Purpose of Education
Education is a universal human right. One of the central responsibilities of Government is therefore to ensure that education is available to all children and youth, irrespective of culture, gender, academic ability, geographic location or socio-economic status. A system that guarantees the availability of free education is the most effective means of securing this. In order for all students to achieve their maximum potential, any quality education system must be intellectually and academically rigorous, and foster creative inquiry. Among the most valuable gifts is the ability to continuously learn, create, inquire and critically assess. Education must instil and develop these skills in students, and give students the requisite foundational knowledge and tools to apply these skills as productive and contributing members of society. The education system must be student-centric, with a view to ensuring that the educational outcomes of each individual student is maximised.
Care must be taken to ensure that no child or young person faces disadvantages in education due to factors beyond their control. Some students vulnerable to disadvantage include (though are not necessarily limited to) those of low socio-economic status, those with a disability or special needs, those in remote geographic locations, those of Indigenous backgrounds and those of non-English speaking backgrounds. It is therefore imperative that the education system include supports tailored for these students, and has sufficient flexibility to support and respond to the needs of other students as they may arise. Funding must be equitable and needs-based, focusing on the needs of individual students.
Purpose of Assessment
The purpose of assessments is to serve as diagnostic educational tools, that informs parents of their child’s progress against the curriculum. Using assessments to rank schools and students consumes an enormous amount of resources that could be far better served in teaching and learning. Assessments should ultimately inform teaching and learning by helping students gauge their achievements and identify where they can improve, and by allowing educators to measure the strengths of their courses and areas needing improvement. Assessments should ultimately exist as part of an educational framework that fosters creative inquiry and intellectual rigour, and equips students with the tools to think and learn autonomously. They should not exist as passive exercises in relaying memorised information, for if students treat tests as simply hurdles to cross, the tests carry little educational value. In order for assessments to be fair and useful diagnostic tools, they must be directly linked to the curriculum. Within this educational framework, the role of professional educators is to guide students in their intellectual development.
Initial Teacher Education
If teachers are to help students achieve the best possible educational outcomes, it is imperative that graduates seeking to enter the teaching profession are subject to high standards themselves. The standards, requirements and expectations of teacher training courses must be rigorous and clear, with a view to providing teaching graduates with the confidence and skills to begin work as teachers as soon as their courses are completed. Central to any training is developing in teachers a demonstrable ability to positively affect students’ learning and educational outcomes. The national Initial Teacher Education (ITE) accreditation system is a commendable framework in which to achieve these outcomes. ITE requirements must be nationally consistent to ensure a streamlined framework to teacher accreditation, there must be extra support for the mentoring of people undergoing ITE to ensure the system is successful. Engagement with parents is essential to achieving positive learning outcomes for our students, and it is therefore imperative that new teachers are provided with professional development that includes building their skills at effective parent engagement.
Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)
Personal mobile electronic devices can serve as useful educational tools, and their use by students can enhance their learning experiences and therefore their educational outcomes. Their use has become widespread and second nature among many younger students. At the same time, the Government has responsibility for funding and resourcing our schools, and BYOD shifts responsibility to parents. Personal mobile electronic devices are not within financial reach of all families, and it is imperative that students without access to these devices face no disadvantage as a result. There must also be rigorous procedures to ensure that no students are disadvantaged in their education by the varying quality of factors such as Internet speed, data or battery life. Families must be provided with comprehensive information on what devices are most suitable for their child. When developing a BYOD policy, schools should collaborate with the parents and P&C Associations to ensure that the whole community’s needs are considered, and that no student is left behind by the policy.
The New South Wales Department of Education must support schools in developing BYOD policies by developing detailed guides for schools. The provision of adequate information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure is also essential to ensure all schools are operating in an equitable playing field. A teacher’s role is the education of students, not the provision of technical support, and permanent ICT support technicians must be made available in all schools to respond efficiently to any problems arising. Moreover, it is important to treat personal mobile electronic devices as just one educational tool out of many. Their use should supplement other educational tools such as personal interaction, hand-written tasks and book reading, without superseding them.
Languages in Primary Schools
There are numerous benefits to being proficient in one or more languages other than English, including personal enrichment through a deeper understanding of other societies, an improved ability to thrive in a multicultural society and global economy, and possibly even improved cognitive abilities and more developed communication skills. Given the stronger language learning abilities of younger children, the New South Wales curriculum could include mandatory learning of a language other than English for all students beginning in early primary.