You need to choose a topic from the list of topics provided by the lecturer and write an essay on the chosen topic.
The list contains some micro and macro areas which would help you to understand the various topics and their relevance in the real life.
This assignment’s will be assessed on the basis of the following criteria:
- The current research on the topic
- Analysis of the topic and the application
- You showing their understanding and current debate by different governments, economists and the industry.
Following are the main topics of your research from which group will choose any one :
- Economic Growth of Australia in last 3 to 5 years
- Unemployment in Australia last 5 years
- Fiscal Policy of Australian government in last 3 to 5 years
- Australian current debate/Policy on renewable energy
- Carbon Tax/ETS debate in Australia
- Reforms in Meat, Agriculture, Education and Tourism Industry in Australia (Choose Only One ndustry out of thi list)
Education Reforms in Australia
“Education reforms” refers to the strategic or intended changes to the manner in which learning institutions and systems operate. Arguably, these changes are intended to create or provide meaningful education that will shape the future careers for young learners (Stipanovic, Lewis and Stringfield, 2012). During the early 20th century, progressives such as John Dewey actively advocated for schools to be made more engaging and provide a balance between academics and practical knowledge application in the real world. The idea behind this advocacy was to ensure that schooling was relevant to the students’ post-school lives. In the 21st century, there have been increased demands for impartment of innovative knowledge capable of sustaining the rapid industrialization of the global world. The role of education must therefore keep up with the demand of churning out individuals capable of supporting and advancing the dynamics of the new world order (Sahlberg, 2011). In light of these, education has been viewed not as a mere tool for producing skilled individuals who meet the labour demands of the industrialized economy but as a driving force for better advancement of learning and improving knowledge. The primary focus is therefore for the educated individuals to be able to foster significant improvements of their skillsets in order to maintain and keep up with the economic competitiveness of the world (Hargreaves, 2012). In this paper, we shall delve into briefly analyzing the some of the recent education reforms that have been adopted in Australia and the new Australian Curriculum, including the issue that arose over private learning institutions. Thereafter, we shall assess the reaction of teachers, who are the central players in education, to reforms, how they are affected by the reforms and the implementation of the same. Finally, this paper shall compare the approach between Australia and Finland with regards to education reforms and any impact, if any, the different approaches shall have on the performance of the students.
During the period around 1980s, there were numerous attempts to adopt a national curriculum which were not successful. However, negotiations to this end saw the adoption of various policy frameworks that led to closer integration between States, Territories and the Commonwealth. It is argued that these advancements paved way for the recent reforms that characterize the education sector (Drabsch, 2013). Examples of such policy frameworks include the Hobard Declaration on Common and Agreed National Goals for Schooling of 1989 which narrowed the objectives of education to the quest for common goals, the Adelaide Declaration on National Goals for Schooling in the 21st Century of 1999 which reaffirmed the Hobard Declaration’s frontiers and identified new goals and priorities and finally the 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians which took into consideration the worldly changes that necessitated a change in Australia’s education systems (Drabsch, 2013).
Between 2003 and 2006, Brendan Nelson, the then education Minister, advanced arguments towards adopting a national curriculum that focused standardization of common learning goals. In 2007, the Labour government was elected into office and one of its key campaign pillars was education reforms. The promised education revolution of this government was aimed at making Australia an epitome of education and skillset by emphasizing on the role of education in the socio-economic strength of Australia. This government’s commitment saw the creation of the National Curriculum Board in 2008 which was later renamed as the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Agency (ACARA) and the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Learning (AITSL) in 2010. These bodies worked with the government to improve teaching quality, ensuring equal opportunity to all students including the disadvantaged students and promoting the accountability of schools and the transparency of school systems. To ensure this revolution was successful, all government levels collaborated to increase funding, ICT adoption, and reporting of achievements and performance.
Reaction to Reforms
The ACARA is established under the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Agency Act 2008 (cth) which under section 6 has been bestowed with various functions, with its core objective being to develop the Australian Curriculum through collaboration with other stakeholders. As from the year 2014, the development and implementation of this curriculum began to be executed in phases. The first phase comprised of Mathematics, English, sciences and History; the second phase comprised of languages, Geography and Arts; and finally the third phase comprised of Business, ICT & Design technology, Civic education and Citizenship. A special feature of this curriculum that, according to Caldwell (2011), has not been experienced anywhere else and which was a hotly contested topic in 2011 is in relation to the policy on private schools. This was so because private schools benefited from federal government funding but at the same time had leeway to charge (hefty) tuition fees.
