It is time for a review of the goals and indicators for school education in Tasmania. Of particular concern is that non-cognitive factors are given relatively little weight. As a result they are in danger of being neglected by teachers and undervalued by pupils and their parents, community and the government and its education system at a time when they matter more than ever.
The evidence is clear that continuing to ignore the non-cognitive, especially interpersonal, collaborative and social development, will result in declining life chances for children. This decline will be particularly acute for those children from lower socio-economic communities.
In brief, evidence makes clear how important social development can be, not only for student feelings of self-worth, day-by-day enjoyment of school and academic results, but also, and perhaps most importantly, for their later life chances. These life chances include employment and earnings levels but apply especially to work that requires interpersonal skills and teamwork, economies that are increasing the size of their services sector and our ability to respond positively to concerns that society is not as cohesive as it should be.
Despite the above evidence, our current curriculum gives non-cognitive factors relatively little weight and they are measured, recorded and reported inadequately by national tests, such as NAPLAN. We need to measure what we value not value what we think we can easily measure. International and national agencies agree and have started to move in these broader directions with their measures. Tasmania needs to follow and include and publicise the results specifically related to social development, in addition to the existing indicators on literacy, numeracy and retention.
School success, especially in achieving these broader goals, is also most likely when there is a strong focus on interpersonal, collaborative and social development. What works is strong collaborative local learning systems created in, and between, schools and between a school and its community. In brief, school success is all about establishing communities of professional learners. As internationally recognised Tasmanian research shows us clearly how to do this, there needs to be Government/Department of Education indicators that measure the extent to which they have facilitated communities of professional learners in and across Tasmanian schools and their communities.
If the Tasmanian government chooses to prioritise in a very narrow number of areas, to avoid measuring what is most valued (because it is most predictive of long-term individual and community success in an increasingly complex and rapidly changing world) and gloss over being judged themselves for their ability to bring on board the professionals (through facilitating schools as communities of professional learners), they, not the schools, must take responsibility for the inevitable negative results. One hopes the Tasmanian government will not abrogate its responsibility, for remediation of inadequate investments in the areas of social development once a child has left school is difficult and very costly. Also, it benefits no one in our society if Government actions, or inaction, result in lowering the professionalism of its most important employees, the teachers and school leaders. The government needs to ensure that it is part of the solution and not part of the problem for school education.
Professor Emeritus Bill Mulford AO worked as a teacher, department head, principal and Assistant Director of Education in the schools system before moving to the tertiary sector where his career included a highly successful 14-year term as Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Tasmania. Here he writes for Communicating: The Heart of Literacy – find more at chattermatters.com.au.
First published in The Mercury on 26th June 2018.