It only feels like yesterday, when these kids walked through the doors of Kindergarten for the very first time. Some apprehensively, in tears clinging to their parents while others were more confident, wide-eyed with wonder and eager to take on all that school had to offer.
The changes we have seen in the education system since that summer’s day in 2012 have been remarkable. The Prime Minister of the time, Julia Gillard, believed that a back to basics curriculum along with overpriced school halls would bring about a revolution. Yet as we have seen in the past three decades that philosophy was never going to stand the test of time.
Regardless of how new the surrounds, how could a back to basics curriculum possibly have met these students’ needs?
When they started school in 2012, the world was in the midst of the Global Financial Crisis and Asia continued to dominate the labour and manufacturing market. Widespread revolution was taking place to form the Middle East that we have come to know today, and technology was developing at such a rate that the need for old-fashioned skills and knowledge deteriorated daily.
In 2012 over ninety-three per cent of students were achieving the national minimum standard in numeracy and literacy, yet the youth unemployment rate (15‐19 year olds not fully engaged in work or study) stood at approximately twenty percent - the highest rate of unemployment in any age bracket - with some communities in Melbourne, Adelaide and Central NSW witnessing rates of well over thirty per cent.
Put simply - as NAPLAN test scores improved nation-wide, youth unemployment rates continued to increase. School either failed these kids completely, or the skills they had learned were no longer required in the workplace. This not only affected those who left school in Year 10, 11 or 12, but also university graduates.
One report suggested in 2011, that twenty-five per cent of university graduates struggled to find work, with one leading company, KPMG claiming, “Universities are not producing the sorts of graduates that industry is so desperate for.”
Fortunately for the Class of 2025 and Australia as a nation, through considered, rigorous debate, advocacy and common sense, we really did witness an education revolution in the strictest sense of that word.
The change of focus in education came about in 2012 when government realised that there was a large disconnect between what the students were learning in schools and what was actually required when they left.
The national curriculum became a less prescriptive document. Instead it focused on key concepts such as creativity, critical thinking, resiliency, individual strengths and altruism. It allowed teachers and schools autonomy in decision-making when addressing the needs and demands of their students and wider community.
Brave leadership in government saw the focus of educational reform shift its previously transfixed gaze from standardised testing, league tables, and performance related pay, to adopt a more holistic approach to education. Much of the credit for this must go to the Education Minister of the time, Peter Garrett. The former front man of Midnight Oil who for years campaigned for a brighter future for all Australians, put the wheels in motion to ensure such a future for these students before us.
Learning from the highly regarded Finnish education system, barriers between school sectors were broken down. Rather than competition between schools, we saw collaboration and rather than rolling out a flawed performance related pay scheme (that would only see ten per cent of teachers rewarded) salaries were increased across the board, and more professional courtesy was extended to teachers in general.
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