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Education: Life’s Choices

April 1st, 2012


This is an entirely new section of the website intended to contain extracts from a forthcoming publication of essays on education in almost all of its manifestations and relationships. The following summarises some of the main propositions and conclusions of the essays and outlines the content and scope of the essays.

The Book and the Essays

The set of essays in the upcoming publication will deal with education from early childhood to lifelong learning beyond and outside of school. The proposition is that achieving educational gains, which are important both individually and at the community and national level, depends on special attention to early childhood, to the nature of the school experience, the individual potential of students recognising that all are capable of success but that special attention is needed to those having difficulty achieving the required standard.

The principal thesis of the collection of essays is that many different things are connected. Attention to early childhood is essential: successful emergence from those early years is influenced by the social and economic circumstances of the family and also by the experiences of the mother when she was young. The health of the child is also influenced by the social and economic circumstances of the family and that in turn influences brain and cognitive development. The economic circumstances of the family are determined very much by the employment situation of the parents. High levels of unemployment likely lead to domestic problems which lead to poor health which reduces the likelihood of successful cognitive development. Economic and social conditions continue to influence the child’s educational development through school and  beyond.

Of the greatest importance is the fact that early childhood intervention has greatest impact on low socio-economic families: support for preschool and for parental leave is an employment issue – the usual focus of the debate – but it is much more importantly an educational  issue. The evidence is that especially in the case of low socio-economic families, simply having very young children minded by a friend or relative will not advantage the child’s cognitive development. A full fifty percent of the child’s achievement at school is determined by what the child brings to the school experience. If that has been poor it is far less likely that any subsequent intervention will overcome the deficit. Unless substantial additional resources are allocated!

At school and beyond successful learning comes from successful teaching which is enhanced by leadership at the principal level and other senior levels, encouragement of cooperation amongst teachers, and students, and setting of high standards of instruction and student achievement. It also requires superior recruitment, appropriate remuneration and significant trust.

The principal gain of education must be seen as advancing human development at the individual level, with gains which flow to the community broadly and secondarily to the economy. Primary emphasis on matters such as economic indicators and economic motivations and purposes are a break on achievement in the longer term.

It is intended that a very broad range of issues which affect educational outcomes be traversed, ranging from economics and community issues through early childhood to the nature of superior teaching and work issues concerning teachers such as pay and performance and school leadership, student issues including curriculum, standardised testing and the importance of creativity and its encouragement, to school issues including the debate about public as opposed to private and independent schools. Education outside and beyond school are also dealt with.

The recent experience of education reform in Australia, the UK and the USA and internationally generally as revealed by numerous international studies, especially the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) will be dealt with.

Whilst the 12 or so essays focus principally on Australia the context is international. The essays draw extensively on research papers and documents, media articles and books.

Conclusions are drawn as to what features are revealed by the experiences of various countries and the huge number of studies of education and the impact on educational outcomes of social and economic issues and government policies.

In the best education systems achievement is considered to be advanced by assuming that all students are capable of achieving success, that recruitment of teachers needs special attention, that teachers should be trusted to deliver professionally and that adequate time for training and development is essential. And so on. This view does not pay attention to beliefs in neoliberalism but emphasises cooperation and especially attention to those having difficulty in achieving their potential. Early childhood development is recognised as essential to later educational achievement.

As to the research in education it is often asserted that there are many significant uncertainties even on such fundamental issues as to what constitutes effective teaching! Forgotten is the fact that there is no area of human endeavour in which knowledge is complete, let alone perfect. However, to assert that knowledge and understanding of the most fundamental aspects of education are lacking is nonsense! Knowledge and understandings available now are more than sufficient to make the most critical decisions to support superior learning outcomes.

For instance, despite high quality research by many different people and groups that show that merit pay does not lead to improved performance of teachers and therefore higher achievement of students (or even to higher performance of other professionals and very probably all persons in organisations, nonprofit and commercial alike), there are those who continue to refer to economic studies (which anyway are at the very best inconclusive) and for the most part discount other research which does not support the proposition they favour. That in such a contentious area any introduction of merit pay would be not only opposed but understandably disputed as to its merits leading to unproductive conflict seems to be ignored.

There are similar situations with issues such as standardised testing, the curriculum, school leadership, early childhood intervention, university teaching and organisation and so on. In the US research by educators funded by the Federal Government was required to conform to the same level of rigour as research in the pharmaceutical industry which, to anyone familiar with the area, is a nonsense!

The essays in this section are extracts. I hope they give the flavour of what is intended.

Continue to the Introduction


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