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What can education do in response to fear of strangers? July 19, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Education Policy and Politics, Social Justice and Equity through Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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By Carol Reid

Today we hear growing anti-Islamic slogans related to dress practices, religion and citizenship. Saying it is wrong to do this is only part of the struggle to resist this simple rhetoric. Examining why it is wrong might be marginally better, but where that leads us is often into a tricky path of us/them and a focus on difference. Better still might be a focus on the values of a civil, cosmopolitan society that we want to sustain.

While we have been a successful multicultural society this is often understood in demographic terms, in simple numbers. For others it means celebrating different ways of being – food, lifestyle, customs, dances, languages and so on. In education in particular, the approach has often failed to respond adequately to a fear of strangers. The approach has been called liberal plural multiculturalism, a celebration of difference, which is much better than assimilation but isn’t helping us deal with the global reach of ideas, instant communication of terror and increasing mobilities of people.

I argue, as do others in Europe, Canada and elsewhere who are thinking about new ways to live in this globalising world, that we need more than a return to the old model of multiculturalism. We need what has been called an ‘agonistic’ approach or cosmopolitan thinking (Todd, 2010), the idea that to deal with difference at a deeper level might mean that we don’t end up with consensus. We see this anyway in our election result, in the politics around Brexit in the UK and Trump in the USA. It is the way of the world, this expression of difference. But how do we live with it?

The model of multiculturalism we have built our success on was about one-way integration, helping people to integrate, recognising their unique languages and cultures while committing to the nation. In practice the mainstream culture did change, and has become what has been called everyday multiculturalism, but just under the surface there are cracks.

Our nation, Australia, like many other nations, is now more open, whether we like it or not, and thus the call for a return to closed borders, a singular national identity on the part of citizens, and backward-looking protectionism is not achievable. Just listen to the fallout of Brexit. Teachers know that young people in our classrooms come and go (Reid and Watson, 2016). They return to countries where relatives still live, and they come back. Connections are global. For Aboriginal students this has always been the case so in many ways they are our first cosmopolitans, transforming their lives through trade and mobility (Forte, 2010). They have done so through what has been called ‘cultural translation’ – comprehending, connecting and evaluating to create new ways of living (Papastergiadis, 2011).

What to do in schools then? The first step is to offer no recipes, no prescriptions about practice that remove the judgement of teachers in often complex situations. This also means that applying universal principles of what constitutes human rights might not be a simple thing to do. Applying and following rules without thinking leads to problems. Hannah Arendt has argued it was one explanation for the rise of fascism in Germany (Arendt, 1994 cited in Todd, 2010). Human rights, for example, can be about listening to all the explanations about why cultural practices are valued while accepting that some will be shared and others not. Appiah has called this being ‘partial cosmopolitans’ (2007).  The point is that we cannot really know our students through a set of cultural attributes that are static because the practice of living is a dynamic process that teachers engage in every second of the day. This cannot be prescribed in professional knowledge lists as a set of competencies to be measured. It is practiced through the development of reflexivity; the idea that all our viewpoints are culturally conditioned, yet keeping an eye on inequality.

A call to a set of rules about how to live, such as those currently being trumpeted across the globe, are a reflection of where we are today. It is a wakeup call for those of us involved in teacher education to engage with how teachers’ judgement is being taken away with increasing lists of competencies. Facing the complexities of the world we live in will require more than rules. It will require a cosmopolitan disposition and thinking.

 

References:

Appiah, A. (2007). Cosmopolitanism: ethics in a world of strangers. New York London W. W. Norton.

Arendt, H. (1994) Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York. Harcourt.

Forte, M. C. (Ed.). (2010). Indigenous Cosmopolitans: Transnational and Transcultural Indigeneity in the Twenty-First Century (First ed.). New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Papastergiadis, N. (2011). Cultural translation and cosmopolitanism. In K. Jacobs & J. Malpas (Eds.), Ocean to outback: cosmopolitanism in contemporary Australia (pp. 68-95). Crawley, W.A.: UWA Pub.

Reid, C. & Watson, K.  (2016).  Compulsory schooling in Australia : perspectives from students, parents, and educators.  Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York, NY:  Palgrave Macmillan.

Todd, S. (2010). Living in a Dissonant World: Toward an Agonistic Cosmopolitics for Education. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 29(2), 213-228.

Professor Carol Reid is a member of the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia, and a senior researcher in the university’s Centre for Educational Research.

