AARE blog

Siemens: the biggest challenges facing education now and ways to meet them

The AARE 2022 conference opens this year with a keynote from George Siemens. Here are some of his thoughts.

We have been hearing about fundamental change in education, often driven by technology, for several decades. Previous theorists, like Illich and Freire, similarly advocated for systemic education change, but their concerns were driven by economics, inclusion, and impact. When “education must change” is now advanced as a narrative, it’s often driven by a motivation to drive use of technology or the outsourcing of some core service of universities or schools. In response to the steady drum beat of calls for change, educators have become somewhat immune and even sceptical. Where is this new reality? Why has covid produced a longing for in-person learning, rather than a great drive for online learning? In our professional lives, the appeal of space and place interactions, while increasingly augmented with online engagement, remains strong.

In this talk, I present three dynamics to consider regarding our future education systems. First, I address the education landscape and the many additional stakeholders now prominently providing some core function. Secondly, I’ll address the conflicting space between data-centric research and complexity-science orientations. Thirdly, I’ll discuss the system of education itself. I believe we are facing a systemic challenge and when looking a decade into the future, it’s apparent that a fundamental change in role and responsibility will unfold for education. 

Before I begin, I want to set context for perhaps the most substantive challenge facing education. Trends can be seen as primary or secondary in terms of impact. Secondary impacts include state government mandates and even national level testing and assessment. A secondary trend may change parts of how teaching happens, the content taught, or how students are assessed. Often, the trend has a short timeline and is connected to the interests and motivations of the party in power. Primary trends, in contrast, are those that fundamentally and structurally change the systems of learning and education. In order to keep the system as it currently is, external pressure must be exerted to keep a primary trend from taking over. Unlike the rollout of national testing, which requires mandates to make things happen, a primary trend requires policy and intervention for it to NOT take over. 

We’ve seen numerous primary trends over the last decade, including the rise of social media and mobile technology. The primary trend confronting education, however, has a long history, dating back to the 1950’s, and is now beginning a rapid and alarming ascent to prominence in all areas of our lives: artificial intelligence. AI presents humanity with a unique challenge that we have not faced before: an agent with intelligence that rivals our own in a growing range of domains. 

Educationally, this presents a significant problem. In 2022, Generative AI has grown in influence and prominence. AI can now generate and create in domains that we have previously seen as exclusively our own: art, literature, and scientific discovery. DALL-E 2 and Stable Diffusion have created art that has won state art competitions. Moonbeam can create writing that has surprising coherence. LaMBDA can carry on conversations that are human-like. After being promised for decades that we would give up routine and mundane tasks to AI while retaining creative activities for ourselves, AI is emerging as an active competitor for our most human skills. Research and scientific discovery is now a pairing of human and artificial cognition. The entanglement that happens at the intersection of the two is spilling over into non-technical domains and sociologists, educators, and psychologists are evaluating how this interplay occurs and how it should be managed and supported.

Education, and all of society, moves forward with the looming AI trend in the background as the overarching development of the current era. The education landscape itself is undergoing significant commercialization and reliance on external stakeholders. Schools and universities are no longer primarily self-contained ecosystems. Instead, the fragmentation of function that defines globalisation has arrived. Online program managers support the development, marketing, and recruiting of students. International programs rely on a global recruitment network. Behind the scenes, consulting firms who had previously mainly addressed the needs of big business and large government now provide services to university and school leaders. Policy papers and guidance documents are produced by every major consulting firm in Australia and the prospect of big economic gains through innovation is a salivating prospect. Big technology is increasingly managing core university computing and security and privacy are now off loaded to these firms. Underpinning all of these transitions is the digital revolution and the data it produces as each student movement and interaction and engagement is logged and recorded. 

Digitization produces data and data produces analytics. For researchers, a conflict is unfolding reminiscent of the science wars of the 1990s. Data has won. All research – quantitative, qualitative, mixed – is digital in capture or analysis or publication. To this end, the quantitative side has resolutely and decisively ascended to the throne. The real space of debate now is on how to move data-centric research from focusing on isolated studies to instead begin assessing and evaluating holistic systems. The “science war” emerging is one where the expression of data is the primary concern. Systemic modelling and holistic assessment sits in conflict with NAPLAN and standardised testing. Research conducted is now increasingly focusing on digital spaces or at least spaces that have a digital component: AI predicting how protein folds,  sensors capturing remote environmental data,  psychologists evaluating the mental health of students in digital settings. A complexity science approach to research moves from granular and limited scope research that occurs in sanitised or limited context settings to including multi-faceted and nuanced contextual data.  

When systems change, inefficiencies are created. Organisations and individuals who evaluate and exploit those efficiencies reflect Gould’s punctuated equilibrium (or Kuhn’s paradigm shift): a sudden and significant phase change. This has been experienced in many sectors already, including the move from physical state music and movies to digital, the shift to on demand rather than broadcast media, and the move to networked media rather than centrally controlled. The accrual of inefficiencies – doing the things afforded by previous philosophies and technologies – is confronting education. How should we teach when AI is better at many cognitive tasks than we are? What should we teach when we can find and access the world’s information from our phone?

Looking a decade into the future, international organisations such as OECD see a world where technology is central to learning, where systems of education are dramatically different from what we see today, where AI is a co-learner, where focus on wellness and wellbeing are increasingly important. Educators have long been the end recipients of government initiatives, quasi-scientific pedagogical approaches, and somewhat short-sighted policy changes. The real work of education leadership is the work of systems change. Systems makers – those who create the structures that others work within – needs to be claimed by organisations such as AARE. The future of education is one that will only emerge to serve the broadest range of stakeholders when all participants have the ability to have a voice and to shape the conversation. Finding points of leverage in shaping learning systems through policy, research, funding, and planning landscape is the critical work of today for educational leaders.

Professor George Siemens is the professor and director of the Centre for Change and Complexity in Learning UniSA Education Futures. He researches networks, analytics, and human and artificial cognition in education. He has delivered keynote addresses in more than 40 countries on the influence of technology and media on education, organisations, and society. He has served as PI or Co-PI on grants with funding from NSF, SSHRC (Canada), Intel, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Boeing, and the Soros Foundation. Professor Siemens is a founding President of the Society for Learning Analytics Research. In 2008, he pioneered massive open online courses (sometimes referred to as MOOCs).

