Individualised, personalised teaching is presumed to enhance learning growth according to the latest Gonski Review. Graduating with an Arts degree in 1972 from Melbourne University and 18 years later obtaining a post-graduate diploma in secondary school teaching from that university, I lasted just two weeks in the system, abandoning teaching not because of inadequate resources, bad behaviour of students, an overload of after-hours work or demanding, aggressive parents. Simply, I felt despondent because throughout my nine weeks teacher training in schools, followed by just two weeks in full-time employment in a regional high school, it was apparent too many students were blatantly uninterested in learning anything at all.
It could be I was a lousy teacher without the passion and acumen to inspire the students, but academically, I had been a high achiever with more than 20 years successful, real world experience working as a newspaper journalist and TV researcher, both here and in the UK. In my classrooms, it soon became sadly evident that many Australian-born students were almost illiterate and innumerate, surprising that they had advanced through the primary system without the basic skills for learning growth. Ironically, this was at a time when our education system was perceived as “world-class”.
Acquiring knowledge and skills are intrinsic to learning but this presupposes an interest in learning, not as a qualification for work, but significantly for a student’s individual enrichment. Without personal appreciation of the positive aspects of acquiring knowledge for its own sake, even the best teachers can struggle to teach with successful outcomes.
Recent research has revealed increased school funding has failed to raise standards, simultaneously recognising the importance of parental influence on student learning. My own experience attests to this relevance, yet it seems too many parents divest their own responsibility instead trying to enrol their students in the so-called best schools, private or public. They seem ignorant and unaware of their role to instil a love of learning in their children, preferring to leave it to the “experts”.
I was not even four-years-old when my father sat me on his knee to teach me how to read, using the large, bold, headlines on the former broadsheet, Herald newspaper, to recognise the alphabet letters and how they formed words. Continuing this practice for a few weeks as well as using an array of books accompanied by my mother too, I could read well when I enrolled at primary school over a year later. Moreover, I learned to love it. Furthermore, both of them taught me to count using coins. Our home was full of an assortment of magazines, newspapers and books mostly borrowed from our local library. We were not at all a wealthy family, but the riches I acquired in this environment invoked a life-long commitment to learning and a love of knowledge to this day.
Educational reports increasingly highlight the importance of early childhood learning so if parents, particularly those from non-English speaking backgrounds cannot help their children, it is imperative pre-school facilities are developed to ensure the natural curiosity and innate learning interests of young children are encouraged, embraced and nurtured.
Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, author of “Cultural Action for Freedom”, published in 1972, asserted that “learners assume from the beginning the role of creative subjects. Learning is not a matter of memorizing and repeating given words, syllables and phrases, but rather of reflecting critically on the process of reading and writing itself and on the profound significance of language.” This belief encapsulates learning per se as a creative endeavour and young children who indulge in finger painting, building billy-carts or dressing up dolls clearly reveal a creative talent for learning, one that demands to be enhanced and exploited throughout their lives.
A 1988 movie, “Stand and Deliver”, based on a true story, brilliantly portrayed how one dedicated and passionate maths teacher in a socially and economically disadvantaged school with mostly black and Puerto Rican students in America, turned their lives around after all other teachers dismissed them as no-hopers, more pertinently, as dumb. Failing most subjects as they passed through school, he was their final year, calculus teacher and by empowering them with self-belief as well as inspiring them to study hard, they achieved top marks and opened up unforeseen opportunities for their future.
Having watched this movie on release here, it also featured as a viewing option during my teacher training and should now be compulsory for all trainee teachers as well as those already working in the field. While I was unable to emulate the teacher’s modus operandi, hopefully others can, and at the very least evince belief in the intrinsic, creative power of students to learn; likewise their parents.
Educational experts express such a diversity of opinions and theories about what education must encompass many of them are unable to appreciate the fundamental of all learning and that is, wanting to learn and enjoying learning per se. That understanding should be the implicit challenge of education, from the toddler in the home and young children at school, irrespective of ethnic backgrounds or socio-economic realities.
After penning this piece, a letter published in The Australian by Neville Williams, of Darlinghurst, NSW, reflected a similar perspective, writing “It’s not the teaching style; it’s the willingness to learn. That’s where it all starts. That seems absent in too many head spaces, not only in our classrooms but everywhere….”
Another letter written by Lyle Geyer, of Essendon, Vic, also confirmed my brief teaching experience, writing: “Having taught in Victorian primary schools for many years, I can categorically claim that increased funding doesn’t necessarily guarantee improved education…With children leaving primary education struggling with numeracy and literacy Gonski would rather put a priority on “growth mindset”…This mumbo-jumbo…”
Yet another letter, by Sila Matthews, of Curtin, ACT, a current science teacher, wrote: “I believe that creative learning is something innate in children under the age of five…If we want to produce creativity in children, trying to fix them at school is too late. We need to start with parenting babies and infants….Spending more on educating children to be creative is simply shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.”
I rest my case!