“Education experts lash out at Australian schooling system.”
(October 9, News.com.au)

“You just stay here in this one corner of the Forest waiting for the others to come to you.”
(Eeyore), A.A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner.

A recent episode of the ABC’s Q&A on education gave a boost to the idea/concept/belief that everything in our schools is in crisis and we are heading for “rock bottom”.

Stressed teachers and students, NAPLAN and regimented teaching, reliance on data, teacher stress, student disengagement and inequity of funding all got an airing.

The observations of an ex-teacher were particularly excoriating for schools. Here are some samples as reported in the print media:

  • Ms Stroud lashed out against NAPLAN, standardised testing and the effects they were having on the education system.
  • “I think we’re seeing a time where education in Australia, we must be getting close to rock bottom, because I think there are teachers that are suffering, there are students that are suffering.
  • “What we’re seeing now are our students are disengaged, they’re disheartened. They’re not excited to come to school. They’re not enthused about their learning. And this is the effect that NAPLAN’s having.”
  • “You kids are succeeding in spite of the system, not because of it.”
  • Ms Stroud said we needed to value teachers because we were losing them and it was a “great, great tragedy”.
  • “(They say) we’ll collect a whole bunch of data on it and the graphs will go up,” she said.
    “I’m here to tell you they’re not. The graphs are going down. The students are disengaged. The teachers are struggling and something needs to change.
  • “I think that we have really just lost our way.”

According to reports in the media, social media was strident in support of Ms Stroud’s view of education.

It is interesting that an ex-teacher’s views on education make up most of the media coverage of this program, when, sitting on the other end of the panel was Eddie Woo.

As anyone who has an interest in education knows, Eddie Woo has become a bit of an Australian educational “rockstar”, particularly in regard to Mathematics teaching.

If Ms Stroud is a bit Eeyore, Eddie Woo is more Tigger.

His views of teaching Mathematics in the face of a seeming national rejection of the subject was about making things better.

His opinions on the perennial educational talking points of funding and testing were reasoned and constructive.

I have no doubt that Ms Stroud found her teaching career hard and has pointed out that there are some worrying things happening in some schools and some systems:

Gabbie Stroud is a former teacher who left the classroom in a state of disorientation and exhaustion. Her state of mind was by no means occasioned by the children she taught, however needy and difficult some of them were. Stroud always found room in her heart for them, perhaps too much so, and she put relationships at the centre of her work. After 15 years working in Australia and overseas, in both primary and secondary schools, Stroud was overburdened by the suffocating administrative context in which her teaching was taking place.”

 

 I also have no doubt that some of the things she rails against in education need to be “called out”.

BUT…..

Given the choice between Eddie Woo’s reasoned responses to such perennial educational chestnuts as funding and testing (particularly NAPLAN) and the “sky is falling” of many critics of Australian education, I will take the side of the the teacher who is not only hanging in there, but actively doing what he can to make things better.

Let’s be realistic:

  • Teaching is, by its very nature, a stressful job. It is a vocation that is exhausting but can and should be satisfying.
  • NAPLAN is often misused (particularly by the media looking for a quick news grab) but the data is great for checking who might be getting left behind.
  • While some systems can be overly intrusive (I’m glad we are an independent school) and compliance an issue, great, innovative and engaging teaching can be found in most Australian schools.
  • Many who train as teachers do not stay long in the profession and this is something schools must confront, but not everybody who wants to be a teacher has what it takes to flourish in a professional world that requires the ability to relate well to a wide variety of people, meet societal expectations, be agile enough to respond to change and still love your job.

I will not speak for other schools, but I think accusations that we are close to “rock bottom” sound hollow when you look at SCAS.

Each term I create a report to be presented to our Diocesan schools. It is supposed to be a short picture of our activities and achievements. It took me nearly three pages to give a reasonable sample of what our students and staff have achieved in the past term. From academic achievements at a national level, through cultural milestones and into amazing sporting achievements and community activities, I was spoiled for choices (and very aware that I was not able to include all that deserved mention).

I think that if we are to educate and guide our students into the world with a positive view of themselves and their opportunities, it is dangerous to only model negativity. It is better that we work with what we have, make the best of what we are dealt and not give in to despair.

 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28


Mr Terry Muldoon
Principal, St Columba Anglican School