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Just suppose we want our children to learn

By Phil Cullen - posted Friday, 8 January 2010

We’re a small country. It is possible to standardise some rituals in a wink.

Look at National Testing in schools. This was introduced in a “ruddy blush” with malice-before-thought and she, who must be obeyed, said, “This will be and no argument”. Wham! All schools now exist in fear and trepidation that they will not do as well as their neighbour in the one-hit tests and so they change their M.O.

I voted for Julia’s mob for special reasons, the main one being that it would not introduce what Brendan Nelson had proposed, namely wide-scale fear-driven testing in schools. OK! A few thousand other teachers and I made a bad mistake, and now have some tricky decisions to consider next time.


Ms Gillard, our schools’ controller, was “encouraged” by local measure-freaks and pundicrats, and a New York lawyer, all with very limited school experience. Pity. Just suppose that the motivation for revolution was based on raising children’s learning abilities.

Just suppose some thought was given first to the structure of schooling in Australia before anything else was tried.

Just suppose, for instance, that all Aussie children start primary schooling at the same age. Parents who change states would be relieved. Under our present totalitarian centralism it should not present any problem to change things and declare that all children are able to start school in the calendar year that they turn [say] six-years of age and not before. Educationally progressive countries legislate for a starting age of seven years, but such a proposal has been dodged here by politicians and educrats for a long time. You see, some parents get anxious when their children turn five-years of age, but they can be helped. Since Australia’s early childhood care provisions are presently rich in offerings, a gradual introduction to schooling can now be offered or children can enjoy early learning for its own sake or just have fun with their childhood ...

Just suppose state and district departments of compulsory schooling are considered useful and necessary to care for those who are forced to go to school. If a national starting-age was introduced with the rapidity of the introduction of national blanket testing, such departments could be established forthwith for years 1 to 12. These departments would just “hold hands” with early childhood at the lower end with and vocational efforts at the upper, but little else; with curriculum offerings, suggestions of expected standards and essential resources available to all as needed.

Just suppose it was decided that all states have the same lengths of schooling and that a child enters primary schooling at year 1 and remains there for seven years and then moves to high school. At present New South Wales and the ACT call the first year at school, Kindergarten; Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland call it Preparatory; South Australia tags it Reception; Northern Territory calls it Transition; Western Australian Pre-primary. Believe it. It almost seems as if the states once had a contest to sneak some children into schooling earlier than is wise and to find the most creative name to call the year. And - believe this - by the time all children have had four years of regular schooling, it is difficult to distinguish between them in achievement levels, attitudes to learning and so on, whether they have had any pre-year one learning experiences or not. We just know that some early-in-life experiences away from home are useful for some youngsters or their parents and Australia cares.

Just suppose that a greater part of each school day is required for an “… insistence and reverence for language, science and mathematics”. (President Barack Obama). We know that achievement in lower-order cognitive skills that are part of these learnings is directly related to the time spent on them, so why not have a good look at school time-tables? Useful, encouraging, fear-free, fun-full skill development contributes to higher-order fondness for all learnings. Mathematics, indeed, is one of the most beautiful of subjects and its creative joy can be pupilled as such when we dismiss fear and educrat-sponsored-dislike of it. Trust me. The wonders of language and science are just as fascinating. Why destroy the fascination of any standard learnings?


Just suppose all the curriculum rubbish is cleaned out and the remainder re-ordered. So much has been entered into the school curriculum in recent years that it is the wonder of the age that teachers have done what they have done; and have maintained amazing achievements in so-called basic elements as well as they have; and each child has reached a level of competence in subjects and learnings that their parents never encountered nor achieved.

Just suppose our teachers were selected from the most outstanding school graduates who, above all, have been identified as having the qualities that good teachers require. A four-year Masters Degree (as in Finland) during which the wide range of teacher strategies will be practised and understood. Teaching research as detailed by Michael Dunkin and others will be studied, as will the work of great philosophers of teaching and learning from the time of Socrates. Practice and theory will live together with intense respect for each other. Slackers will be advised to change to another course as early in their academic life as possible. It will be widely known that teachers are exceptional people and are paid accordingly.

Just suppose we had tax incentives for those who gave reasonable amounts of money direct to their children’s classroom in a public school to purchase resources that are needed to make each room as resource-rich as possible. The same degree of tax incentives could be offered as those received by those who send their children to a private school. If Mum or Dad gave say $1,000 direct to each of their children’s teacher each year to establish a resource-rich classroom, they should receive some benefit. This would not cost Mum and Dad as much as they would pay to send their child to a private school, but each classroom in which their child was located would be better than most. Worth examining?

Just suppose we cared for kids and their schooling ...

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About the Author

Phil Cullen is a teacher. His website is here: Primary Schooling.

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