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.

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? 

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.

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.

Do you give a Gonski?

Friday, August 31, 2012

Gonski is in the news again with the politicians are fighting it out over who is the most generous party when it comes to school funding. Julia Gillard has said that no school will be disadvantaged by the new system based on the Gonski Report and that in fact all schools will get increased funding. Tony Abbott is trying to match this so his party doesn't lose votes over the issue. An implementation of the Gonski funding reforms would cost around $6.5 billion at current estimates. The way the main parties are talking about it, it could cost a lot more. If no one is going to be disadvantaged, why not leave the system alone?

Education is such an important issue in Australia that it should not be an argument in party political terms. Education should be a bipartisan issue. The parties should stop bickering and put the good of the country ahead of party political advantage. That may be a vain hope but it is what is needed.

Most people agree that all schools should get some base funding and that there should be a supplementation of this on the basis of socio-economic need since that has been established as the main disadvantage in children's education, at least on the academic level. Of course, more money alone won’t improve academic performance.

The main problem with the way the Government plans to implement Gonski seems to be that the they are intent on extracting even more information from schools with such measures as value-adding. These measures will simply distract more attention away from teaching and put it more onto reporting and massaging the figures so schools don’t lose funding. Governments need to get out of the way and let schools do what they do best, which is teach children.

Student Well Being is Everyone's Concern

Friday, July 20, 2012

Education Queensland is about to launch its Well Being Framework which all schools will be expected to address. They are doing it in style with a barnstorming tour of the state by psychologist, Michael Carr-Gregg, who is well known in the media for his insights into adolescent health and well being. I am sure this will be valuable but it is important to build local capability to support student well being through our own doctors, psychologists, counsellors and teachers.

There has been growing concern in the community about student well being, especially adolescents, with issues like bullying, anxiety, depression, body image, eating disorders and self harm as well as underage drinking and drug use. Schools see the results of these problems on a daily basis in students inability to engage with learning and many teachers, trained with a purely academic focus, are ill equipped to manage the fall out.

Parental influence is so important in supporting children’s well being but they struggle with other influences like the peer group, the media and the ubiquitous internet. Parents need help with what to expect in adolescent behaviour and to realise the importance of staying involved with the lives of their almost adult children.

Schools for their part need to be places where kids experience a sense of connection and inclusion. The mainstream ethos of competition and adulation of winners must leave a lot of young people feeling like second-class citizens; uninvolved and disconnected.

It is great that Education Queensland is recognising the importance of student well being because it marks a broadening of the aims of education to be more holistic and to focus on the development of students as people and not just scholars. Schools need support from the rest of the community if this more rounded goal of education is to be realised.

The CURE for the Golbal Education Reform Movement (GERM)

Friday, June 22, 2012

It is strange how an idea can gain acceptance and spread all over the world. The Global Education Reform Movement (GERM), which is dominating education policies in the western world at present, is a major example of this. The key elements are: focus on basics, prescribed performance standards, standardised testing, test-based accountability and top-down bureaucratic control of schools. These are also key elements of Australia’s education policy.

One of the main voices against these policies is the Finland Education Director, Pasi Sahlberg, who has characterized this unofficial convergence of education policy as a ‘GERM’ which has ‘infected’ western education systems. The effect of this he says has been the narrowing of curriculum, pre-occupation with data-gathering, an atmosphere of fear among teachers, too much bureaucratic control and a discouragement of innovation and creativity in teaching and learning at a time when it is needed most.

The Finnish solution or ‘CURE’ to ‘GERM’ requires a different mindset to the one currently in vogue in Canberra. Firstly, focus on the whole child and help each student find their own talent. Secondly, encourage innovation and creativity and personalise learning. Thirdly, minimise standardised testing and encourage self-assessment. Fourthly, don’t intimidate schools, teachers and students over test scores. Lastly, resist bureaucratic control and respect the professionalism of teachers who are trained and experienced in how to bring the best out in students and let principals focus on leading for learning rather than data gathering.

It was reassuring to hear this response because, as you may know, I am also in favour of education for the whole child and encouraging innovation and creativity. At some point in the 2000’s, politicians decided they knew best how education could deliver what this country needed. Now it is time for schools to resume control of education for the good of the country and their students.

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