 

Primary Mathematics: Engaged Teachers = Engaged Students June 29, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Primary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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by Catherine Attard

“The first job of a teacher is to make the student fall in love with the subject. That doesn’t have to be done by waving your arms and prancing around the classroom; there’s all sorts of ways to go at it, but no matter what, you are a symbol of the subject in the students’ minds” (Teller, 2016).

A few months ago I published a post about the issue of teacher engagement and mathematics. The following is an updated version of that post. The issue of student engagement with mathematics is a constant topic of discussion and concern within and beyond the classroom and the school, yet how much attention is given to the engagement of teachers? I am a firm believer that one of the foundational requirements for engaging our students with mathematics is a teacher who is enthusiastic, knowledgeable, confident, and passionate about mathematics teaching and learning – that is, a teacher who is engaged with mathematics. Research has proven that the biggest influence on student engagement with mathematics is the teacher, and the pedagogical relationships and practices that are developed and implemented in day to day teaching (Attard, 2013).

A regular challenge for me as a pre-service and in-service teacher educator is to re-engage teachers who have ‘switched off’ mathematics, or worse still, never had a passion for teaching mathematics to begin with. Now, more than ever, we need teachers who are highly competent in teaching primary mathematics and numeracy. The release of the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TMAG) (2014) report, Action Now: Classroom Ready Teachers, included a recommendation that pre-service primary teachers graduate with a subject specialisation prioritising science, mathematics, or a language (Recommendation 18). In the government’s response (Australian Government: Department of Education and Training, 2015), they agree “greater emphasis must be given to core subjects of literacy and numeracy” and will be instructing AITSL to “require universities to make sure that every new primary teacher graduates with a subject specialisation” (p.8). While this is very welcome news, we need to keep in mind that we have a substantial existing teaching workforce, many of whom should consider becoming subject specialists. It is now time for providers of professional development, including tertiary institutions, to provide more opportunities for all teachers, regardless of experience, to improve their knowledge and skills in mathematics teaching and learning, and re-engage with the subject.

So what professional learning can practicing teachers access in order to become ‘specialists’, and what models of professional learning/development are the most effective? Literature on professional learning (PL) describes two common models: the traditional type of activities that involve workshops, seminars and conferences, and reform type activities that incorporate study groups, networking, mentoring and meetings that occur in-situ during the process of classroom instruction or planning time (Lee, 2007). Although it is suggested that the reform types of PL are more likely to make connections to classroom teaching and may be easier to sustain over time, Lee (2007) argues there is a place for traditional PL or a combination of both, which may work well for teachers at various stages in their careers. An integrated approach to PD is supported by the NSW Institute of Teachers (2012).

Many teachers I meet are considering further study but lack the confidence to attempt a Masters degree or PhD. I am currently teaching a new, cutting edge on-line course at Western Sydney University, the Graduate Certificate of Primary Mathematics Education, aimed at producing specialist primary mathematics educators – a graduate certificate is definitely less intimidating than a Masters, and can be used as credit towards a higher degree. The fully online course is available to pre-service and in-service teachers. Graduates of the course develop deep mathematics pedagogical content knowledge, a strong understanding of the importance of research-based enquiry to inform teaching and skills in mentoring and coaching other teachers of mathematics.

In addition to continuing formal studies, I would encourage teachers to join a professional association. In New South Wales, the Mathematical Association of NSW (MANSW) (http://www.mansw.nsw.edu.au) provides many opportunities for the more traditional types of professional learning, casual TeachMeets, as well as networking through the many conferences offered. An additional source of PL provided by professional associations are their journals, which usually offer high quality, research-based teaching ideas. The national association, Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers (AAMT) has a free, high quality resource, Top Drawer Teachers (http://topdrawer.aamt.edu.au), that all teachers have access to, regardless of whether you are a member of the organisation or not. Many more informal avenues for professional learning are also available through social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as blogs such as this (engagingmaths.co).

Given that teachers have so much influence on the engagement of students, it makes sense to assume that when teachers themselves are disengaged and lack confidence or the appropriate pedagogical content knowledge for teaching mathematics, the likelihood of students becoming and remaining engaged is significantly decreased, in turn effecting academic achievement. The opportunities that are now emerging for pre-service and in-service teachers to increase their skills and become specialist mathematics teachers is an important and timely development in teacher education and will hopefully result in improved student engagement and academic achievement.

References:

Attard, C. (2013). “If I had to pick any subject, it wouldn’t be maths”: Foundations for engagement with mathematics during the middle years. Mathematics Education Research Journal, 25(4), 569-587.

