12th April 2018
Transforming Education: Equality, Respect, Diversity
A New Education Paradigm
It was truly heartening to see New Zealand recently scrap National Standards. This was a national system of testing introduced in 2010 to gather data and report on students’ reading, writing and maths levels, similar to our NAPLAN Report. Education Minister, Chris Hipkins, stated that,
“Now this reporting will focus on children’s progress, rather than measuring them against arbitrary National Standards.”
PM, Jacinda Ardern said,
“National Standards were a distraction…they were neither National nor standard. They didn’t show how a child was progressing against themselves. That’s why we’ve gotten rid of them, that’s why we’ll say to teachers again, go back to teaching and doing the things that you do best.”
It’s interesting to note that Jacinda did not once say “I scrapped” “I did” but rather she consistently said WE, unlike Malcolm Turnbull’s bombastic self-promotion in which every second commandment starts with I. There is no I in leader! Teachers, parents and students in New Zealand must be dancing a collective jig.
The opposition over there has done what opposition parties do; they’ve said this is a rubbish idea and the government has gone off half-cocked with nothing to replace the National Standards! I’m fairly certain that won’t be an issue and that teachers suprisingly know how best to evaluate their students and will now have the time to do what they do best: focus on their students and teach! Hooray, just like the old pre NAPLAN days.
Thank you New Zealand for showing us it’s not hard to listen to those at the coalface and do what is right. The foundations for wellbeing are laid down in early childhood. Good parenting and holistic early childhood education are the pillars upon which a good and functioning society rests. Finland also knows this.
We need to do more for our children in Australia, at the moment they are suffering greatly due to our outdated education system. We have entered a period of rapid development like none we have ever experienced in the history of humankind, yet mainstream education is stuck in the Industrial Age, still training its students to be good test takers, rule followers and employees. We know this is not what future employers are looking for and that in fact many more students will jump on board the entrepreneurial bus.
A school should be a nurturing, supportive space where each person is equal and has a voice; where students, parents and teachers collaborate for the greater good. A place where diversity is celebrated. A calm and inclusive home away from home where adults model what a respectful relationship looks like. A place where each child has the opportunity to develop self-respect and a strong self-worth. A place where each child, parent and teacher can discover and develop their unique gifts and talents and work from their strengths. A place where each child can learn of their responsibility to others and to give back to the world. This cannot happen when self worth is crushed.
Since the introduction of NAPLAN and the year level based National Curriculum our schools have moved as far away from child-centred as is possible. Critical thinking and creativity have made way for learning how to take tests from a very young age. Children as young as four are being prepared and brought into the NAPLAN fold; tested, ranked and labelled. Four year olds are acquiring anxiety disorders directly linked to the developmentally inappropriate school environment which may affect their health outcomes for the rest of their lives. This is not to be taken lightly.
Teachers are leaving the profession in numbers that have never been seen before. The loss of play in the early years has untold consequences which teachers are seeing played out in the lack of self control and social skills. Children’s brains need play to wire as they should.
Sparkt was founded to help schools to become communities based on respectful relationships and equality. Everyone should have the opportunity to thrive at school rather than just survive school. As parents and teachers we want our children to have the opportunity to reach their full potential.
We want equity in education. We want education that encompasses the whole child not driven by NAPLAN scores. We want our children to have many and varied experiences not many worksheets. We want our children to have a developmentally appropriate and explorative curriculum, not a one-size-fits-all year level based curriculum. We want a system that acknowledges and celebrates our children’s strengths and compassionately supports and strengthens their weaknesses. We want a system driven by respect. We want our children to be respectfully mentored to become well-rounded, self-confident, happy and ready to give their gifts to the world whatever those gifts may be.
Through action research, Sparkt has developed a framework for schools to implement changes that support an inclusive, equitable and respectful environment for all. We want systemic change. These changes do not incur extra cost to schools but rather focus on reimagining our spaces and a reallocation of human resources.
The first necessary change is to follow the lead of countries like Finland and New Zealand and scrap standardised tests. The research is in; they cause more harm than good. They are a waste of time and money. Put that time and money into restructuring schools to work for all children.
Put that money into experienced, talented teachers who can support children to learn to think for themselves. Teachers who can inspire children to find their passion, to use their creativity and talents to make the world a better place. Teachers need to be given back their autonomy and the right to teach.
A good principal is one who facilitates learning. ASK NOT WHAT YOUR TEACHERS CAN DO FOR YOU BUT WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR TEACHERS! Shared leadership is the only way forward. A school is a microcosm of society and what better place to start learning that everyone is of equal value and has an equal voice. Many parents I speak with are looking for alternative education models such as Steiner, Montessori and the like. The waiting lists are enormous and I have met parents who are willing to undertake huge commutes to get their children to child-centred schools. These independent schools are not as subordinate to a large organisation but are also usually expensive. A quality education is every child’s right. Education should be free.
Goal 1 of the Melbourne Declaration states that “Australian schooling promotes equity and excellence.” Drastic changes need to be made to equally meet the needs of all Australian students. In Australia there is a primary school in every neighbourhood but you could not even begin to argue that each school is equitable. Finland has true equity in Education. There are hardly any private schools as the government schools are all equally wonderful, no matter where they are situated. Finland does not have the huge socio-economic divide that we have in Australia. This was engineered and worked towards through clever policy and change over the past fifty years.
We want a system that caters for each individual student. At the moment the individual is lost in a sea of reporting and data. Teachers are drowning in red tape and anxiety and have had their autonomy and creativity stifled. As teachers, we are not given the support we need for the children in our care. Most schools are run in an autocratic fashion. The bureaucrats are completely out of touch with the young children of today, handing down directives to those at the coal face.
There are numerous grassroots movements like Sparkt, led by like-minded parents, teachers and students advocating for change. I’ve spent the past six years visiting schools that I believe are following a child-centred path in order to share information with other like- minded parents and educators so that together we can make tangible differences in the lives of the young people in our care.
The fact is that the people at the bottom of the bureaucrat’s list are the children. A school is not a business. A school is a community. Instead of having unbalanced ‘leaders’ at the top of the hierarchy we need to unbalance the hierarchy and put the children at the top. Each individual child. Not a collection of children, we want a system that caters for each child. Every child is precious. Please sign and share the petition.