Institute of Total Education
Teaching and Leading from the Heart and Soul

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Where is education heading?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Education is currently receiving a great deal of attention in the media, with the ABC airing a forum this week which focused on concerns participants had about where education was heading. Formal instruction in IT is about to start earlier, with the announcement this week that training in computer programming will be mandatory in Prep from next year in Queensland schools. At the same time,  concerns are raised about the stress and anxiety children are already experiencing. This prompted me to think about the purpose of education outlined in statement made in a seminar for teachers by Vijayadev Yogendra, founder of the School of Total Education. Whilst academic skills should be taught to a high standard, and need to be informed by  future workplace requirements, children need much more than this if they are to live happy, fulfilling lives. They need to  have emotional security and resilience, and teachers have a key role in this. But over and above this, our world  has a great need for peace. This will only come when the individuals who make up our communities have peace. Our educational systems need to adopt approaches that will serve this paramount need. In his statement which follows, Yogendra redefines the purpose of education as serving the fundamental need of society for harmony and peace.

The Purpose of Education - Vijayadev Yogendra

Past and Current Approaches

What I have in my own way conceived of an educational formula and principles, after  experience in my own studies and  observing children in my life, has been that the whole basis of society at large is based upon material involvement, material success and possessions. So what we have been doing in the school system in the last hundred years is to educate them in the three R’s so that they fit into the existing society and support the aspirations of business, support also national aims or ambition. So  education was designed to sustain those factors. The branches of science were developed mainly to assist the suffering of people through various discoveries and approaches, but they are also used for war. In the history of mankind, whenever there is a new discovery or a new thing happens,  it is used to enhance the financial position of the person who has a part in the company to get money out of it, or it is used by nations so that they can become stronger, so that they can dominate, they can conquer.

The Need for a Deeper Education of the Human Being

Why is it that human beings are so involved in hurting, plundering, and causing  pain? Mind you, it is not just a minority group, but the majority.  There is an anger in every individual that is dormant until they get an opportunity to express it. War becomes an opportunity. It is the circumstance in which they express their anger. A fight in a pub becomes an opportunity. A lonely person in the street becomes an opportunity for a gang to go and molest and hurt him, and you can go on from there. So therefore the conclusion I have come to over the years, is that these children who come to you have got this seed in them of anger. All that is wanted by them is an opportunity. Your job, the same as my job, is to see if we can somehow destroy that seed. Can you see the point of education now? That that anger that has been coming through centuries in the hearts of people, can we through our process of education overcome or eliminate it through the experience that the children get from us of our capacity for loving and caring?

So more work has to be done by the teacher on herself or himself in creating that loving, caring attitude.Not being loved precipitates anger: “Why aren’t I being loved? Why aren’t I being given that type of care?” Your children have the same question. “Why aren’t I being loved?” So children who have what I call a diminutive psychology are bound to have areas where they demand so much, want so much that we can’t fulfill it all. That’s where an intelligent parent or teacher can divert their thinking from the non-essential to the essential in a creative educational process. So therefore when they grow up they don’t have those needs. They can be satisfied. They can become content and accepting of their surroundings rather than getting angry about what they haven’t got.

The Teacher as Key

I’m sure you’ll teach the three R’s and I’m sure you’ll do the academic work and I’m sure you’ll fulfill the obligations of  the state system, but the subtlety is developing a human mind so that at the end that person is not angry, is content, and has the quality that creates the harmonious society.  We have to recognize that we are going to have these children grow up in a very hostile environment. But I always maintain that a person with a tremendous capacity, if we can develop it in them, can manage a hostile climate. Their own personality, what they have gathered within themselves, through their thinking, will give them that air of confidence, even discipline, even strength, that they won’t worry  and this as I say, is part of total education.

Jan Gudkovs  22/11/16

 

Are We Ready for the Asian Century?

Thursday, October 03, 2013

So we have a new government in Canberra and it looks like business as usual in the education sector, failing some new policy directions which weren’t canvassed during the election. However, one would expect a continuation of the policy to engage with our northern neighbours as we move deeper into the Asian Century.

In terms of education, the promotion of the learning of Asian languages and extending our knowledge of Asian cultures and histories would seem to be imperative. Some schools are doing well in this area and, with more funding and training, this can be improved further. However, what is not so clear is whether our attitudes towards Asia are changing from fear and xenophobia to acceptance, tolerance and understanding.

As a younger generation travels overseas (beyond Bali) and takes up educational and business opportunities, it is to be hoped that the inevitable cultural contact will promote a mutual respect and understanding that goes beyond the culinary.

It is not unusual for people to be afraid of the unfamiliar but hopefully we can have an open mind to learning from cultures that are often thousands of years older than ours. The opportunities that come from broadening our horizons, and our minds, are enormous and can enrich our lives and those of our children.