Hello! This week you will see a number of . . . (And we have a slight glitch in our email so I’ve posted the excerpt from George Siemens keynote below)

Hi Subscribers to EduResearch Matters, the blog of the Australian Association for Research in Education.

This week, there will be a number of posts about sessions at the 2022 AARE conference, being held at the University of South Australia. They will be emailed to you irregularly across the days of the conference.

Looking forward to your feedback. Please share with friends who may not subscribe. You can find the subscription button here (the last option on the menu).

And if you are at the conference and want to contribute a blog, just email me jenna@aare.edu.au

Thanks,

Jenna

Siemens: the biggest challenges facing education now and ways to meet them

The AARE 2022 conference opens this year with a keynote from George Siemens. Here are some of his thoughts.

We have been hearing about fundamental change in education, often driven by technology, for several decades. Previous theorists, like Illich and Freire, similarly advocated for systemic education change, but their concerns were driven by economics, inclusion, and impact. When “education must change” is now advanced as a narrative, it’s often driven by a motivation to drive use of technology or the outsourcing of some core service of universities or schools. In response to the steady drum beat of calls for change, educators have become somewhat immune and even sceptical. Where is this new reality? Why has covid produced a longing for in-person learning, rather than a great drive for online learning? In our professional lives, the appeal of space and place interactions, while increasingly augmented with online engagement, remains strong.

In this talk, I present three dynamics to consider regarding our future education systems. First, I address the education landscape and the many additional stakeholders now prominently providing some core function. Secondly, I’ll address the conflicting space between data-centric research and complexity-science orientations. Thirdly, I’ll discuss the system of education itself. I believe we are facing a systemic challenge and when looking a decade into the future, it’s apparent that a fundamental change in role and responsibility will unfold for education. 

Before I begin, I want to set context for perhaps the most substantive challenge facing education. Trends can be seen as primary or secondary in terms of impact. Secondary impacts include state government mandates and even national level testing and assessment. A secondary trend may change parts of how teaching happens, the content taught, or how students are assessed. Often, the trend has a short timeline and is connected to the interests and motivations of the party in power. Primary trends, in contrast, are those that fundamentally and structurally change the systems of learning and education. In order to keep the system as it currently is, external pressure must be exerted to keep a primary trend from taking over. Unlike the rollout of national testing, which requires mandates to make things happen, a primary trend requires policy and intervention for it to NOT take over. 

We’ve seen numerous primary trends over the last decade, including the rise of social media and mobile technology. The primary trend confronting education, however, has a long history, dating back to the 1950’s, and is now beginning a rapid and alarming ascent to prominence in all areas of our lives: artificial intelligence. AI presents humanity with a unique challenge that we have not faced before: an agent with intelligence that rivals our own in a growing range of domains. 

Educationally, this presents a significant problem. In 2022, Generative AI has grown in influence and prominence. AI can now generate and create in domains that we have previously seen as exclusively our own: art, literature, and scientific discovery. DALL-E 2 and Stable Diffusion have created art that has won state art competitions. Moonbeam can create writing that has surprising coherence. LaMBDA can carry on conversations that are human-like. After being promised for decades that we would give up routine and mundane tasks to AI while retaining creative activities for ourselves, AI is emerging as an active competitor for our most human skills. Research and scientific discovery is now a pairing of human and artificial cognition. The entanglement that happens at the intersection of the two is spilling over into non-technical domains and sociologists, educators, and psychologists are evaluating how this interplay occurs and how it should be managed and supported.

Education, and all of society, moves forward with the looming AI trend in the background as the overarching development of the current era. The education landscape itself is undergoing significant commercialization and reliance on external stakeholders. Schools and universities are no longer primarily self-contained ecosystems. Instead, the fragmentation of function that defines globalisation has arrived. Online program managers support the development, marketing, and recruiting of students. International programs rely on a global recruitment network. Behind the scenes, consulting firms who had previously mainly addressed the needs of big business and large government now provide services to university and school leaders. Policy papers and guidance documents are produced by every major consulting firm in Australia and the prospect of big economic gains through innovation is a salivating prospect. Big technology is increasingly managing core university computing and security and privacy are now off loaded to these firms. Underpinning all of these transitions is the digital revolution and the data it produces as each student movement and interaction and engagement is logged and recorded. 

Digitization produces data and data produces analytics. For researchers, a conflict is unfolding reminiscent of the science wars of the 1990s. Data has won. All research – quantitative, qualitative, mixed – is digital in capture or analysis or publication. To this end, the quantitative side has resolutely and decisively ascended to the throne. The real space of debate now is on how to move data-centric research from focusing on isolated studies to instead begin assessing and evaluating holistic systems. The “science war” emerging is one where the expression of data is the primary concern. Systemic modelling and holistic assessment sits in conflict with NAPLAN and standardised testing. Research conducted is now increasingly focusing on digital spaces or at least spaces that have a digital component: AI predicting how protein folds,  sensors capturing remote environmental data,  psychologists evaluating the mental health of students in digital settings. A complexity science approach to research moves from granular and limited scope research that occurs in sanitised or limited context settings to including multi-faceted and nuanced contextual data.  

When systems change, inefficiencies are created. Organisations and individuals who evaluate and exploit those efficiencies reflect Gould’s punctuated equilibrium (or Kuhn’s paradigm shift): a sudden and significant phase change. This has been experienced in many sectors already, including the move from physical state music and movies to digital, the shift to on demand rather than broadcast media, and the move to networked media rather than centrally controlled. The accrual of inefficiencies – doing the things afforded by previous philosophies and technologies – is confronting education. How should we teach when AI is better at many cognitive tasks than we are? What should we teach when we can find and access the world’s information from our phone?

Looking a decade into the future, international organisations such as OECD see a world where technology is central to learning, where systems of education are dramatically different from what we see today, where AI is a co-learner, where focus on wellness and wellbeing are increasingly important. Educators have long been the end recipients of government initiatives, quasi-scientific pedagogical approaches, and somewhat short-sighted policy changes. The real work of education leadership is the work of systems change. Systems makers – those who create the structures that others work within – needs to be claimed by organisations such as AARE. The future of education is one that will only emerge to serve the broadest range of stakeholders when all participants have the ability to have a voice and to shape the conversation. Finding points of leverage in shaping learning systems through policy, research, funding, and planning landscape is the critical work of today for educational leaders.

