to support teachers and allow them to focus on what they do best, shaping the learning of young Australians.
Some of the ways we can achieve this objective is to leverage existing high-quality digital resources to support curriculum implementation. Between 2008 and 2012, a bank of around 20,000 resources was developed and curated to support the implementation of the original Australian Curriculum. Scootle, the portal through which teachers access this important national asset, continues to be heavily used by teachers.
The availability of a comprehensive suite of digital resources and units of lessons not only reduces teacher workload as they implement the revised Australian Curriculum, it also means that no student need be at risk of learning loss in the event of a pandemic, floods or other circumstance that mean physical participation in a classroom is impossible.
These resources and lessons can be provided to students who cannot attend school; used for homework or revision; used in the classroom to support differentiated learning; and support professional development of teachers.
Data shows that up to 40 per cent of teachers are teaching out of field and many students spend up to a year of their schooling taught by casual relief teachers. Edtech has an important role to play in supporting teachers as they navigate unfamiliar territory in areas such as literacy, mathematics and language learning. The Australian Government’s Early Language Learning Australia (ELLA) program has been shown to be an effective tool in fostering language learning in classrooms staffed by teachers who have no formal training in this area.
Maturing technologies, including artificial intelligence, are increasingly prominent in our daily lives. These technologies have great potential to support teachers by personalising the learning experience of individual students through easily digestible information about what each student knows and can do along with suggestions for next steps.
There are also opportunities to use AI to anticipate and develop models for early identification of students at risk of falling behind on their learning journey or in dropping out of school altogether. These predictive models can provide an additional data point for teachers to complement their own expertise.
Of course, privacy and information security must be paramount in the design and deployment of edtech. Programs such as the Safer Technologies 4 Schools (ST4S) initiative that undertakes risk assessments of commonly used products can reduce the burden created for teachers who will want to ensure the cyber-safety of their students.
None of these education technologies are a replacement for the expertise and personal connections that teachers establish with their students but they, and others, offer opportunities to address some of the challenges that we face in building and developing a teaching workforce that can develop future generations of young Australians.
This article was originally published in Education Matters Magazine – to read the issue download it here.