Helen Jentz, chief executive officer, The Australian College of Educators (ACE)
According to Helen Jentz, the Australia 2030: Prosperity Through Innovation report has some fantastic take-aways, even if there are no big surprises.
“[There’s] probably nothing that we didn’t already know, but it’s always good to see it clearly articulated in forward-thinking reports like this one,” Jentz says.
Among the recommendations made for schools, Jentz is particularly happy to see a focus on professional learning.
“The college has been a strong advocate of the absolutely essential need for educators to get the best quality professional learning they possibly can, to be afforded the opportunity to undertake that professional learning and then take those skills back in a practical way, to the classroom,” she says.
“We’re also pleased that the report recognises that this is going to take resourcing,” she adds.
According to the ACE CEO, Australia is behind the international pack when it comes to the number of days’ professional learning leave given to teachers.
We’re sitting at three, she says, when the international average is seven.
“I think that’s a really good starting point, to say ‘OK, we need to look at how can we build up the ability for our educators to undertake really good professional learning and development, so that they’re developing the best possible skills as educators?’, which is obviously only going to have a positive effect on the broader education system,” Jentz says.
While the report scores big points in professional learning, Jentz warns against viewing it as a Band-Aid solution for the education system as a whole.
“We’re trying to fix small areas, ignoring the fact the entire system needs to be enhanced and it needs to be given the resources and best possible opportunities to advance and evolve and develop,” she explains.
“So looking at specific things like just the Australian Curriculum, or looking at things like STEM, they’re finite areas.
“We need to look at these areas in the context of broader education, and how are we going to ensure that we have the best broad education system in the world.
“And I think that’s important.” Jentz says it’s crucial to realise teachers are no longer working in an environment which is confined to teaching traditional hard skills, like maths, science and English, but rather, soft skills like teamwork are becoming increasingly important.
“I think as part of this broader approach to our education system, we need to start being on the front foot with that, and saying ‘well, how are we going to, a), teach these soft skills and then how are we going to look at how successfully we’re teaching them, and what the students are getting out of them?
“So that’s really important as well,” she adds. Jentz hopes to see more investment in professional learning following the report’s release, and a less piecemeal approach to addressing some of the issues in our system.
“I think for the education profession, there are some really great recommendations and points being made in the report, and I think we now need to build on what those recommendations are and come up with some practical solutions to address the problems they’ve identified,” she says.
“I hope that we recognise that this is a big issue we’re dealing with, we can’t continue to cut it up into little pieces and try to fix it one piece at a time.
“We really need to look at this holistically and come up with whole of education solutions.”
Janine McIntosh, schools program manager, The Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI)
Janine McIntosh sees a lot of promise in the Australia 2030 report.
“I don’t have a lot to criticise in it,” she admits. “... it’s 125 pages of very in-depth analysis about what the country is going to need, and that may take some distilling.
“There’ll be lots of storytelling needed before we see the change that’s being proposed in the report but, overall we’re very happy with the findings.”
One aspect of the report which AMSI are keen on, is the proposal for collaboration between industry, government, education and research and development.
“If we could really achieve that, if we could have industry saying, ‘hey Australia, these skills are important,’ if we could have governments saying ‘hey Australia, we value these too,’ and research and development, people don’t even know what that is,” she begins.
“They don’t know how much effort, how much talent goes into research and development and I’d like to see more of that story.
“I was really impressed with the fact that that interaction between research and development, education, the government and industry was going to be important.”
Another key recommendation from the report which AMSI is getting behind, is the plan to tackle out-of-field maths and science teaching and support those who don’t have a strong background in these areas.
McIntosh says through her work in schools, she’s come across many great teachers who find themselves working outside of their speciality area.
“It’s not their first priority, it’s not their first love, but also because they’re not based in the maths faculty, they’re not getting professional learning in mathematics,” she says.
“So they’re not part of the maths team, they’re part of the science team or a different team, and they’re not being kept up-to-date with how they might engage students, or a great new problem or some new resources or some new technology that they could use in a session.”
“We know this from going to hundreds and hundreds of schools … we’ve got eight outreach officers going out to support those teachers professionally, not just them, but they’re the ones that are absorbing it like sponges.
“They love our professional sessions, because they’re finally getting something that they haven’t usually had access to.”
The report also recommends universities reintroduce maths and science as prerequisites to courses in engineering and other relevant disciplines.
McIntosh says this would be a positive step, firstly, because it sends the message to students and parents that these subjects are valued by universities, but also, because students who have completed maths and science in Year 12 stand a much better chance in some courses than their peers.
“We know of increased dropout rates of students who haven’t done the prerequisite maths and science subjects,” McIntosh explains.
“Universities are seeing a transfer between, if a student hasn’t done calculus-based mathematics, (say Units 3 and 4 in NSW, or specialist or methods in Victoria) … they’re not going to do well in chemistry or physics either.”
McIntosh is excited about what the report is proposing and the value it places on her favourite subject.
“It demonstrates that innovation is key to Australia’s future,” she says.
“We’re fully in support of the innovation message, and want it to get through, not just to big companies and small businesses, but to the average person as well.
“What I want to see is more Australians thinking maths is the bee’s knees."