Professor George Siemens is the professor and director of the Centre for Change and Complexity in Learning UniSA Education Futures. He researches networks, analytics, and human and artificial cognition in education. He has delivered keynote addresses in more than 40 countries on the influence of technology and media on education, organisations, and society. He has served as PI or Co-PI on grants with funding from NSF, SSHRC (Canada), Intel, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Boeing, and the Soros Foundation. Professor Siemens is a founding President of the Society for Learning Analytics Research. In 2008, he pioneered massive open online courses (sometimes referred to as MOOCs).

Provoking the children: why that matters for remarkable early learning

Our research shows why play matters in supporting young children’s learning and development. We have so many resources and materials within early childhood education but it is the way in which these resources are shared with children which impacts their capacity to learn through play. 

Poorly resourced learning environments lack variety and stimulation, while excessively resourced spaces can be overwhelming and distracting, resulting in a lack of concentration skills. When presented using thoughtful and engaging approaches, early childhood resources can maximise children’s learning and development and help them achieve their full potential. One way of presenting purposeful and effective play opportunities is through the creation and delivery of a learning provocation.

Intellectual exploration through a variety of means is a key principle of the Reggio Emilia philosophy. 

This is where the idea of learning through engagement in a ‘provocation’ has blossomed. When considering the philosophies of Reggio Emilia, the learning environment becomes ‘the third educator’ and strongly contributes towards children’s play and engagement. Learning provocations form a foundational aspect of educating children through their environment.

Put simply, provocations provoke children’s interests, imagination and engagement. They motivate thinking and investigation. Resources are arranged in an aesthetically pleasing way, sparking children’s interest and inviting them to engage and explore. For example, soft fabrics form the base or backdrop, with resources arranged in bowls or baskets that children can easily view and access. Books that accompany the provocation theme add a layer of intrigue, mirrors or pictures in frames catch the children’s eye and encourage them to take a closer look. 

Different from a learning invitation, which often has a desired outcome, provocations are open-ended and are designed to stimulate children’s ideas, imagination and creative thinking. A crucial characteristic is that they have multiple entry and exit points, meaning that children can engage with the resources within a provocation several times and produce a range of outcomes.  For example, an invitation might ask children to sequence or order a set of pictures to retell the story of Goldilocks and the three bears – one correct answer and it’s the same each time. A provocation might involve a roleplay or small-world figures of Goldilocks and the bears where children could act out the story using accompanying props and the storybook to guide their sociodramatic play. 

The role of the educator is pivotal in providing appropriate and thoughtful provocations that meet children’s learning and developmental needs and connect to curriculum outcomes. Deliberate and considered decisions need to be made based on a sound understanding of the child, their interests, what is age and developmentally appropriate, and the types of experiences to offer that will continually encourage exploration. The best outcomes for children happen when educators provide experiences that meet children’s learning needs within their Zone of Proximal Development with knowledge that is built on careful observation of the child. 

The Zone of Proximal Development is defined as the space between what a child can do without assistance and what they can do with adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers.

The understanding that a child-focused learning environment encourages the child to actively explore and learn about the world themselves, rather than the educator overtly guiding and leading the child’s learning, is also critical to effective provision. 

Provocations encourage children to form their own conclusions about the world around them, rather than being told by someone else. Once children are engaging with a provocation, educators need to consider their role in supporting learning. This might involve making decisions as to when to step in and out of children’s play, when to adjust or add to the provocation, when to engage in conversation, build vocabulary or demonstrate how particular resources might be used.

Creating a provocation allows educators to be creative as they consider how best to gather a range of learning tools in a way that will spark interest and inspire engagement. Sourcing materials does not need to be an expensive task. Natural and recycled elements can be just as engaging as purchased equipment and they possess soothing elements that help to promote a peaceful space. Promoting spaces where children feel emotionally and physically at ease helps to develop a sense of belonging which optimises learning. 

Good provocations will reflect an element of care that always accompanies early childhood education. Responding to a child’s interest through a provocation might include pictures, photographs, light and/or mirrors. Worksheets and colouring-in pictures offer limited, structured outcomes and form more of a teacher-led invitation than a provocation. Providing ways for children to communicate their thinking through drawing and other arts-based practices, enables them to make meaning of new-found knowledge and understanding in more agentic ways. Literature and picture books offer opportunities to expand children’s imagination, vocabulary and knowledge of print.

There are no specific limits to the size of a provocation. Some may involve a small collection of items in a basket that help to develop a schema that a baby has demonstrated an interest in, whilst others may be large provocations using loose parts in the outdoor yard or sandpit where children demonstrate an interest in construction. Careful positioning of resources and not over cluttering the space sends the message that resources are valuable and important. Whilst provocations are often limited to prior to school settings, there is no reason as to why they cannot work with school-aged children, adjusting resources to be age appropriate and providing opportunities for further engagement with curriculum content within the classroom.

In an effective play-based learning environment, provocations are one approach used within a suite of pedagogical practices where educators can see the extraordinary in the ordinary and help children to do the same. Effective provocations should be a reflection of the child, extend learning and development, continually encourage exploration, and position the child in a space where they can be guided to calmly work and learn through play.

Rachael Hedger is a Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Education and Course Coordinator for the Early Childhood Initial Teacher Education degrees at Flinders University, South Australia. She is a PhD candidate at Deakin University. Her PhD explores how arts-based practices can support children’s science learning. Her research interests focus on how drawing can be used as a vehicle for exploring science concepts, focussing on process and exploration. She is a supporter of learning through play pedagogies and encouraging pre-service teachers to be advocates for young children’s learning.

COP this right now: why the next generation can’t make miracles on its own

Climate change education is becoming increasingly prominent both as a research focus and a teaching focus, with young people often being the target of climate change education initiatives. However, while efforts to build critical climate literacies with young people are important, care must be taken not to perpetuate the idea that today’s young people will miraculously solve a crisis brewing for centuries. 

Everyone has a role to play in thinking about and acting on climate change because no single group of people or technological advancement is going to save us.

