AUSTRALIA Day did not disappoint; the messages right around the nation in the overwhelming sense were positive. None more so than that from Eddie Woo, Australia’s Local Hero of the Year: “Australia Day is a time to sit up and marvel at all the wonderful acts of selflessness and sacrifice that go unnoticed around us every day. The past 18 months have been a powerful reminder of how important education is to our world”.
“Let’s learn to truly value our schools and our teachers. Education has been one of Australia’s greatest assets, but things won’t stay that way unless we give educators the cultural and capital support they need to do their jobs. Valuing education isn’t about awards or accolades, it’s much more about trust and respect”.
Amazingly, Woo was the first teacher to give the NSW Australia Day Council’s annual address. His selection could not have been better timed.
Woo said: “If the Trump presidency, Brexit and our own political conversations have taught us anything, it’s while we live in an age where we hear more information than ever, we still have not learned to listen to those around us and appreciate points of view other than our own”.
The last bit of the quote should be read and digested by every politician in the land. Too many of them in the past have had far too much to say about education and most have been ill-equipped to do so. Their job is simply, as Woo said, to provide the cultural and capital support and let the educators get on with the job.
Teacher attrition rates, according to a recent paper by ANU lecturer, Merryn McKinnon, said researchers estimate 30 to 50 per cent of teachers leave the profession in the first five years.
One worrying aspect of this scenario is that the teachers who leave are likely to be replaced by even less experienced ones. Equally as disturbing is the estimate that 20 per cent do not register as teachers after graduation.
McKinnon wrote that while the quality of teaching graduates progressed, it is the absence of a strategy (and it might be said, the lack of concern by our politicians to probe and act on the reasons why) to reverse the retention rate that rankles.
Some of the reasons teachers quit are the heavy workloads, classroom management issues and a lack of collaboration and support (which includes mentoring and encouragement to be innovative).
Much of this, in the column’s view, stems from education ministers more concerned with budgets and bottom lines. US human rights activist, Malcolm Little, better known as Malcom X, once said: “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today”.
Federal education minister, Simon Birmingham and his state colleagues should take note.
Teachers tell the column (and McKinnon makes note of them, too) that paperwork, administrative demands, pastoral care and other extra curricula activities, when added to the normal teaching loads, don’t help the retention cause.
Teachers, especially those now retired, - as the column has proposed often in the past - provided vital mentoring for refugees and migrants to our nation.
Thanks to Eddie Woo, the son of Malaysian-Chinese parents who came here to provide a better education for their family, he has provided the real spark to another memorable Australia Day. The future is not in the past; it is ours to grasp now.