Dr Jane Hunter, senior lecturer, the School of Education, University of Technology, Sydney
Dr Jane Hunter is in the midst of conducting postdoctoral research in STEM in Australian schools.
To begin with, Hunter says she’s very pleased to see that education is the first imperative of the report.
“And what I like about it is, it’s giving a focus on professional development for teachers in schools and it draws attention to the fact that we have let entry levels into teacher education across the country decline,” she adds.
Through her work in schools across NSW and the ACT, and numerous conversations with principals, Hunter says the quality of early career teachers is constantly raised as a concern.
“The fact of the matter is the ATAR is too low, there are too many people going into teacher education.
“We need to have the best minds,” she says.
“The investment that the Federal Government wants to give in professional development for teachers and school leaders, including keeping their curriculum content knowledge current, is really important.”
Another big plus for Hunter, is the recommendation for investing in targeted interventions for schools or school systems where student learning levels are significantly below the national average.
“What I’ve identified in my research … is that there’s an equity issue especially around STEM, in terms of resourcing,” Hunter says.
"And this means buying hardware resources like digital thermometers, or having enough iPads, making sure they all work, ensuring the WiFi connects every time, being able to invite a scientist or an engineer from the field to come in and show the new prototype they’re developing and so on.
“In low SES schools it’s very difficult to find extra funds. So that’s another recommendation that I like in this report - there’s targeted investment.”
One aspect of the report Hunter takes issue with, however, is the comparisons made between Australia and some often lauded international education systems.
“Saying that we have to be more like Finland, China and Singapore is not going to do it,” she says.
“And I say that because all of those countries have different cultural contexts, and context in schools is everything.”
“You can’t say we want a Finnish system here because Finland is quite a monoculture, its teachers are well paid, often teachers there have a PhD,” Hunter explains.
She also points out that while Singapore and China do exceedingly well on tests like PISA and TIMSS, creativity is often lacking in their graduates.
“Those countries are very good at reproducing stuff, but not producing the creative ideas.”
“Those countries are very good at reproducing, but less so on producing creative and original ideas.”
Hunter says she hopes to see some of the investment plans in the report come into fruition.
“I’d like to see the rhetoric around investment and support for schools, school leaders and teachers to innovate matched with plenty of allocated funds,” she says.
“And those allocated funds made available to all students across the country, with a particular emphasis on schools that are not well serviced at present, and here I am talking about low SES areas/rural and remote, that needs to be the priority.”
Hunter says that with developments in AI racing towards us, it’s imperative we take action now.
“We must have a STEM literate populous, this is critical, so all people can function in society as it progresses, otherwise those that are not will be left behind.”
Jason Loke, ACE SA president, deputy principal, Blackwood High School
Jason Loke is deputy principal, curriculum and pedagogy at a high school in the Adelaide Hills and says the report “misses the mark”.
Initially, he says the language used in Australia 2030: Prosperity Through Innovation, focuses on the teacher’s responsibility for teaching, so much more than the students’ responsibility for learning.
“I checked through and I think there’s almost six times more reference to teaching as there is reference to learning,” Loke says.
“And I think that speaks volumes.”
“It’s very much focused on the teacher’s need to have more content knowledge, the teachers need to have more support, and that’s not a problem.
“But if all of that is still focused on the teachers teaching content, I think it’s completely missing the broader picture and the emphasis on the capabilities and the dispositions of the learners, those soft skills that industry’s crying out for, beyond just STEM,” he adds.
Despite the report’s recommendations to curb out-of-field teaching, Loke believes this is no longer an issue we should be concerned with.
“I think education is changing in regards to this notion of discipline- specific skills,” he says.
“And if we start moving towards soft skills, capabilities and STEM, for want of a better interdisciplinary mix, then surely we shouldn’t be so focused on trying to get everyone back and teaching within their own discipline, but actually looking for the opportunities present when we look across discipline areas.
“The rich tapestry that you can weave between different subjects is an exciting space to play in.”
While there are a few elements of the report which Loke disagrees with, he also says there are others which he supports.
“One is in the awareness, I sup pose, that the investment in professional development and support for teachers is high on the priority list. And that is essential,” he says.
Although how exactly this is implemented, he warns, could be difficult.
“If it is through universities, I think we’re going to get more of the same. “If it is through associations, there is a potential there for the associations to provide some significant input into the professional development of teachers,” Loke says.
“But then … how are we going to ensure the professional learning provided by these groups is actually moving everyone, nationwide, in the direction that we want to take towards prosperity?
“It’s a very complex area, but the emphasis on it is nice to see.”
Loke, like Hunter, was disappointed to see the emphasis placed on our PISA and TIMSS competitors.
“The report highlights some pretty damning evidence in terms of Australian students’ performance on international rankings,” he says.
“We can’t be top all of the time, we can’t be bottom all of the time, we’re going to sit somewhere in the rankings.”
“…we’re missing the much bigger and richer picture of what is happening in schools. And the focus on those sorts of tests and comparisons across sites, across schools, is really damaging to the profession itself,” he adds.
As for the report as a whole, Loke hopes the that it can be a “persistent document” that is going to keep pushing the profession in the right direction.
However, he says without being distilled into a key goal or ambition that teachers can work with on a practical level, its penetration into schools and classrooms will be minimal.