Parents value more than test scores

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ben Jensen, Director of the Grattan Institute, reported last week that his research had shown that the publication of NAPLAN results on the Commonwealth’s My School Website had not led to parents changing schools for their kids or increased competition between schools. So what has all the fuss been about? Why is so much of taxpayer’s money being wasted on these projects of dubious educational value?

This is a damning admission for the great “Testing, Scoring and Comparing” regime established by governments around the world in the last few years. Teachers and other educators have been arguing that this approach is not what was going to improve education and they have been proved right.

Jensen’s research also showed that parents valued a lot more about their schools than the outcomes of narrow cast tests like NAPLAN. They value things like “school culture and discipline, religious affiliation, reputation, the state of buildings and school grounds, and visible classroom characteristics such as class size” (Grattan Institute Report).

So apparently competition is not that relevant a value in education. In that case, let’s do away with the paraphernalia of competition between schools, and focus on co-operation and collaboration between and within schools and concentrate on providing the best education we can for the children and the communities we serve.

More “communication” may just be more dubious data

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Many people will have seen the saturation advertising on the Commonwealth Government’s “Plan for Better Schools”. One of the key points in this campaign is “Better Communication with Parents”, so I thought I would have a look at the website to read more. Imagine my surprise when the only reference I could find was a section on “More Information for Parents” about more data on the My Schools website, information which schools already provide in their Annual Report on each school’s website.

This raises the question of the difference between information and communication. There is already information overload and governments seem obsessed with data. Schools no doubt will be required to supply more statistical data. However, does this really mean parents will have better communication with their children’s schools?

Good communication involves both speaking and listening. All parents from time to time have concerns about their children’s experience at school whether it is academic, social or behavioural. For these concerns to be addressed there has to be opportunity for communication, which is a two-way thing, whereas the data avalanche is all one way, from the top down.

Schools need to be approachable and to provide a variety of opportunities for parents to engage with teachers and the school leadership about the progress and well being of their children.

Education priorities should come before politics. Where is the leadership?

Monday, March 25, 2013

It is frustrating sitting on the sidelines watching politicians from all parties putting petty point scoring ahead of making progress on education reform. This is particularly the case with the Gonski education reforms which seem to be bogged down by political squabbles rather being discussed on the basis of their merits.

Some state governments, including Queensland and Western Australia (and up to last week Victoria), are now saying they don’t want the reforms and the massive new injection of funds that would benefit all communities, and especially those schools at the lower scale of socio-economic standing.

On the other hand, the Commonwealth Government still have not spelled out the details of the reforms so that it is very hard for groups like the Independent schools and the Catholic system to plan ahead or to say whether or not they support the reforms. Add to this, the various strings that are being attached to the changes such as compulsory School Improvement Plans which could add to the bureaucratic burden principals already face and which distract their attention away from teaching and learning and the social and emotional well being of their students.

Australians are not that impressed with politicians at the best of times, and many people are cynical about the word ‘reform’ when it is linked to government. So, how about our political leaders, both state and federal, put the schoolyard squabbles aside and starting acting like the leaders and statespersons they are supposed to be? 

Professional Standards for Teachers could have a broader focus

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

As from this year, the Standards devised by the Queensland College of Teachers will be replaced by a set of Australian Professional Standards for Teachers which are to be used to assess teacher performance and plan professional development.

The seven standards use straight-forward language and that is good. Things like ‘Know your students and how they learn’  and ‘Know the content and how to teach it’. However, each standard is broken down into 5-7 subsets and is specified for graduate, proficient, highly accomplished and lead teachers. So in the end they are a lot more detailed.

One aspect from the Queensland standards that is not covered in the Australian ones is ‘Support personal development and participation in society’. This indicates less focus on social and emotional development. This is a weakness given the problems many of our young people are facing.

 The Queensland Standard of ‘Foster positive and productive relationships with family and community’ gets less emphasis in the new standards and this too reflects a narrower view of our profession.

Schools in the 21st Century need to be more holistic in their aims and practices if they are to meet the needs of young people and families. The new standards could reflect this more, so perhaps the report card on the writers of these standards should be “Could do better”!

Let us look to Asia but not to copy the Chinese system

Monday, November 12, 2012

One of my strongest memories of my HSC external exam experience in Victoria was that the first rule of exams was don’t copy your neighbor’s work. So while admiring China’s success in becoming a leader in educational test scores, it doesn’t mean we should blindly copy the essentials of their education system. That’s because it is not what Australia or our children need.

Notwithstanding the Australian Government’s White paper on ‘Australia in the Asian Century’, we should be circumspect about adopting the key elements of the Chinese education system. Engaging with Asia should be about sharing our strengths in education and other areas. It should be about being open to learning about different systems and values from our own. It should be about being open to opportunities for Australia to share its understandings and creativity with others.

