Educating Australia: Challenges for the decade ahead

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Author: Edited by Tom Bentley and Glenn C Savage
Category: Books, Music Education
Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2017, 409pp.
ISBN 9780522870411 (pbk)
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“If you are wondering about the schooling of your children or grandchildren and are looking for an up to date authoritative guide to Australian education, this is probably the book to get.”

Educating Australia: Challenges for the decade ahead is edited by Tom Bentley and Glenn Savage, with multiple authors across some 22 chapters. Whereas much of the media reporting of the political controversies surrounding education in Australia is focussed on funding and the competitive choices between different types of school, this book offers a more coherent account of the fundamental issues which will affect how well the next generation of Australia’s schoolchildren are prepared for their lives in the middle and later parts of the twenty-first century.

The important first chapter by one of our foremost educators, John Hattie, pleads for a shift from emphasis on structural solutions around choice of school to building the expertise of our teachers, and teams of teachers working together to improve quality of education through students more effectively learning the things that matter most.

He says:  ‘We can have in Australia, the world’s best laboratory of What Works Best, the most scalable story of success, an education model that is shared between schools and not resident in only a few, dependable recognition of excellence,  and a celebration of success of teachers and school leaders. Our enemy is complacency, blaming the postcodes, deploring the parents, fixing the students not the system, and arguing for more resources to continue what is not working’.

Each chapter is authored by educators who have an association with the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education, itself the foremost education school among Australian universities, and among the top ten such schools in the world as judged by the QS system of international ranking of the world’s universities by discipline field.

The chapters are organised around four main sections. The first concerns purposes of schooling, the roles of teachers in a knowledge economy, and the broad challenges of curriculum (what is to be taught and learned) and assessment ( how learning is monitored).The second section provides different perspectives on the knowledge, skills and capabilities needed by students that are grounded in innovative practice and research. The third section has its focus on the role and impact of teachers, while the final section examines system reform across topics including assessment rankings at the end of secondary school, the difficulty facing schools serving disadvantaged students in recruiting and retaining ambitious teachers, and of course, consideration of the political and policy dynamics of school funding reform in the Australian context.

Summing up, the editors say: ‘it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that growing inequity and inequality are the greatest threats to educational progress over the coming decade.’ They stress the importance of collaboration in governance, politics and community, saying that theory, evidence and practice surveyed in this collection requires support for education to be increasingly networked and collaborative.

The authors of the chapter on music education have extensive and varied experience of teaching music at primary, secondary and tertiary levels, experience in the preparation of music teachers and their subsequent ongoing professional development through presentations at conferences and workshops. They also have published internationally in music education journals.  They argue for students to ‘develop their own musical ideas, expression and collaborations alongside the skills of audiating and performing’. They also argue for the ‘role of teachers as music educators to evolve from directing performance to facilitating and scaffolding this wider set of creative experiences. Finally they highlight that ‘acknowledging cultural difference within musical systems and sharing this knowledge with broader communities would enliven knowledge, learning and culture for all students’.

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