Australian Government: Department of Education and Training (2015). Teacher education ministerial advisory group. Action now: Classroom ready teachers. Australian Government Response.

Lee, H. (2007). Developing an effective professional development model to enhance teachers’ conceptual understanding and pedagogical strategies in mathematics. Journal of Educational Thought, 41(2), 125.

NSW Institute of Teachers. (2012). Continuing professional development policy – supporting the maintenance of accreditation at proficient teacher/professional competence. . Retrieved from file:///Users/Downloads/Continuing%20Professional%20Development%20Policy.pdf.

Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (2014). Action now: Classroom ready Teachers.

Teller. (2016) Teaching: Just like performing magic. http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/01/what-classrooms-can-learn-from-magic/425100/?utm_source=SFTwitter

 

Dr Catherine Attard is an Associate Professor in the School of Education and a senior researcher in the Centre for Educational Research at Western Sydney University, Australia. This article was first published in May 2016 by Catherine on her own blog site, Engaging Maths.

Questioning Learning: Lenses from the Learning Sciences June 8, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Early Childhood Education, Engaging Learning Environments, Primary Education, Secondary Education, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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By LΣARN

If we could equate teaching to learning, how would we account for the gaps in students’ achievements even though the students were taught by the same teacher and learnt in the same environment?  If students could learn deeply by listening quietly to a teacher, would the traditional way of schooling be viable for our digital generation? Few people will deny the need to reconceptualise the notion of learning when digital media is shaping how learning is taking place in the classroom and beyond the confines of its walls. Learning sciences research is offering us lenses to understand the science of learning, knowledge construction, digital media, and principles of effective learning environments and the role of instruction.

What is Learning Sciences?

By learning sciences, we are not referring to how science is learnt. Rather, we are referring to an interdisciplinary field that investigates teaching and learning in various settings using theories and  models from different fields such as cognitive science, educational psychology, instructional science, computer science and literacy studies. We are particularly interested in deep learning which is one of the scholarly inquiries in learning sciences. Like other learning scientists, we are interested in findings ways to understand and design innovative approaches to develop deep learning. By way of introducing learning sciences, we will present brief descriptions of some research areas in this field in the remaining parts of this blog.

What should Educators Know about Cognitive Architecture and Instructional Design?

A key research focus in the learning sciences is the design of learning environments that align with human cognitive architecture. Two key components of this architecture are working memory and long-term memory. Working memory can only process 2-4 elements of new information at one time (Cowan, 2001). Long term memory consists of schemas and has no known limitations.

Research on human cognition has generated a range of practical take-home messages for educators:

  1. In general, teachers should employ direct-guided instruction when introducing students to new learning materials. Guided instruction includes the heavy use of worked examples, particularly with well-structured problems, whereas unguided instruction requires students to adopt general problem-solving approaches such as trial and error and means-ends analyses which are heavily taxing on working memory.
  2. When students have developed a sufficient level of knowledge in a learning domain, teachers should not provide guided instruction. High knowledge learners have schemas in long term-memory to guide them when solving problems. However, when presented with external guidance by the teacher, these high knowledge learners are forced to mentally integrate the information provided by the teacher and cross-reference this with their own knowledge. This results in cognitive overload of working memory.
  3. Teachers should avoid situations which result in the redundancy effect. A common example is when a teacher uses a Powerpoint presentation and reads the text, word-for-word, from the slide. Such an approach causes cognitive overload because learners must attend to two streams of data which are conveying the same information.
  4. The spatial presentation of multiple sources of mutually-referring information can also lead to cognitive overload. For example, graphics and associated explanatory text are often placed separately from each other. Learners have to attend to both sources of information, because in isolation, neither source conveys the full information needed for the learner to problem solve. The cognitive resources required by learners to mentally integrate the separate sources of information are highly taxing on working memory. The solution is to physically integrate the two sources, thus reducing the search and match processes required by learners to understand the information presented.

Are Positive Learning Environments All about Developing ‘Feel Good’ Schools?  

In our inquiry about the design of learning environments, we are also keen to examine the association between school environments and student’s wellbeing. Debates in this focus may conjure up outdated notions of teachers minimising scolding of students to preserve their self-esteem or schools saturated with posters reminding students that they are unique. There are educators who are incredulous of new curricula which invite both students and staff in schools to look at their emotional development. They most probably see it as far removed from the core business of schools and only contributing to ‘feel good schools’ which have little impact on important things in life.

