To Increase Learning Results, We Need to Increase the Quality of Teaching

The 2013 school year has begun with more promises and assertions from the Australian Government that quality and effective education will be a priority for the nations children.  While this is promising at one level unfortunately at a realistic level it is very disappointing.  The Australian Government's apparent understanding of effective and quality education is at odds with evidence based international best practice. In this editorial we take the opportunity to comment upon what international studies and experience highlights as some of the major elements of ensuring effective learning outcomes for students.

It is embarrassing to find that despite decades of research, governments and even some within education itself perpetuate the simplistic and erroneous strategy that - "to increase standards of literacy and numeracy we just teach more of it, the same way and to test it more often (through standardised testing)".  We along with many educators across the country despair at the very little effort, funds and policy development that are directed towards improving teaching and learning in the classroom.

Early Life Foundations maintain that it is not the "what" we teach but the "how" we teach that makes the difference in effective learning and teaching.  Despite this, it is the how that is not changing in any systemic, consistent or evidence based way across this country.  This lack of attention and understanding of the importance of the how we teach has lead to a teaching culture that is based on "personal inclination".

Teaching using personal inclination is based upon an individual belief where the individual teacher chooses how they want to teach based on their own individual beliefs and ideas regardless of whether they are shared with the rest of the school or have ever been tested or researched.

Teaching using evidence based practice is where a whole school philosophy is shared and leads to consistent teaching practices across a school that are based on evidence, research and lead to practices that are rigorous, engaging, and effective.

In order to shift toward evidence based practices the focus of thinking needs to shift from the simplistic, "lets just teach more of the same way and hope results get better", - to, "lets be informed by evidence based knowledge to guide different and more effective ways of teaching." This paradigm shift requires action at the primary (teachers), secondary (leaders) and tertiary (University) levels of education.  To achieve this Australian education needs;

  • Intelligent leaders who know how to lead teams away from past practices into new ones;
  • Reflective teachers who are open to new ideas and who do not need to defend everything they have always done to validate themselves or their teaching from years gone by; and
  • The study of education in the tertiary sector to be viewed as a privilege (as it is in many places across Europe) and that a place to study education at university is comparable to a place in the study of Law or Medicine
  • The tertiary sector to provide cutting edge teacher training and skill development in evidence based teaching and learning

To teach is highly challenging.

Teaching is to reflect upon and understand the nature of individual temperament, family life and culture, learning styles and personalities, to interpret curriculum appropriately within context of the community, the children and the families you work within, to know the skills of how to teach with engagement effectively, to build relationship, to communicate effectively, to make learning come alive and to be meaningful for the student, to make it relevant for the lives of such diverse children in any one group or cohort. The variables and skills required for effective teaching are almost endless.  Any yet, we continue here in Australia to treat teaching as if it can simply be an add on or the course you do if you failed to get into what you really wanted to do. You can fast track these complexities in some instances and complete a 6-week course!  Consistent with this, enter scores for entry into education at university continues to reflect a message that teaching is an easy option, and is a profession that is not regarded with respect.

The quality and effectiveness of learning outcomes for Australian children will not improve until the actual teaching practice (the how) is given the credence and support by the government to facilitate improvement in the rigor and effectiveness of teaching practice.

Many countries around the world have understood the need for this approach some time ago - increase the entry score into university for teaching, increase the rigor of the teaching degree and the quality of teaching and learning will improve.

We know that many teachers are dedicated, intelligent and reflective - these passionate professionals deserve support from the government to develop their teaching practice, to operate from evidence based practice and to be respected as professionals who have an important contribution to most aspects of community and the future.

The what in curriculum will always be similar: To teach skills and knowledge in literacy, numeracy, the sciences, technology, life.

It is the how that is unique, special, engaging, and requires great skills, wisdom and intelligence!