Australia has a history of looking outside of itself for inspiration and models of expertise in many professions and disciplines of study. Perhaps in part because we are, in relation to Asia the Americas and Europe a young country in terms of white settlement, and also because in geographic terms still deemed, "a long way a way".
The education sector's default position is to "look beyond" and the "grass must be greener" approach. In a climate of limited funding for professional learning we still find that when principals and leading teachers do finally receive funding for study leave, they are eager to leave Australian shores to view "best practices" and models from others countries. There is no doubt in the importance of being aware of and experiencing other cultural contexts and influences and other political and educational perspectives. Returning from such trips provides the opportunity to reflect and review current practices in ones own school, community and country and to evaluate and grow as a teacher or leader. To gain ideas and to enter into dialogue with others from other countries is also a unique opportunity for deepening ones own understandings.
In any discipline emersion and adoption of a new experience, process, treatment or pedagogical tool takes rigorous review and analysis. Unfortunately in education this is not always the case: Australia has a history of following the patterns, ideas, policies and practices of some countries without discernment, rigour or the wisdom of longitudinal reflection or without factoring in context. Australia follows to a large degree the practices of the USA and UK education, particularly in relation to assessment, standardized testing and literacy and numeracy instruction programs - even when most of these programs have proven not to improve engagement, literacy or numeracy. Classically the Australian model is to adopt a system that has failed and is no longer operating in country of origin!
These frustrations evolve from government policies and advice often driven by political gains and economic measures rather than sound educational perspectives. The irony is that some of the best evidence based education systems in the world are from Northern Europe - every educator knows this but somehow the government doesn't!
The time has come for Australia educators to get over the "tall poppy" syndrome. We need to recognise that we don't always need an international "keynote speaker" to tell us what perhaps we already know or do! This is not to suggest speakers from overseas are not often very valuable and insightful but we do need to be discerning in the choices we make. This is part of that terrible Australian belief that if it comes from overseas, it must be better!
We notice this with the wonderfully inspiring Reggio Emilia Early Childhood program. There is no doubt how inspiring it is to see a small community in Northern Italy and its local government providing a great model of early childhood education and wonderful to see its influence here. However, many Australians spend their study tour PD money on the exodus to Reggio, when in fact there are so many amazing play based early childhood programs across Australia that are in our opinion even more inspiring; such as some in the middle of Arnhem land, working with indigenous children and families, some locally working in Bush Kindergartens, some using totally environmentally sustainable products and the list goes on and on. All based around our own culturally appropriate context.
This is not an argument not to visit other countries or an anti Reggio claim but in a sense to start the dialogue about that famous line...
"Its hard to be a 'prophet in your own land."
We now work in counties overseas, who invite us to share the amazing work that schools and early childhood programs are implementing around personalising learning and play and project based learning. To our great pride, countries overseas love what we are doing and are looking to us as models and inspiration.
They witness examples in schools and early childhood centres here,where children want to come to school, where teachers are getting a second breath of life, where results of engagement are skyrocketing and literacy and numeracy are improving.
We now have people visiting us from overseas instead of the other way around and yet in our own country, it still a challenge to have our own fellow educators recognise the amazing things happening on their very own door step!
It is exciting at the present time within our own organisation that the international world in education is recognising some of the innovation and difference that we are making here in Australia. We embrace the global world where we can invite and visit the best from around the globe but lets ensure we don't underestimate the greatness of what is happening right here in our own country.
For a taste of the great teaching and learning that is happening check out our website and come to our conference "Personalising Learning for the Whole Child" on Saturday October 19th.
To see a first class early childhood program and school come to the one-day special study tour the day before the conference, Friday 18th October - but book early as places are limited.