Some of the key elements of the Chinese system as recently reported include: a culture of success, hard work, long hours and rigorous regional and national testing (twice a year). To achieve this, teachers are penalized and demoted if their student test scores are not ‘good’. This approach fits within the current Global Education Reform Movement (or GERM) which has been criticized for narrowing the curriculum, being too test focused and punishing rather than trusting and supporting teachers as professionals.

The current century is also the conceptual age and one requiring as one author has put it “a whole new mind” driven by creativity, intrinsic motivation, co-operation, community and open-ended thinking. This kind of thinking will not be achieved by regimentation, over-testing, punishment, standardization and narrow casting the curriculum. So let’s avoid uncritically copying our neighbors, but really engage with the countries of Asia and see what we can learn and what we can share.

How do we get our best to want to be teachers?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

There was more news coverage recently about the problem of how to attract the brightest and best into the teaching profession. It is an important issue because the main driver of school improvement is the quality of teaching.

One of the main suggestions is to have a higher minimum standard for entry into university courses in education. Currently, the entry OP score for teaching courses can be below OP 15 because it is based on the number of places available versus the number of students applying for entry. A quick look at the QTAC website for last year’s cut-offs for education courses will confirm this. It doesn’t mean just because you haven’t done brilliantly in Year 12 that you won’t make a good teacher but it is a concern.

Another idea is to have face to face interviews as part of the selection process to assess candidates suitability for the challenging nature of the classroom where an ability to relate to young people really is a prerequisite for surviving and thriving as teacher. It could be like the auditions used for entry into music and drama courses. This would be labor-intensive and there are all kinds of ethical hurdles about how to rank candidates, but the idea has merit.

The main issue though is our community’s attitudes towards the teaching profession. In Finland, teaching is ranked with law and medicine as an important and vital occupation that deserves high status and respect, so high achieving and talented young people see it as worthy of their aspiration. We are some distance from this situation in Australia. Teachers hold the future of our country in their hands and most teachers are dedicated and work very hard in school and after hours to see that their students achieve their potential. That is surely worthy of respect.

Are Schools the new centres of community?

Friday, October 19, 2012

This week I spoke to Rob Mohloek, the Assistant Minister of Child Protection, at Parliament House about his concerns related the huge numbers of children coming to the notice of the Child Protection authorities; one in four Queensland children over the course of their young lives.

One of his main interests is the need for a more comprehensive approach in the social emotional education of children and the development of their awareness and skills in these areas. There are good programs in some schools and the Queensland Government’s Student Well Being Framework is a good step in the right direction but schools are being left to select and implement their own programs. What’s needed is a comprehensive and integrated program that equips all children and especially those at risk with awareness and skills that give them greater resilience to manage life’s most important challenges.

The other area of need is parent education and the Minister was very interested to hear about the comprehensive approach to this at The School of Total Education in Warwick. There parents are supported in their parenting by attending regular discussion groups and have timely input from experts and guest speakers. There is further individual support through the Centre for Healthy Living.

Many years ago it was the church which provided the most important moral guidance and focus of community life but now only 4% of the population are regular church attenders. By default, Schools have become the centers of community life, and for some children school is the only place they really feel safe. Schools are yet to realize the reality of this profound cultural transformation and the responsibilities that come with it. Neither has government.

It was refreshing to meet such a sincere person as the Assistant Minister with a real concern about the young people in our community who are so important to all our futures.

Will self-management produce real leadership?

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The Education Minister, John Paul Langbroek, recently announced the 26 schools which will pilot the Queensland Independent Public Schools program.  These schools, “are to have the freedom to directly recruit teachers and to build a team that is able to deliver innovative educational practices, as well as having more autonomy to manage infrastructure and financial resources”.

The issue with this policy is that while the rhetoric supports autonomy, the amount of independence and self-management is limited. Indeed, financial support to help this process is only $50,000 start up and $50,000 annually per school. No doubt there are also expectations on the part of the state government that these autonomous schools will show efficiencies and improvements on various measures.

Autonomy and self-management are positive ideas and if genuinely implemented could give principals and their leadership teams greater ability to respond to the educational needs of their students. However, there can be a problem if they are simply being given more of the responsibility but not much more power or resources.

Self-management does not mean that the principal can do what he or she likes. Principals will have to work with a school council which will be made up of community members, school parents and nominated representatives.

All of this focuses on the role of the principal as a manager when perhaps a more important role is the principal as an educational leader who can ensure that programs in his or her school are really meeting the needs of their students in terms of their academic, physical and even more important their character development.

It is to be hoped that principals will be given sufficient and appropriate training so that they can meet the very challenging requirements of being a self-managing leader.

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