Further, there arose concerns over the transparency and accountability requirements between public and private schools. In particular, whereas public schools were mandatorily required to report performance and provide financial reports in school websites, the private schools challenged the initial efforts of installation of such websites in the year 2010. The other challenge faced was in regards to the fact that there was evident preference for private schools among students as compared to public schools. These left uncertainties over the future of public schools and questions arose over the measures the government could take to breach this gap including allowing more autonomy to public schools with regards to budgeting and staffing (Caldwell 2011).
Berneth, et al, argue that workers are likely to lack enthusiasm in implementing successive changes due to the demand for great efforts to effectively implement the changes. Therefore, teachers are likely to suffer the same fatigue in the face of such reforms. In light of these facts, in the year 2014, Dilkes, et al, conducted a research in a government school in Western Australia to determine the teachers’ reactions to the Australian Curriculum during the implementation of Phase One of the curriculum. The research revealed that continuous curriculum reforms may lead to increased workloads and the emphasis on performance accountability further widens the teachers’ scope of work. Further, the teachers are expected to put a lot of efforts and spend more time and energy as they try to adapt to the requirements of the new curriculum. With the fact that reforms are inevitable and to a great extent necessary, the teachers are likely to be overwhelmed and made to feel these the reforms are mere fads (Collette, 2015). These, coupled with the possible lack of sufficient training, insufficient resources and limited implementation timelines can be overwhelming on the teachers and cause fatigue. Such negative experiences lead to negative attitudes towards further reforms by teachers.
While the ACARA has made efforts to liaise with various stakeholders over implementing the phases of the curriculum, most teachers are yet to understand the content of the curriculum and master the teaching techniques for each subject offered (Roberts - Hull, Jensen and Cooper, 2015). Further, with the knowledge that the ACARA is tasked with measuring and reporting the performance of schools, most teachers resort to prioritizing the testing of students. This has left many teachers with the sense of being marginalized professionally (Ball, 2008). In response to curriculum changes, most teachers resort to temporary coping strategies such as slowdown instead of focusing on confronting and evolving with the reforms. It is such responses that can derail ACARA’s educational reform goals (Lyle, 2013).
Therefore, it is true that curriculum changes can bring about significant challenges to the teachers who ought to cope with the new demands. However, Hargreaves (2005) argues that there is a huge number of professionals who embrace the changes positively and show commitment towards implementing the reforms by improving their teaching practices to ensure the students achieve the maximum benefit from such reforms. Levin (2007) argues that it is possible to get rid of the teachers’ unwillingness and unpreparedness for curriculum changes. He gives an example of the state of Ontario and argues that it is necessary for all stakeholders to be fully involved in the reforms. For instance, in Australia, ACARA must partner with all education authorities and school boards and teachers and adopt strategies that promote professional empowerment, tapping into resources, promotion of leadership and innovation, among other considerations.
The teaching fraternity is then encouraged to embrace new ideas that promote creativity and innovativeness. This inspiration to attain the state’s vision on education is a sure bet to propel everyone towards successfully attaining the reforms’ objectives as compared to imposing targets on the stakeholders (Hargreaves, 2012). Further, with the government having invested in education, part of these funds should be channeled towards professional development of teachers to prepare them for the new changes. The teachers must also be encouraged to reflect on their teaching practices and identify areas of improvement. Therefore, if the objectives of the reform agendas are to be met, there has to be a positive energy in the teachers who must be professionally qualified to meet the demands of the curriculum reforms.
With the need to improve the quality and relevance of education, focus has been on curriculum development, teacher development, and proficiency in basic competencies, student assessment and technology embracement. However, this approach is only best for countries that primarily aim at their preparedness for tests (Sahlberg, 2011). The above approach, as Sahlberg (2011) explains, is characterized by six features. First, there is the feature of standardization that focuses on setting defined performance standards. This is believed to encourage teachers and students to improve and achieve desired results. The aim is that in their quest to attain the performance targets, overall performance will improve and that in the contrary, there has to be accountability from the teachers.