The science is clear. The world is burning, quite literally. But as the world media turns its attention to COP27, icons like Greta Thunberg have argued that these conversations are ‘not working’. The future of the planet appears to be decided in ethically questionable and far-away places, often behind closed doors. Closer to home, we can feel excluded and unheard. If expectations are already low for COP27, it may be that the path to a sustainable future can only be found from the ground up. For each of us, this starts with reaching out, turning up, and getting involved. 

What might happen if those who are often left out of the debates and conversations such as artists, educators, social scientists and humanities researchers came together to talk, activate, play, create and discuss for 3 days post-COP. What might they achieve? Could their playful and artful responses lead to change? 

  • Conversations also need to be creative, artful, playful even, and include knowledges and ways of being and seeing the world that have so far been ignored.
  • even if the change is getting to grips with our anxieties over the future and helping us re-engage with this dire ecological moment.

To create space and flip the narrative on its head, we co-designed The Climate, Art, and Digital Activisms 4-day Festival of Ideas. The festival program will be held over 3 days (21-23 November) at studioFive (UNITWIN partner and UNESCO Observatory of the Arts Education) in Melbourne, with the fourth day (27 November) to be held at the University of South Australia (preceding the AARE 2022 Conference) in Adelaide. 

The festival program consists of 12 carefully curated acts which bring invited keynote speakers and practice-based facilitators into conversation with each other. Invited keynotes are purposefully paired and discussion will be facilitated by the convenors as a decolonising act. ECR and HDR are welcomed into the conversation via Pecha Kucha sessions.

We know that taking action is better than giving in to the polarising morass of misinformation and disinformation on social media.

Reports ahead of COP27 have made it clear that we are on the path to 1.5°C or worse. Pledges backed up specious action, or worse, contradictory actions, add up to political theatre, no more, no less. These faux struggles keep us hoping that our leaders will save us, or that the political class can be shamed into action, but they also leave ordinary people feeling disconnected and disenchanted. Yet, if some doors are closed, there are others open, right under our noses, where conversations can lead to change, even if the change is getting to grips with our anxieties over the future. If there is one thing that works, it’s getting in the game. So, instead of feeling sidelined by COP27, simply reaching out, turning up, and getting involved will put you on the path to something better. 

Acknowledgement: The festival is made possible by a University of Melbourne Dyason Fellowship, competitive SIG funding from Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) and Partnership Development Grant from The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). 

From left to right: Kathryn Coleman is a neurodivergent, feminist, artist, researcher and teacher who lives and works in Kulin Nation. Her work focuses on the integration of digital pedagogies and digital portfolios for sustained creative practice, assessment and warranting of evidence across education sectors. Kate’s praxis includes taking aspects of her theoretical and practical work as a/r/tographer to consider how artists, artist-teachers and artist-students use site to create place in digital and physical practice. Sarah Healy is committed to inter and intra-generational justice and is concerned with creating the conditions for reparative futures to take place. In her role as Melbourne Postdoctoral Fellow, Sarah is actively engaged in research located at the intersection of affect theory, digital childhoods, creative methods and a/r/tographic approaches to metho-pedagogy. Sarah’s expertise is underpinned by a background in art education and keen interest in close-to-practice research and teaching. George Variyan is the Course Leader for the Master of Educational Leadership in the Faculty of Education at Monash University. His background includes teaching, learning and leading in schools in Australia and overseas. George’s engagement in research is based on a critical sociology, which explores human agency in the relationship between education and society. Key interests include educational leadership, boys’ masculinities, climate activism and social justice, and ethics. Brad Gobby is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at Curtin University. His research is widely published and includes critical inquiry into education policy, educational subjectivities, and politics. Brad is co-editor of Powers of Curriculum: Sociological Aspects of Education.

We asked academics to be real about work. Here are our new findings

My children were two and three years old in March of 2020 when Sydney went into its first COVID-19  lockdown.  At the time, I was in an education-focussed leadership role but also still teaching and conducting research.

I was supporting my colleagues as they pivoted to online learning at the same time as helping implement widespread changes to education within the School and also reassuring students across our School that we were doing everything in our power to maintain education quality in an ever-changing environment. 

I was also moving my own class online at the same time.  Research fell off the radar – if it didn’t have an immediate deadline like other things in life (e.g. speaking to cohorts of students to assuage the uncertainty they were feeling, getting a lecture online, helping a colleague figure out how to deliver an in-person assessment online, feeding children, or even just sleeping), it wasn’t getting done.  Even when I wasn’t in charge of childcare, my little ones would come looking for me – and how do you tell a two-year-old that you have to work and can’t play right now?    

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on academic mothers has many long-term implications on career progression and alleviating this gendered impact should be a priority for administrators worldwide.

Of course, I was not alone.  Research that Adriana Zeidan, Lee-Fay Low, Andrew Baillie, and I conducted on the impact of COVID-19 on the productivity of academics around the world confirms this.  And worse, these impacts were hugely gendered. What’s particularly novel about our study is its potential for accuracy.  Instead of asking people to think back to their day or their week and estimate how often they were doing a particular task, we were instead able to ping our participants at six random time-points per day (during their self-nominated waking hours) and ask them what they were doing in that moment.  This led to more accurate responses, and strengthened our work.  

Our research showed that in June and July of 2020, when we conducted our study: 

  • Academic mothers were 4.25 times more likely than academic fathers to be caring for children when contacted to complete the survey.
  • Academic mothers were 3 times more likely than academic fathers to multitask, and nearly 5 times more likely to multitask by doing an activity and caring for children simultaneously.
  • Mothers were 74% more likely to have had their work interrupted in the last hour.
  •  Parents were 57% less likely than non-parents to be working on research when contacted.
  • Academic parents (especially mothers) were found to be less likely to have access to uninterrupted work time.
  • Non-parents were working on research related tasks around 20% of the time they were contacted, while fathers were working on research 17% of the time, and mothers only 11% of the time.

And our results have resonated with readers on social media.  Within 36 hours of sharing the main points of  our study  in a thread on twitter, parts of it had been shared over 1,000 times.  People were retweeting with their own experiences and calling on senior academics to take this work into account when evaluating staff on their productivity.  Differences in ability to spend time on research will have lasting impacts on career progression.  