Positive Learning Environments (PLE) are places of learning where the whole of person is engaged in an effort to contribute to the overall development of an individual and in turn his or her communities. The ‘positive’ is both an indication of the more traditional sense of pleasantness and safe, but also a mathematical concept of ‘addition’. It involves adding, contributing to an individual’s development. In PLE, knowledge of the factual traditional curricula of schools is intertwined with knowledge and development of the whole of self. This invariably includes an incorporation of affect in the everyday practice of schools. Affect, in this instance refers to not just the experience of feeling or emotion but also the physiological and cognitive (thinking) components of such experience. Although affect and knowledge acquisition have always been part of learning anything by anyone,  it is fair to say that systematically talking about, intervening in and considering affect regulation, quality and development as part of schooling is a relatively new phenomena for schools to take on.

The detrimental impact of aversive affective states (e.g., anxiety) and school environments with components related to high affective dysregulation for students and staff (such as racism, bullying and violence) on learning and wellbeing are now well documented. However, the need for research and development of positive learning environments is not just about the removal of unpleasantness in schools. It is also about the gains which are made when affect regulation and development are also seen as the core business of schools alongside academic development.  This research is exemplified by current efforts looking at social and emotional learning (SEL) in schools. SEL is defined as a process engaged in schools where all members of their communities apply themselves to the development and understanding of emotions with an understanding that “learning emerges in the context of supportive relationships that make learning challenging, engaging and meaningful” (CASEL, n.d.).

The economic and lifetime benefits of social emotional skills and schools’ unique position to develop them have also been acknowledged in a recent OECD report (see OECD, 2015). The report highlights and acknowledges the increases in access to education but recognises that social emotional skills are needed alongside academic/cognitive skills to foster lifetime success. It is through affect regulation (directly or as a mediator of other skills) that greater cooperation, task perseverance, and problem solving can be achieved by communities and individuals. Although current available evidence in relation to social emotional learning is growing and promising, there is still much to be discovered. What are the key skills our teachers need to engage in SEL? Are the effects of SEL universal? How do we best develop social emotional skills? For that matter, which skills do we develop? What are the best pedagogies that engage the whole of the child and how do we assist our school system to evolve from a system whose origins gave little credence to emotion to ones where knowledge and affect are treated as one.

Positive learning environments are more than just ‘feel good’ schools. They are active learning communities engaged in the education of the whole child for their and their communities benefit. They are complex communities with relationships, processes, and pedagogies directed at affect regulation and cognitive development practices. They are truly the 21st century schools.

Why Should We Study Teacher Beliefs?

In our inquiries into designing learning environments, we are not forgetting the importance of understanding teacher development and beliefs. Teachers develop a sophisticated amalgam of knowledge, beliefs, and skills to be effective in the classroom.  In particular, teachers’ beliefs about teaching and learning can provide useful insights into their practice.  Beliefs are “psychologically held understandings, premises, or propositions about the world that are felt to be true” (Richardson, 1996, p. 103).  Teachers’ beliefs can be classified into views of the teacher’s role in the classroom, the students’ role in the classroom, how the students learn their subject area best, and how to make the subject matter comprehensible to others (Friedrichsen, van Driel, & Abell, 2011).  These types of beliefs are often derived from prior K-12 school experiences. They are extremely robust and do not change easily (Jones & Carter, 2007).

Often, teachers are asked to implement new pedagogies in their classrooms that align with current reform efforts (e.g. inquiry-based approaches).  Yet, teachers often experience considerable difficulty when implementing new pedagogies as they develop practical knowledge and perceptions of their school contexts. Practical knowledge and perceptions of context are then filtered through core beliefs about teaching and learning which can impact classroom practice.  For example, consider a teacher who has just implemented an inquiry-based approach to instruction.  After implementation, constraints may develop in the form of practical knowledge suggesting that students have considerable difficulty with the task. The teacher may also develop perceptions of his or her school being unsupportive of reform-based strategies.  If the teacher also believes his or her role is to only transmit information to the students, this will likely cause him or her to abandon the strategies.  Conversely, in the face of practical and contextual constraints, if the teacher believes it is his or her role to facilitate guided inquiry experiences so that students have some opportunity to wrestle with the concepts, he or she is likely to make modifications to his or her teaching and attempt the pedagogical strategies again (Sickel & Friedrichsen, 2015).

