MySchool should help us reinvent education
The launch of the MySchool website has resulted in some of the most contentious debate about education in our country in a long time. It seems everyone has an opinion, with teachers, parents and policymakers all putting forward their perspectives on what is arguably the government’s first major step in identifying the discrepancies in the quality of education provided between schools.
Putting aside the pros and cons of this method of measurement of a school’s success, the one thing there is no argument about is the site’s success in igniting discussion at every level of society about education in Australia.
We have known for many years that too many students are leaving school without the skills needed to participate in the 21st century (characterised as the knowledge era). This is in part because, as Sir Ken Robinson, a leading education advisor from the UK, observed in his visit to Australia last year, our current education systems are stuck in the industrial era and are in many cases inhibiting rather than nurturing the talents students need to succeed.
In today’s technology-enabled environment, learning is a 24/7 experience that doesn’t just begin and end in the classroom. It occurs right across the family, school, community and workplace environments. Today, learning is a continuous dialogue carried out ‘with’ people rather than ‘to’ them, and it goes beyond a one-way transfer of knowledge from say, a teacher to a student, or a parent to a child.
In this context, we need to re-imagine the concept of a school from being merely a system of grades and examinations to acting as the hub for a broader network of learning relationships between teachers, students, parents and the wider community. This approach is the one we have adopted at The Smith Family, working with families, schools and communities to break down the barriers between these groups and ensure the provision of wrap-around support to disadvantaged students so that they don’t fall through the cracks.
We welcome the MySchool website, if only because it has opened the door to understanding that significant inequalities exist in the way our schools operate and the influence this has on student outcomes.
But it would be wrong to assume that ‘fixing’ those schools that are seen to be underperforming will solve the broader challenge Australia faces in bringing education into the 21st century. In reality, the MySchool data represent only a tiny slice of the information we need to begin developing an effective education and learning strategy for the future.
The national roll out of the AEDI (Australian Early Development Index) by the Australian Government presents a picture of how children are developing by the time they reach school age, measuring learning, physical, social and emotional development. This information provides The Smith Family with opportunities to improve how we collaborate with others to support disadvantaged children, working to ensure that young children make a successful transition from home to primary school and helping them to develop the building blocks they need, such as literacy skills, for future success.
Initiatives are also emerging at the state and territory level. In South Australia, The Smith Family has worked with The Department of Education and Children’s Services and the Public Health Information Development Unit to publish recently a report entitled ‘Understanding Educational Outcomes and Opportunities: An Atlas of South Australia’. You can read the full report here.
This Atlas, the first of its kind in Australia, maps the learning and development of students against indicators of social inequality across each Adelaide suburb and regional communities within the state. Schools, community organisations and government at all levels can use this resource to better understand the social and economic factors that have a major bearing on an individual’s learning and developmental potential and develop initiatives to ultimately support improved outcomes for individuals.
In future years, more data will undoubtedly emerge around the nature and quality of education in Australia, and will most likely stimulate similar controversy to that we have seen around the MySchool website. If we put aside our differences and recognize the value of collating as much data as possible to understand the issue, we will be able to design and implement a more equitable and effective education system that does greater justice to the needs of our kids in the 21st century.
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