Recognising that equity is not the same as equality, one-size-fits-all approaches such as extending tenure clocks for all academics currently working towards tenure will only stand to increase gender disparities in the professoriate down the line (Khamis-Dakwar & Hiller, 2020).

As we know, impacts on publishing in 2020 and 2021 (and even now in 2022) will not be readily apparent for some time.  Given how much longer the publication process is taking, we may not see the true effects for a few years.  However, given how trajectories are used in funding and promotion applications, a dip in productivity could have career-long implications if we are not careful.  For many years we’ve had a leak in the pipeline in academia, where women were more likely to trickle out of the academic workforce due to biases and barriers along the way.  Covid has the potential to undo the work we have done to repair those leaks, leading to further gender disparities in our academic environments. 

We must find concrete and tangible ways to ensure that mothers are able to bounce back from the setbacks they may have experienced during Covid.  Everyone needs to remember those changes that mothers will not forget – the days of caring for children while trying to work, the hundreds of interruptions in an hour, the loneliness, the isolation, and the associated reduced ability to conduct research – while other people were experiencing the opposite:  quiet time, without meetings or other interruptions.  

We should watch vigilantly for an ever-widening gap in publishing between men and women to emerge.  We need to gauge impacts on access to grant funding, and we need to see how it affects career progression (in hiring, in tenure, in promotion).  We need to implement policies that will decrease disparities, support people who were most impacted, and ensure that we don’t lose women before we get the chance to implement support and effect change. 

As some have said, we were all in the same storm, but we were not all in the same boat.  We must advocate for, and implement policies to support, those whose careers are most at risk after this period when mothers, in particular, were working all the time, but still unable to produce in the same way others were.  If we don’t pay attention, and we don’t actively work to alleviate these differences, the impact on career progression for women in academia will be huge. 

The leaky pipeline (Pell, 1996) is not going away, unless we make changes to recognise and ameliorate the barriers that groups of colleagues experience before, during and beyond the immediate Covid-19 crisis.

A few essential things to note: First, in the paper we refer to people who identify as women and have children as mothers, and those who identify as men who have children as fathers.  Unfortunately our statistical approaches were not sophisticated enough to incorporate more than a binary categorization, though we absolutely recognise that gender is a spectrum.  

Second, none of this would have been possible without the entire team.  Adriana Zeidan, despite being a master’s student studying during lockdown, managed the survey and PACO enrollment process from start to finish, and without her, none of this would have happened.  Andrew Baillie was instrumental in managing our very complicated dataset and advanced statistical modelling, and he and Lee-Fay Low’s strategic guidance were invaluable in planning and publishing.  

Roxanna Nasseri Pebdani, (PhD, CRC, SFHEA) is Director of Participation Sciences in the Sydney School of Health Sciences and Acting Head of the Discipline of Rehabilitation Counselling, both in the Faculty of Medicine and Health. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the American University of Paris, a master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counselling from Syracuse University, and a Ph.D. in Counsellor Education from the University of Maryland. She completed a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Washington. She has been at the University of Sydney since July 2018. The lovely photo in the header image is of Pebdani’s children.

What the remarkable Mr Laing did next

Editor’s note: In 2021, Paul Laing won EduResearch Matters Blog/Blogger of the Year Award, which recognises an outstanding contribution to public understanding and debate of educational issues, for his post My teacher sucks’: how teacher shortages shatter learning. A year later, he has taken leave from his job as principal at a regional school in NSW. Here Paul tweets about his decision and the impact on his life.

Paul Laing is a doctoral research student (EdD) at the University of New South Wales and he has a background teaching languages across a broad range of schools in NSW. He has worked as a classroom teacher, Head Teacher, Deputy Principal and Principal, as well as a Teacher Quality Advisor and Curriculum Advisor. His current research includes exploring the relationship between working memory span before and after instruction. He has a keen interest in cognitive load theory and the contribution of cognitive science to learning design.

What you should know now about the NSW government and Dolores Umbridge’s evil ways

The NSW Government has announced the creation of an ‘expert teacher’ role, to be paid almost $150 000 pa.  While this could replace the ineffective Highly Accomplished and Lead Teacher [HALT] system, the work expected of these expert teachers is already part of many teachers’ standard practice, as social media was quick to highlight

These reforms, while offering some positives, do not address teachers concerns about pay and conditions for all teachers, not just an elite few.  The recent announcement of a behaviour expert to be appointed as part of the NSW government’s plan to resolve the teacher workload crisis was also met with derision online, with many invoking JK Rowling’s brutal disciplinarian, Dolores Umbridge, in their responses.  Can Hogwarts solve the education crisis, or is that magical thinking?

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry offers a vision of an idealised (if at times fairly dangerous) school. As Katherine Firth explains, Hogwarts can be seen as an example of Michel Foucault’s construction of schools as sites of social control and discipline. In most readings, the teachers are part of the disciplining apparatus, however, I would argue that in the current circumstances, the teachers themselves are being subject to disciplining through the exertion of government power over their workplace. 

At Hogwarts’ NSW campus, the Ministers for Magic(al Thinking) (State Premier Dominic Perrottet and Education Minister Sarah Mitchell) have waved their wands to produce resource packs, disregarding teachers crying out for more planning time to allow them to collaboratively develop materials suited to their students’ needs. Just as Umbridge’s secondment at Hogwarts was as much about ensuring staff compliance as student behaviour, so too does the appointment of a behaviour expert suggest that NSW teachers aren’t doing their job well, further perpetuating the media narrative that it is teachers failing their students, not the system failing the teachers. 

French philosopher and theorist Michel Foucault explores how schools, hospitals, the military and other large-scale public institutions work as sites of “discipline”, training individuals to comply with social expectations. These sites of discipline “establish in the body the constructive link between increased aptitude and increased domination” (166): the more you comply, the better. Teachers (products of the schooling system themselves) reinforce structures and behaviours for students that they replicate in their own work. Yet what happens when teachers reject these attempts at discipline?

Schools work in lesson-units, where both students and teachers are expected to be present, and behave in particular ways, according to a set schedule. All of these organisational structures are designed to promote compliance and therefore increase productivity.  While analysis of this often focuses on the regimenting of the student’s day, it is also a disciplining act that teachers are subject to. The point of this scheduling is to allow for what Foucault labelsexhaustive use” –“extracting from time, ever more available moments and, from each moment, ever more useful forces” . As teachers shout into the online void about unsustainable workloads, the (disciplining) government seeks only “maximum speed and maximum efficiency”, refusing to concede that the workload is the problem. It is here we come to the (hor)crux of the teacher shortage crisis: The Ministry have lost their grip on teachers and they are in open revolt, just as McGonagall and the staff of Hogwarts united and fought back against the He Who Must Not Be Named.