With the example above, we see that helping teachers elucidate and often confront their existing beliefs about teaching and learning is an important part of the teacher development process.   A teacher with core beliefs that misalign with a teaching approach is a significant barrier to large-scale implementation.  Understanding teacher learning provides important implications for designing teacher education and professional development programs which in turn help teachers enhance their students’ learning outcomes.

How has Digital Media Revolutionised the Way Students Learn?

Increasingly, learning sciences calls for an inquiry into students’ perspectives and the ways in which their literacies are accessed, used and lived in everyday practices, both inside and outside of school (Kim, Tan, & Bielaczyc, 2015). Existing learning sciences research shows an increasing interest in the emerging culture of learning in the virtual spaces. We sum up how students are self-directing themselves online using 5Cs of what they do in this emerging culture of participating online:

  1. Connect
  • Students are staying connected to their peers and interest-based groups to pursue passion-based learning.
  • Often, these students are learning about a specific content or skill from mentors who may not necessarily be adults but have enough experience to share their knowledge with them.
  1. Communicate
  • Students are displaying more ownership of their creative works or digital artefacts Using social media, they communicate their thoughts and “pass on” their works to solicit feedback and appreciation.
  • They create networks to stay connected and communicate with people who share their interests and are keen on what they do.
  1. Collaborate
  • Learning becomes more distributive and social. Nonetheless, with the diverse backgrounds of people whom they interact with online, learning has evolved from simply group learning to collaborative learning where multiple perspectives of a focused issue are exchanged before a shared perspective is established.
  • Conversations no doubt can include playful talks but have become more dialogic to facilitate deeper thinking in online interactions.
  1. Create
  • Digital artefacts provide strong evidence of learning. When students interact with others online, learning has become more participatory. To learn from one another means there must be learning by doing.
  • There are more bodies of research that show students are developing dispositions of experts as they learn by doing and intentionally cultivating thinking skills which classroom teachers are trying to develop in key content areas in the formal learning spaces.
  1. Curate
  • With learning becoming more distributive, collaborative and participatory, students are developing ways of managing their works and feedback online. Curation becomes part and parcel of what they do such as creating tags to organize their online artefacts.
  • Students are looking for ways to exhibit and curate their current and past works using social media using Google Plus, Facebook or using apps to create their own websites.

 

In order to pursue our work in learning sciences, we have formed the LƩARN (Learning Sciences Affect Research Network) HDR cohort group. This is a group uniquely created for HDR students within the School of Education to embark on research related to the field of learning sciences. To build our student’s research capacity, we are conducting a series of workshops and forums in the second half of 2016. You are welcome to contact anyone of us for further information about this group and the research we do. We also welcome any comment and feedback from you regarding our research interests or activities in LEARN.

Researchers in LΣARN

 chwee beng Dr Lee Chwee Beng

chwee.lee@westernsydney.edu.au

 

 

 aron Dr Aaron Sickel

A.Sickel@westernsydney.edu.au

 

 lyndie Dr Lynde Tan

Lynde.Tan@westernsydney.edu.au

 

 jose Dr Jose Hanham

J.Hanham@westernsydney.edu.au;

 roberto Dr Roberto Parada

R.Parada@westernsydney.edu.au;

 

 

References

CASEL. (n.d.).  Collaborative for academic, social and emotional learning. Retrieved from http://www.casel.org/social-and-emotional-learning/

Cowan, N. (2001). The magical number 4 in short-term memory: a reconsideration of mental storage capacity. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24(1), 87–114.

Friedrichsen, P., van Driel, J. H., & Abell, S. K. (2011). Taking a closer look at science teaching orientations. Science Education, 95(2), 358-376.

Kim, B., Tan, L. & Bielaczyc, K. (2015), Learner-generated designs in participatory culture: what they are and how they are shaping learning. Interactive Learning Environments, 23(5), 545 – 555.

OECD.  (2015). Skills for Social Progress: The power of social and emotional skills. Retrieved from http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/download/9615011e.pdf?expires=1461906844&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=B24ED59A273470F52724E55D6AA51152

Richardson, V. (1996). The role of attitudes and beliefs in learning to teach. In J. Sikula (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Teacher Education (pp. 102-119). New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Macmillan.

Sickel, A. J., & Friedrichsen, P. J. (2015). Beliefs, practical knowledge, and context: A longitudinal study of a beginning biology teacher’s 5E unit. School Science and Mathematics, 115(2), 75-87.

