Friday, December 19, 2008

Education in the Land of the Blind

Thanks to KRudd and Co., education here in Oz is very much in the public eye at the moment. Online news sites have embraced the blogging meme and provide their readers with the opportunity to comment on stories in a way that was never possible with newspaper columns. While in principle I think this a good thing, far too much of commentary on education stories is, sadly, drivel.

This appeared among the comments to a journo-blog entry on the Daily Telegraph website:
In many public HS, we have teachers who don’t know much more than their top students. These students actually learn from books and self research (and some do it with help from private tutors). Those who are not top students move on and cramp [sic] for the HSC. And again, some of these average kids are the most likely to follow education training to become new teachers. By the time they get to University 2nd year, they forgot most of the stuff they bolted down in a short period without true understanding. So we have a vicious circle that need to be broken by offering high pay to teachers to attract top candidates. I could see that Universities are doing the right thing at this moment to offer combined educational degrees to make sure that new teachers will have at least one solid specialisation. But we need the government to get serious and offer high pay for good teachers and encourage the rest to go back to University to learn specialisation to lift their performance and consequently, better pay.
There are a number of fallacies implied in this comment:
  • that teachers don't really understand what they are teaching;
  • that those who go into teaching are not the 'top candidates' but only average students;
  • there is a vicious cycle (!) of poor teachers leading to more poor teachers;
  • a 'solid specialisation' (whatever 'solid' is supposed to mean) should be part of teacher training (hmm, now what 'solid' specialisation should a K-2 teacher have?);
  • that 'specialisation' would lift 'performance' (naturally without any explanation of how 'performance is to be measured or how a 'specialisation' would change it).
I keep seeing this dreck again and again in comments on websites to educational stories. The Federal Government has added fuel to the fire by teasing the media with hints about performance pay (though they've carefully dodged using that exact expression) and teacher accreditation and accountability.

Like our politicians, it seems there are many members of the public who believe they are knowledgeable about education, apparently on the basis that they had one.

And it appears to have become fashionable to rubbish our education systems in this country. It's no surprise that the KRudd government is gung-ho about changing education in Oz - fiddling around with education and then claiming to have achieved something is de rigueur for Labor governments (and almost as much so for Coalition ones). But we are now seeing the likes of Rupert Murdoch dumping on Australian education (though why anyone would think that Murdoch would know anything about it eludes me) and no one standing up and saying "hang on a minute, is any of that criticism actually valid? Is it based on anything substantial, or is it just hot air?" The same goes for the media - witness the negative spin put on the TIMSS results reported by ACER a couple of weeks ago. Anyone would think that our Year 8 students couldn't add up, the way it was reported in the media. In reality, the gap between Australia's results, and those of the USA or Britain was very small, and only Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan can claim to be clearly ahead of everyone else.

Is there room for improvement in our education systems? Of course there is. Are we failing our students and delivering them a substandard education? Of course not.

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