Just as McGonagall led an internal resistance to the unreasonable demands of the Ministry, so too NSW teachers have united to protest the expectations being forced upon them in recent strike action.  They see the institution to which they have subscribed for their own schooling, and their careers as fundamentally flawed, and they begin to resist the powers that have sought to direct their conduct. This abandonment of and loss of faith in schools as an institution by the very workers who are meant to maintain them presents an existential crisis to our governments. If they wish to maintain schools in something resembling their current forms, they will need to change how they exert their power. How will higher pay for a select few entice people to the profession? How will the provision of generic resources, when teachers already have robust collegial networks for resource sharing, reduce workload and burnout? How will the maintenance of national systems of testing (a form of observation and control) reduce teacher stress? How will the appointment of one behaviour advisor make every classroom safer? These rewards for compliance, for docility, have lost their power for many teachers, and so they seek an escape, just as one would when wrongfully held in another institution Foucault describes – the prison. 

If the governments which control Australia’s education sector hope to restore trust in schools, they must regain the good will of teachers, as their compliance is what makes the system work.  Increased reward and reduced workload are the common elements of teachers’ calls for reform, not yet another consultant, off-the-shelf package or reward for a select few. Having pushed teachers beyond the limits of their productive capacity, and thus united teachers in a way that supersedes the partitioning of schools, sectors and states in protest and solidarity, governments must reform the institution itself if they hope to restore the magic of learning in our schools in the future. 

Dr Alison Bedford is a lecturer (curriculum and pedagogy) in the School of Education at the University of Southern Queensland and a secondary school history teacher.

The good, the bad and the pretty good actually

Every year headlines proclaim the imminent demise of the nation due to terrible, horrible, very bad NAPLAN results. But if we look at variability and results over time, it’s a bit of a different story.

I must admit, I’m thoroughly sick of NAPLAN reports. What I am most tired of, however, are moral panics about the disastrous state of Australian students’ school achievement that are often unsupported by the data.

A cursory glance at the headlines since NAPLAN 2022 results were released on Monday show several classics in the genre of “picking out something slightly negative to focus on so that the bigger picture is obscured”. 

A few examples (just for fun) include:

Reading standards for year 9 boys at record low, NAPLAN results show 

Written off: NAPLAN results expose where Queensland students are behind 

NAPLAN results show no overall decline in learning, but 2 per cent drop in participation levels an ‘issue of concern’ 

And my favourite (and a classic of the “yes, but” genre of tabloid reporting)

‘Mixed bag’ as Victorian students slip in numeracy, grammar and spelling in NAPLAN 

The latter contains the alarming news that “In Victoria, year 9 spelling slipped compared with last year from an average NAPLAN score of 579.7 to 576.7, but showed little change compared with 2008 (576.9). Year 5 grammar had a “substantial decrease” from average scores of 502.6 to 498.8.”

If you’re paying attention to the numbers, not just the hyperbole, you’ll notice that these ‘slips’ are in the order of 3 scale scores (Year 9 spelling) and 3.8 scale scores (Year 5 grammar). Perhaps the journalists are unaware that the NAPLAN scale ranges from 1-1000? It might be argued that a change in the mean of 3 scale scores is essentially what you get with normal fluctuations due to sampling variation – not, interestingly, a “substantial decrease”. 

The same might be said of the ‘record low’ reading scores for Year 9 boys. The alarm is caused by a 0.2 score difference between 2021 and 2022. When compared with the 2008 average for Year 9 boys the difference is 6 scale score points, but this difference is not noted in the 2022 NAPLAN Report as being ‘statistically significant’ – nor are many of the changes up or down in means or in percentages of students at or above the national minimum standard.

Even if differences are reported as statistically significant, it is important to note two things: 

1. Because we are ostensibly collecting data on the entire population, it’s arguable whether we should be using statistical significance at all.

2. As sample sizes increase, even very small differences can be “statistically significant” even if they are not practically meaningful.

Figure 1. NAPLAN Numeracy test mean scale scores for nine cohorts of students at Year 3, 5, 7 and 9.

The practical implications of reported differences in NAPLAN results from year to year (essentially the effect sizes) are not often canvassed in media reporting. This is an unfortunate omission and tends to enable narratives of largescale decline, particularly because the downward changes are trumpeted loudly while the positives are roundly ignored. 

The NAPLAN reports themselves do identify differences in terms of effect sizes – although the reasoning behind what magnitude delineates a ‘substantial difference’ in NAPLAN scale scores is not clearly explained. Nonetheless, moving the focus to a consideration of practical significance helps us ask: If an average score changes from year to year, or between groups, are the sizes of the differences something we should collectively be worried about? 

Interestingly, Australian students’ literacy and numeracy results have remained remarkably stable over the last 14 years. Figures 1 and 2 show the national mean scores for numeracy and reading for the nine cohorts of students who have completed the four NAPLAN years, starting in 2008 (notwithstanding the gap in 2020). There have been no precipitous declines, no stunning advances. Average scores tend to move around a little bit from year to year, but again, this may be due to sampling variability – we are, after all, comparing different groups of students. 

This is an important point for school leaders to remember too: even if schools track and interpret mean NAPLAN results each year, we would expect those mean scores to go up and down a little bit over each test occasion. The trick is to identify when an increase or decrease is more than what should be expected, given that we’re almost always comparing different groups of students (relatedly see Kraft, 2019 for an excellent discussion of interpreting effect sizes in education). 

Figure 2. NAPLAN Reading test mean scale scores for nine cohorts of students at Year 3, 5, 7 and 9.

Plotting the data in this way it seems evident to me that, since 2008, teachers have been doing their work of teaching, and students by-and-large have been progressing in their skills as they grow up, go to school and sit their tests in years 3, 5, 7 and 9. It’s actually a pretty good news story – notably not an ongoing and major disaster. 