 

NAPLAN is only one measure of achievement May 16, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Education Policy and Politics, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
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by Katina Zammit

Recently I finished reading a publication from the Grattan Institute entitled Widening gaps: What NAPLAN tells us about student progress (Goss & Chisolm, 2016) and was reminded of the limitations of this Australian-wide test for students in years 3, 5, 7, & 9.

The main purpose of the publication was really to advocate for a new way of analyzing the data to show what they consider a better means of measuring student achievement, i.e. years of progress. It reports that high achieving and low achieving students are not improving their results. Despite this, their starting point in this report for considering a change is still based on certain assumptions about NAPLAN.

Now that NAPLAN testing has concluded for 2016, it is worth examining the assumptions about NAPLAN that pervade this document, as well as the general public and media discourse around NAPLAN. Included in these assumptions are that:

  • NAPLAN tests actually are a good indicator of overall achievement and success at school, in learning and seeing education as a positive. [But that is not conclusive.]
  • the NAPLAN test results are a good predictor of a student achieving or not achieving their potential. [Again not conclusive for all students across the range of abilities]
  • the same or similar test environment occurs across the years and the same or very similar items are included across the years in the tests have been administered.
  • data and results from the test should be used as a major input upon which to base educational decisions by policy makers.

I think it is timely to draw attention to the limitations of NAPLAN and to remind parents, and students, that it provides information about a child’s achievement based on that one day, at that time, completed under stressful test conditions.

NAPLAN does not take account of the development of students’ interests in learning, their passions, or engagement in learning. NAPLAN outcomes should be considered in the context of all the other measures teachers use to assess student achievement of learning outcomes, especially in the other key learning areas of Creative Arts, Health and Physical Education and so on. NAPLAN does not take into account the other value-added dispositions and community involvement provided by schools that are not measurable in a test. Interventions and pedagogical changes in classrooms at a school take time to demonstrate results, and again, many of these may not be measurable by the NAPLAN test.

Data from NAPLAN is still limited, no matter what approach to data analysis and reporting is undertaken – whether data are compared against benchmarks or measured by years of a student’s progress. It is not the results and reporting that is questionable, it is the basis upon which these data are used for system evaluation of schools, a school’s progress, and to drive policy.

Perhaps governments need to look at employment policies and other support mechanisms, not just school education, for students from low socio-economic backgrounds living in poverty. A multi-pronged approach is needed to improve the outcomes for students to break the cycle of inter-generational disadvantage.

Reference:

Goss, P., and Chisholm, C., 2016, Widening gaps: what NAPLAN tells us about student progress. Technical Report, Grattan Institute.

 

Dr Katina Zammit is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at Western Sydney University, Australia. She is Director of the Master of Teaching (Primary) teacher education program at the university.

Disrupting childhood? Breaking the cycle of silence around sexuality education in primary schools. May 3, 2016

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Inclusive Education, Primary Education.
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By Son Truong

Introduction

While the Australian Curriculum in Health and Physical Education (HPE) made significant strides towards acknowledging the importance of developing health literacy with young people, its broad stance on sexuality education, particularly in the primary school curriculum, is a missed opportunity to ensure primary school children gain consistent, fully inclusive, and factual knowledge about not only the physical, but also the mental, emotional, and social dimensions of human sexuality.

Background

Last year, I was invited to speak on a panel at the 1st National Conference of the Australian Forum on Sexuality, Education and Health. The panel members were asked to reflect, and offer a provocation, on the topic of Communities, parents and sexual health – whose rights, which prompted me to consider the notion of mandatory sexuality education in schools. Several months later, with new headlines emerging, including Respectful relationships curriculum aims to change a generation (Jennings, 2016), Safe Schools program: federal government unveils changes (Martin, 2016), Axing of sex education program YEAH part of ‘ideological agenda’, experts claim (Stark, 2016) the focus of the conference and panel seem as timely as ever.

Sexuality Education Curriculum in Primary School Teacher Education

Originally from Canada, I started working at Western Sydney University in 2012 with the responsibility of teaching the HPE curriculum to pre-service primary school teachers. My arrival occurred at a particularly interesting crossroads in teacher education, especially as the national HPE Curriculum was in the process of being shaped and drafted. It was not long after I began preparing and contextualising my lecture and tutorial content that I came across the topic of sexuality education in the headlines across a variety of news sources.

Walsh (2012) explains that while the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s (ACARA) original draft guidelines introduced sex education in Years 3 and 4, under pressure from parent groups it later pushed back some of this content until Years 5 and 6. A central argument in Walsh’s article is that “We have confused children learning about sex in an appropriate educational context with the sexualisation of children” (para. 5).

