Jewell of Anstey

LOTE news is good news
May 14, 2011, 11:01 pm
Filed under: education, politics, Uncategorized, Victoria


It is not often these days that I open the morning paper to welcome news. But this morning’s Sunday Age brought me something I am really happy about.

The Victorian State Government is planning to move language teaching beyond being only a subject to being also a medium of education. Subjects other than the language itself – such as maths and science – could be taught in a LOTE.

This approach to language teaching is vastly superior. Language learning requires time and exposure. The amount it has been getting is just nowhere near enough.

There is a vast body of research and experience that shows that students continue to learn the content of other subjects (such as maths and science) even when they are learning them through a second language. And they can also learn the second language in the process.

It would also be nice to see the demoralised LOTE teaching workforce get a bit of a boost.

Good news.


Education for life
November 22, 2010, 12:58 am
Filed under: education, politics

Maria Montessori did not believe adolescents should go to school at all.  She thought they should be out in the fields working, and growing into their adult bodies and their adult selves. As the mother of teenagers, I reckon she had a point.  And that is why I am excited by the ALP Y9 proposal.

I was watching the ALP campaign launch streaming on my computer when I first heard about this plan.  I was not actually expecting to hear anything I would get enthused about, so I was delighted to hear John Brumby outlining this genuinely exciting initiative.

Of course, kids these days don’t get to leave school to do manual work and then go back. If you fall off the education treadmill in the modern world it is often very hard to get back on, and rare to go as far as you might have done. The manual work is largely gone. The opportunity for that kind of education within the family or community is a thing of the past.

But we still have to deal with the realities of adolescence.  Teenagers have a massive job to do in growing physically and emotionally and defining a newly minted adult sense of self. We ask them to make massive decisions about their life directions, and to make them fairly young.

Year 9 is a crunch point in education.  There are reasons why kids disengage at that point. They are under enormous pressure to work out who they are – not just in the sense of choosing school subjects, but in really deep ways that goes to the core of their identity.

That kind of existential work is time-consuming and all absorbing.  The minutiae of remembering to get your white shirt through the wash over the weekend, or keeping track of your textbooks can get very tedious when you are trying to work out if you are in love for the first time. Obeying petty rules can feel like tyranny when you are first feeling the power of being adult size.

At this time in their lives, kids deserve a bit of time off the treadmill of bells and rules and rigidity.  It is the right time for a shake up. A chance to follow up an absorbing interest. To meet different people. To be somewhere new. To be distracted from book learning for a bit while you get a handle on who you want to be.

Yr 10 is when kids start to take different paths.  Individual paths that they must choose for themselves. At the end of Yr9 they will be faced with important decisions about how they want the next three years, and the rest of their life, to pan out.

In kindergarten, children learn through free choice and play. At the end of childhood, in Yr9, our teenagers can be given another chance to learn in ways that are playful, but none the less crucial for that. This is a no less transformational moment in their lives than the important preschool years.  It is the perfect moment to be flexible.

This program, for me, is not about handing down wisdom on practical life skills.  It is about taking away some of the pressure of the daily grind of class and homework, to let our kids play for a moment. It is a smooth space in among the deleuzian striations of school. It is a hiatus that will allow them to enjoy a moment of being before they have to get on with becoming.

Maybe the execution will disappoint.  Maybe Bailleu will get elected and it will never happen.

But the concept is a winner with me.

Maths and science teaching madness
November 5, 2010, 3:29 am
Filed under: education, politics, Victoria

The Victoria election campaign is throwing up various ideas for doing things differently. Today’s paper carried a Liberal Party proposal to make maths and science teaching in primary schools a task for specialists.

This strikes me as an extraordinarily bad idea.

I have long been intrigued by the failure of maths and science teaching in secondary schools.  Many students are forced to continue studying maths by a system that insists it is important.  Only a few seem to enjoy it, and too many of them appear to mainly enjoy the relief of being capable of doing something others drop. Meanwhile, the content and method of teaching maths seems to make very little progress.

The situation for science seems to be even worse. The ranks of science teachers seem to include far too many who have no idea how to engage the attention of a class.  Students drop out in droves, mostly convinced that they ‘hate science’.

Do we have any reason to think we can improve on this situation in primary schools?

At the moment, primary teachers are generalists who cover all the core areas of the curriculum.  Specialists do languages, art, sport, music – areas where real subject-specific skill is needed.  But the generalist classroom teacher covers all literacy, culture, social sciences, sciences and maths.  What the generalist teacher specialises in is the craft of teaching.  Primary teachers are magnificent technicians of teaching.  Freed from the need to be experts in a content area, they can focus on knowing how to manage a class and how to engage each individual in a learning journey.

Knowing how to do maths and knowing how to teach maths are not the same thing.  Ditto for the sciences.  Primary teachers need to be people who love and respect children as committed learners with endless potential.

This policy seems to be based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how primary schools work.