Another way of looking at the data, and one that I think is much more interesting – and instructive – is to consider the variability in achievement between observed groups. This can help us see that just because one group has a lower average score than another group, this does not mean that all the students in the lower average group are doomed to failure.

Figure 3 shows just one example: the NAPLAN reading test scores of a random sample of 5000 Year 9 students who sat the test in NSW in 2018 (this subsample was randomly selected from data for the full cohort of students in that year, N=88,958). The red dots represent the mean score for boys (left) and girls (right). You can see that girls did better than boys on average. However, the distribution of scores is wide and almost completely overlaps (the grey dots for boys and the blue dots for girls). There are more boys at the very bottom of the distribution and a few more girls right at the top of the distribution, but these data don’t suggest to me that we should go into full panic mode that there’s a ‘huge literacy gap’ for Year 9 boys. We don’t currently have access to the raw data for 2022, but it’s unlikely that the distributions would look much different for the 2022 results.  

Figure 3. Individual scale scores and means for Reading for Year 9 boys and girls (NSW, 2018 data).

So what’s my point? Well, since NAPLAN testing is here to stay, I think we can do a lot better on at least two things: 1) reporting the data honestly (even when its not bad news), and 2) critiquing misleading or inaccurate reporting by pointing out errors of interpretation or overreach. These two aims require a level of analysis that goes beyond mean score comparisons to look more carefully at longitudinal trends (a key strength of the national assessment program) and variability across the distributions of achievement.

If you look at the data over time NAPLAN isn’t a story of a long, slow decline. In fact, it’s a story of stability and improvement. For example, I’m not sure that anyone has reported that the percentage of Indigenous students at or above the minimum standard for reading in Year 3 has stayed pretty stable since 2019 – at around 83% up from 68% in 2008. In Year 5 it’s the highest it’s ever been at 78.5% of Indigenous students at or above the minimum standard – up from 63% in 2008. 

Overall the 2022 NAPLAN report shows some slight declines, but also some improvements, and a lot that has remained pretty stable. 

As any teacher or school leader will tell you, improving students’ basic skills achievement is difficult, intensive and long-term work. Like any task worth undertaking, there will be victories and setbacks along the way. Any successes should not be overshadowed by the disaster narratives continually fostered by the 24/7 news cycle. At the same time, overinterpreting small average fluctuations doesn’t help either. Fostering a more nuanced and longer-term view when interpreting NAPLAN data, and recalling that it gives us a fairly one-dimensional view of student achievement and academic development would be a good place to start.

Sally Larsen is a Lecturer in Learning, Teaching and Inclusive Education at the University of New England. Her research is in the area of reading and maths development across the primary and early secondary school years in Australia, including investigating patterns of growth in NAPLAN assessment data. She is interested in educational measurement and quantitative methods in social and educational research. You can find her on Twitter @SallyLars_27

Why the federal government must ditch Jobs Ready Graduates now

New figures challenge the assumptions behind the Job-Ready Graduates package, introduced by the former Coalition government and unchanged by Labor. That package has underestimated the value and employability of arts, social science and humanities graduates.

The employment outcomes of students enrolled in arts, social sciences and humanities degrees have risen to 89.6 per cent – an increase of 25 percentage points according to the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) 2022 Longitudinal Graduate Outcomes Survey released this month.

The Package, introduced under former Education Minister Dan Tehan in 2020 and implemented this year, has seen the cost for students of many arts, social science and humanities degrees more than double.

QILT’s longitudinal study shows that the graduates in a wide range of disciplines, including arts, social sciences and humanities are highly employable and that attempts to drive students into some fields at the expense of others are misplaced.

The report measures the medium-term outcomes of higher education graduates based on a cohort analysis of graduates who responded to the 2019 Graduate Outcomes Survey. 

It noted the figures around generalist degrees “continue to demonstrate an important point – that while undergraduates from some fields of education, in particular those with generalist degrees, have weaker employment outcomes soon after completing their course, the gap in employment outcomes across fields of education tends to narrow over time.”

The Federal Government must commit to abandoning the policy which is putting our students at a significant financial disadvantage.

Nick Bisley

It also states that while vocational degrees tend to have higher employment outcomes than generalist degrees in the short term “the gap in employment rates between those with vocational and generalist degrees diminishes over time”.

80 per cent of students following their passions

This research follows earlier findings from the Universities Admission Centre Student Lifestyle Report. It found 81 per cent of the nearly 14,000 Year 12 students interviewed said passion would guide their choices for further study.

Four in five of last year’s high school graduates have said passion is their leading influence when choosing a degree, showing that the previous government’s attempts to drive enrolment numbers using fee increases was always likely to fail.

These statistics further disprove claims fee increases would guide student preferences under the JRG.

DASSH is calling for university fee reform under the upcoming Accord to be undertaken by the Federal Government given the lack of evidence linking fee levels to job outcomes and career success more broadly.

Productivity Commission observations

In addition to results from the above reports, the Productivity Commission has recently made several key points about student fees being used as incentives in its 5-year Productivity Inquiry: From learning to growth. In this report the Commission finds that students are best placed to judge for themselves what education suits their interests and their aspirations.

The report rightly points out: “Government subsidies for tertiary education could be allocated more efficiently and equitably, without necessarily increasing the total amount of public funding.”

“Currently, governments set differential subsidies based on targeting public benefits and skill needs, but these have little impact on student choice because income-contingent loans eliminate upfront fees and make price differences less salient.”

Our members believe attempting to manipulate student preferences through price signalling is counterproductive to the aims of having an efficient and high-quality tertiary system.

DASSH strongly supports the evidence in the report that shows human capital will be more in demand in the future than ever before.

“As our reliance on the services sector expands, people’s capabilities (‘human capital’) will play a more important role than physical capital in improving productivity,” the report states.

“General and foundational skills will continue to underpin the workforce’s contribution to productivity, and as routine tasks are automated, newly created jobs will increasingly rely on areas such as interpersonal skills, critical thinking, working with more complex equipment, and accomplished literacy and numeracy.”

The skills described in the report are derived through the education of students in the arts, social sciences and humanities. It is impossible to know in advance what the value of these disciplines or specific courses offered within our degrees will be in part because of the rapidly changing nature of the labour market and the innovative ways in which knowledge is put to use in society.