I was curious to see how students, as future teachers, would respond to Walsh’s (2012) article, and more broadly the responsibility for teaching topics such as Growth and Development, Interpersonal Relationships, and Sexuality Education in the primary school curriculum. The resulting discussion was both encouraging, as well as a call to action in my role as a HPE teacher educator to better communicate the meaning and importance of teaching sexuality education.

Walsh (2012) states, “There is complete agreement in the literature that healthy sexual development is dependent on two-way communication between adults and children, and this needs to begin early” (para. 6). However, despite what appeared to be convincing evidence that human development and puberty may begin for children before they enter Grades 5 and 6, and therefore, an understanding of puberty needs to be addressed prior to these grades, there were still some anxieties and a sense of hesitancy amongst some students.

There was certainly a range of views shared amongst the class, and many students were in agreement that sexuality education needs to begin early. However, there were also a number of statements that I heard with some regularity, suggesting children are too innocent to learn about this or teaching about sex leads to sexual activity. As a teacher educator, these viewpoints signalled not only students’ apprehension towards teaching this content, but also particular prevailing views of childhood and sexuality education that may need to be disrupted.

Reflecting on Challenges

I think some of the challenges we are facing to ensure that quality sexuality education is provided systemically and systematically across the primary school curriculum are reflected in a protest sign I saw published in a news article entitled Quebec to introduce sex ed pilot project with ‘no exemptions’ (Richer, 2015).

“Math, not Masturbation. Science, not Sex.”

The province of Québec, Canada recently introduced a pilot project with 19 schools to deliver mandatory sexuality education from K – 12, with the intent to introduce the curriculum across the province in 2017. The key word here is mandatory, which means that in the upgraded curriculum, parents will not have the option of withdrawing their children from class while this content is being taught.

My reading of this protest sign revealed three concerns that are equal to those I attempt to address with my students.

Firstly, the sign reduces comprehensive sexuality education to sex and masturbation. It seems that far too often, sexuality education becomes contested and controversial as a result of fear discourses and slogans that misrepresent its content and aims.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, 2009), “The primary goal of sexuality education is that children and young people become equipped with the knowledge, skills and values to make responsible choices about their sexual and social relationships…” (p. 10). I add further emphasis here on both the personal and social aspects of health and wellbeing, and the importance of respectful relationships education, which focuses on building healthy relationships, including supporting sexual and gender diversities.

Secondly, although perhaps just witty alliteration, the juxtaposition of math not masturbation, and science not sex, brings to mind a broader concern that HPE in general, and sexuality education in particular, are at-risk of being pushed to the margins in the primary school curriculum. The issue is further complicated with concerns of an over-crowded primary school curriculum, where time spent in physical education may be limited. For example, an audit undertaken by the Auditor-General (Audit Office of NSW) in 2012 revealed that approximately 30% of NSW government schools are not meeting minimum hours for physical education. It is difficult to know with any certainty, and without further research, the extent to which time is spent focused on other content areas in the HPE curriculum; however, it is clear that support is required at all levels, including in the curriculum as well as in teacher training programs, to strengthen the profile and provision of HPE.

Research suggests there is limited knowledge about the provision of sexuality education in Australian teacher education programs, and that “primary school teachers are rarely prepared with the knowledge, skills and understandings to confidently and competently address sexuality education” (Leahy, Horne & Harrison 2004; Harrison & Ollis 2011, as cited in Ollis, Harrison & Maharaj, 2013, p. 1).

Central to my provocation in this post is that the broad content statements and descriptions in the HPE Curriculum, particularly in relation to sexuality education, results in ambiguity regarding the specific subject matter that should be addressed. Relatedly, while referring to the Board of Studies NSW (2007) PDHPE syllabus documents, Ullman and Ferfolja (2015) argue:

Teachers are advised that the selection of specific PDHPE programme content occurs at the school level and reminded that, ‘The syllabus is designed to give all schools the flexibility to treat sensitive and controversial issues in a manner reflective of their own ethos’ (p. 153).

Sexuality education is largely viewed as specific to HPE, which is a subject area that is arguably marginalised in the primary school curriculum, as well as dominated by other prominent topics, such as sport, physical activity, nutrition, and drug education. Therefore, there needs to be clear guidelines and expectations on its implementation and related learning outcomes, particularly as states develop their HPE syllabus and curriculum documents.