Secondly, literacy and numeracy are emphasized as the core subjects and the performance in the assessment of these core subjects is regarded as an indicator and measure of the success or failure of the teachers and students. This has led to the allocation of more time to these subjects as a means of improving scores, to the detriment of other subjects. The third feature is in relation to teachers resorting to use defined methods of reaching learning objectives. This minimizes the possibility of experimenting with various approaches and discourages risk taking. This way, teaching is narrowly focused on the proven methods of achieving results which denies teachers the freedom to experiment and take risk in assessing the other approaches.
Fourth, there is the trend of borrowing best practice from the corporate world and applying them in the educational world. This limits policy development for enhancement of an independent education system and limits the teachers, abilities to learn through past events. The fifth feature is the insistence on accountability policies based on test performance. The students’ performance is used as a predetermining factor in accreditation, promotion and rewarding of teachers or punishing poor performers. Finally, there is the element of control of schools with strong measures such as evaluations, audits, inspections and other data collections which are used to gauge schools and formulate policies thereon. In essence, the above approach with all the characteristics lays emphasis on strong guidelines and takes the presumption that setting performance standards and prescribing the roles of teachers and students leads to an overall improvement in learning. Other areas of emphasis for this approach are competition, borrowing innovative practices and training of teachers.
Within the OECD, there are various methods of student assessment criteria that are administered. These include the Trends in International Mathematics and Sciences Study (TIMSS), the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) the Program for International Students Assessment (PISA). These assessments are executed by examining the averages of scores of students aged 15 years in reading, science and mathematics. However, Sahlberg warns that scores from these assessments pose the risk of teachers forced to employ the use of methods aimed at boosting scores. In a 2009 PISA survey, Australia scored an average reading of 515 while the OECD average was 493 and ranked 9th out of 65 participating countries. However, Finland has been a top performer in these international tests for the last decade and continues to maintain the lead. This consistency of Finland has necessitated a look into its education system in a bid to understand the reasons behind this great performance (Drabsch, 2013).
Literature review reveals that in Finland, there are no private schools. These were abolished in the 1970s and all learning is undertaken in public institutions. Further, Finland adopted policy reforms around 1990 which abolished strict regulation of schools and did away with the uniform curriculum content. Schools were therefore allowed the autonomy to determine the content of their curriculum. This was a major step which has been attributed to Finland’s top performance in the international tests (Drabsch, 2013). Due to the autonomy and self-regulation, teaching is regarded as a prestigious profession and high qualification standards are required for one to qualify as a teacher. Sahlberg (2011) writes that it is a mandatory requirement to possess a master’s qualification in order to teach in Finland. The prestige enjoyed by this profession is likened to that of law and medicine and therefore capable of attracting top scorers among high school graduates. These generally translate to the availability of high quality teaching staff who deliver the top results for Finland.
It is therefore conclusive that education environments that are centered on competition and stringent accountability standards threaten the social capital and damage the trust in teachers and consequently leads to a buildup in suspicion, promotes low morale and cynicism. In an article published on 18th April 2017 in The Australian titled: “Quality teaching must be the focus of school reform,” it was emphasized that the quality of teaching that is offered in the schools is what can make or break the success of the students. Focusing in such measures as increasing funding alone will not solve the entrenched problems that the Australian education system faces. Rather, it would serve well to utilize the available resources and impart the teachers with best classroom skills that will benefit the students.
In conclusion, it is worthwhile to note that the education reforms that have been adopted in Australia have been aimed at improving the relevance of learning to the lives of the students in their futures. Education is no longer a mere tool for producing skilled individuals to meet the industrialized economy’s labour demands but it is a driving force for better advancement of learning and improving knowledge. For the foregoing reason, focus must be laid in improving the existing skillsets in order to maintain and keep up with the economic competitiveness of the world. In adopting these reforms, many attempts have been made with great developments occurring during the regime of the Labour Government during which time the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Agency (ACARA) was established.
However, even with the positive intentions, the need to improve the quality and relevance of education has laid too much focus on curriculum development, teacher development, and proficiency in basic competencies, student assessment and technology embracement. As compared with Finland which allows teachers and schools high levels of autonomy that bring about prestige and a sense of professionalism, these environments that are centered on competition and stringent accountability standards damage the trust in teachers and denies them the sense of professionalism which lowers the morale to embrace the curriculum changes. Therefore, there are great lessons to be learnt from the approach taken by Finland.
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