The current price settings for arts, humanities and social sciences degrees were set without any evidence that they would work nor any consideration about the impact on current or future students. 

Those degrees are valued by employers and provide a strong intellectual foundation for long term career success. The JRG punishes students who want to pursue studies that are beneficial to them and society more broadly and a new and more equitable pricing level should be developed.

The Federal Government must commit to abandoning the policy which is putting our students at a significant financial disadvantage.


Nick Bisley is President of the Australasian Council of Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities. He is Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of International Relations at La Trobe University. His research focuses primarily on Asia’s international relations, great power politics and Australian foreign and defence policy. Nick is a member of the advisory board of China Matters and a member of the Council for Security and Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific. Nick is the author of many works on international relations, including Issues in 21st Century World Politics, 3rd Edition (Palgrave, 2017), Great Powers in the Changing International Order (Lynne Rienner, 2012), and Building Asia’s Security (IISS/Routledge, 2009, Adelphi No. 408). He regularly contributes to and is quoted in national and international media including The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, CNN and Time Magazine

Distorted reports keep coming. This one will make you livid

What should we be talking about when we talk about teachers? Teachers’ pay, working conditions and the looming teacher shortage. 

What are media talking about instead? A commonly suggested ‘solution’ to address concerns about standards in teaching: pre-prepared lessons, or, as the Grattan Institute describes them in a recent report, ‘high quality teaching materials’. 

The Grattan Institute, a thinktank, notes in its summary of the report that: “of 2,243 teachers and school leaders across Australia, … only 15 per cent of teachers have access to a common bank of high-quality curriculum materials for all their classes.”

In a departure from any claims to objectivity, the report paints a picture of teachers “being left to fend for themselves, creating lessons from scratch and scouring the internet and social media for teaching materials”.

This is yet another example of a large scale survey conducted by those with only a tangential relationship to the profession. It ignores the views of many teachers and offers a ready-made solution – one likely to become another costly and wasted expense for taxpayers. It also fails to note such approaches have been tried in some jurisdictions in Australia – with limited success, for example, the Curriculum-to-Classroom program in Queensland was found to be deficient. The surest outcome of such an approach would be a new revenue stream for specifically chosen edu-businesses as they rush to be selected as the provider of choice.   

There are already a range of paid options for teachers to access similar resources through sites like Twinkl, Teachers Pay Teachers, TES and others. Admittedly, these are paid resources; we argue it is unreasonable for teachers to pay for any curriculum resources out-of-pocket. However, even a ‘free’ version seems misguided because it does not pay attention to the work – and the expertise – that is central to teachers’ practice. And this practice includes the careful design and development of learning materials. This is not something that can be outsourced. 

As we say, the assumption and positioning of highly trained and university-qualified teachers, many of whom have trained for 4 or more years, as vulnerable and ‘fending for themselves’ is odd.

Planning lessons, finding, curating and developing resources is central to the work of teachers. Many teachers take great delight in carefully crafting lessons that leverage students’ interests; education is not, and never has been a one-size-fits-all model and any claim otherwise is undermining teachers, leaders and education support staff around Australia.

Teachers delivering content via a pre-prepared script or lesson might seem easier and simpler, but it remains difficult to see who benefits from a lifeless and unthinking teacher delivering someone else’s content. The key to teaching – and learning – lies in the human relationships between teachers and students. Those human relationships allow for careful contextualisation and design. It is that which drives teachers to search for just the right YouTube clip – the one that will appeal to that particular Year 9 Science class – not a sense of ‘fending for themselves’. Whereas teachers are responsible for their school students, families and communities, creators of ‘teacher-proof’ lesson banks are accountable to their corporate employers. As Lucinda McKnight reflects, ‘who would we rather have designing learning experiences for our own children?’. 

Our new book, Empowering Teachers and Democratising Schooling: Perspectives from Australia has taken the focus of empowering teachers and outlines alternative, human-centric ways that teachers can be trusted and empowered to make decisions about their work, with the shared goal of democratising approaches to education. By combining theory, academic thinking and teachers’ best practice examples, the book provides a range of suggestions on many of the key challenges facing Australian education. For example, George Lilley outlines the way that teachers have been sidelined in favour of a rigorous adherence to educational research.Alex Wharton’s chapter   imagines what an education system might look and function like if teachers were respected across all facets of their domain. 

Polly Dunning’s chapter articulates the range of pressures placed upon teachers – and the effects this has on children. Not surprisingly, the nature of lesson planning is not mentioned, but rather the rise of administrivia and additional expectations placed upon teachers without additional time or funding provided. 

As with many things in education, the best solutions require humans to be empowered to find their own solutions.   Education is filled with complex, ‘wicked’ problems, where solutions can take time, and require contextual nuance. ‘Solutions’ such as those suggested by The Grattan Institute ultimately misunderstand the work of the teacher as technocratic and therefore something that can be standardised. Until we appreciate the complexity of what it means for teachers to teach, we will continue to be presented with claims of ‘teacher-proof’ policies and materials that ignore the diversity of the students, whilst disenfranchising the teaching profession. 

If we are aiming to recruit and retain teachers, poorly thought out solutions such as providing teachers with pre-prepared teaching materials, as suggested by the Grattan Institute, is not the answer. This will do little to reduce workload, and it will also further damage the reputation of the teaching profession by limiting the expertise of teachers. These outcomes will do little to encourage people to become or remain teachers.  

Instead, we must look towards long term solutions that recognise the expertise of the profession. Trust, empowerment and listening to the voices of the profession is key. 

Keith Heggart is an early career researcher with a focus on learning and instructional design, educational technology and civics and citizenship education. He is a former high school teacher, having worked as a school leader in Australia and overseas, in government and non-government sectors.

Steven Kolber is a teacher at a Victorian public school, the founder of #edureading founder, secretary of Teachers Across Borders Australia and a proud member of @AEUvictoria. #aussieED Global Teacher Prize top 50 Finalist

Tom Mahoney is a teacher and educator of secondary VCE Mathematics and Psychology students, currently completing a PhD in Educational Philosophy part time through Deakin University. His research explores the influence of dominant educational ideologies on teacher subjectivity. You can keep up to date with Tom’s work via his fortnightly newsletter, The Interruption, via Substack. Tom is on Twitter @tommahoneyedu