And Thirdly, the protest sign suggests that sex and masturbation are inappropriate content to discuss with students. This view reflects the dominant discourses of particular constructed notions of childhood innocence rather than an approach oriented towards educational rights and needs.

Curiously, there is a hesitancy to accept and adopt a needs-led approach for sexuality education. While countries such as Holland, Sweden, and Finland already have compulsory sexuality education, the debate continues for others, such as Canada, the United States, the UK, New Zealand, and Australia (see Ricci, 2015).

The current need is reflected by observing mainstream media and news outlets, Facebook and Twitter feeds, and content readily available on the internet in general. The broader social media context often means that information and misinformation are readily available to young people. My aim in referring to this access to mis/information is not an attempt to engage with crisis discourses – to raise sentiments of fear for the loss of childhood innocence because that term is a social construct to begin with. Rather, it is a call to disrupt a particular view of childhood in order to take into consideration the contemporary landscapes and diversities of being a child.

Continuing the Dialogue

To break the cycle of silence around sexuality education in primary schools, there is not room for ambiguity in the curriculum. While recognising that sexuality education is the responsibility of the whole community, schools have a central role to play in ensuring all students have access to this important content. As a teacher educator, I acknowledge the challenges, and specifically time constraints, in covering all HPE content within a generalist primary school teacher education course, which further underscores the need to continually enhance my teaching, as well as the need for new opportunities for professional development to ensure teachers feel confidence and competence in teaching this content. Concurrently, dialogue needs to continue at all levels to support a fully inclusive and necessarily diverse sexuality education that does not shy away from reflecting the lives of all children and families today.

References

Audit Office of New South Wales (2012). Physical Activity in Government Primary Schools: Department of Education and Communities. Sydney: Audit Office of New South Wales. Retrieved from http://www.audit.nsw.gov.au/ArticleDocuments/246/01_PAB_Physical_Activity_Full_Report.pdf.aspx?Embed=Y

Board of Studies, New South Wales. (2007). Personal development, health and physical education, K-6 Syllabus. Retrieved from http://k6.boardofstudies.nsw.edu.au/wps/portal/go/personal-development-health-and-physical-education-pdhpe

Jennings, J. (2016). Respectful relationships curriculum aims to change a generation. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/national/education/respectful-relationships-curriculum-aims-to-change-a-generation-20160408-go1iwl.html

Leahy, D., Horne, R., & Harrison, L. (2004). Bass Coast Sexuality Education Project: Needs Analysis and Professional Development Evaluation Report. Retrieved from https://www.eduweb.vic.gov.au/edulibrary/public/teachlearn/student/basscoastfinalreport.pdf

Martin, S. (2016). Safe Schools program: federal government unveils changes. Retrieved from http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/education/safe-schools-program-federal-government-unveils-changes/news-story/ce2d4751b2068f6b3ecedede317954fd

Ollis, D., Harrison, L., & Maharaj, C. (2013). Sexuality education matters: Preparing pre-service teachers to teach sexuality education. Retrieved from http://www.deakin.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/252661/sexuality-education-matters-april-2013-online.pdf

Ricci, C. (2015). British MPs demand mandatory and modern sex education. Retrieved from http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/british-mps-demand-mandatory-and-modern-sex-education-20150223-13mi4j.html

Richer, J. Quebec to introduce sex ed pilot project with ‘no exemptions’. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/quebec-to-introduce-sex-ed-pilot-project-with-no-exemptions-1.3209189

Stark, J. (2016). Axing of sex education program YEAH part of ‘ideological agenda’, experts claim. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/national/axing-of-sex-education-program-yeah-part-of-ideological-agenda-experts-claim-20160422-gocjxo.html

Ullman, J., & Ferfolja, T. (2015). Bureaucratic constructions of sexual diversity: ‘sensitive’, ‘controversial’ and silencing. Teaching Education, 26(2), 145-159.

UNESCO (2009). International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education: An evidence-informed approach for schools, teachers and health educators. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001832/183281e.pdf

Walsh, J. (2012). Worried about the sexualisation of children? Teach sex ed earlier. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/worried-about-the-sexualisation-of-children-teach-sex-ed-earlier-10311

 

 

Dr Son Truong is a Lecturer in Health and Physical Education (HPE) in the School of Education, and a member of the Centre for Educational Research at Western Sydney University, Australia. The following is based on a presentation he gave as part of a panel at the recent Australian Forum on Sexuality Education and Health (AFSEH) Conference.

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