Australian Schools & What It Takes To Be Successful - Margery Evans, Chief Executive Officer of AITSL, 01 April 2014.
Like most of you I watched a bit of the Winter Olympics. I have to admit I was fascinated by the Curling despite the fact that it made little sense to me.
I also enjoyed the commentary of Australian speed skater and Olympic gold medalist, Steven Bradbury. Why? Well, it was mostly the self-effacing and laconic way that he dealt with questions about his ‘accidental’ win in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
Bradbury was willing to cop it sweet and never once mentioned the hard work, life threatening injuries and track record of success that led to his gold medal. In this respect, Steven Bradbury displays many of the characteristics of the archetypal Aussie hero, and it appears we love him all the more for the seemingly happenstance way he achieved his greatest sporting triumph.
Being laconic is part of who we are.
I’ve got nothing against the stereotype of the laconic Aussie hero. It’s served us well as we’ve built our nation. But some of my recent experiences lead me to ask how well this particular attribute serves us when it comes to valuing things like education.
Late last year I was privileged to spend time in India as part of the Global Education Leaders Program (GELP). The theme of the meeting was new players, new metrics, and learner agency. You can find out more about this initiative and the meeting at the GELP New Delhi 2013 webpage.
Being a member of GELP is a rare honour and the interaction with leaders from the best and fastest improving education systems in the world, directly influences my work as CEO of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. Having said this, I must also say that I was greatly influenced and moved by the school that I visited and the educators I met while in India.
The Katha Lab School, serves the children of the largest slum in New Delhi. I have chosen the word ‘serves’ to describe the Katha School deliberately. Even the most casual observer would quickly recognise that service is a fundamental value inherent in the Indian education system. Education is prized for its transformative potential across the strata of Indian society. Those who have benefited from their education see it as their duty to support the provision of education to those who are both financially and educationally disadvantaged.
The dedicated staff at Katha Lab School provide an education for their students that focuses on enjoyment, engagement and employment.
Nowhere is the value of education more starkly visible than in these New Delhi slums where children have to make the daily decision whether to attend school or work to put food on the table. That 90 per cent of their students attend the Katha School each day is a clear indication that, in India, education is recognised as a need almost as life sustaining as food and shelter.
In the debate around education in Australia, universal access is recognised as a right, as it should be. My recent experience in India does make me wonder, however, whether we haven’t become more than a little complacent about the true value and potential of education in my home country.
Did you know that:
- in Queensland, one in four Year 10 students selected an image of a prison when asked to describe their school? (Dusseldorp Skills Forum, 2006)
- the recent PISA figures show the share of Australian students who reported a sense of belonging at school shrank by around ten percentage points between 2003 and 2012? (PISA, Ready to Learn: Students’ Engagement, Drive and Self-Beliefs, 2013)
- findings from a longitudinal study in Australia released earlier this year concluded that a child’s engagement in school influences their prospects of educational and occupational success 20 years later – more so than academic attainment and socio-economic background? (Abbott-Chapman et al, 2013)
These alarming facts suggest that many young Australians and their families don’t recognise the true value and transformative power of education in quite the same way as is the case in the slums of New Delhi.
Maybe it’s got something to do with our laconic nature.
Perhaps there are times when downplaying what it takes to be successful or underestimating the value of an opportunity doesn’t serve us quite so well as we would like to think?
Learning Frontiers is an initiative that harnesses the transformative power of some fantastic schools around the country. By putting them together with other schools and other players in the education space like, parent groups, not-for-profit organisations and startup edutech companies, we will examine and scale up practices that deeply engage our young people in their learning.
It’s time to up-play the value of Australia’s schools and what it takes to be successful.
I think, if asked, Steven Bradbury would agree and I’d be interested to hear what others think.