A Victory For Commonsense!

Written by:
23 December 2023
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In a win for commonsense, education ministers across the country have recently signed off on measures requiring universities to include lessons on how to teach reading, writing, and mathematics in Bachelor of Education courses.

Accreditation standards for teaching degrees have been amended to ensure teachers are instructed to avoid ‘self-directed learning’ and instead receive training in techniques proven effective half a century ago.

Universities will receive $4.5 million in funding to support the teaching of core curriculum content to trainee teachers and must make these changes to their programs by the end of 2025. A new independent Quality Assurance Oversight Board will be set up alongside new practical experience guidelines for teaching degrees.

University lecturers trained in the more modern practices of emotional learning, radical gender and critical social justice might wince at the introduction of such apparently regressive changes. However, as research from the Institute of Public Affairs has shown, this dramatic shake-up is critical.

The straw that broke the camel’s back may very well have been the latest OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results that showed Australian student achievement continued its consistent two-decade-long decline. It could not be clearer – core curriculum subjects have been neglected.

Today, 15-year-old students are now 16 months behind in mathematics and over a year behind in reading compared to where they were in 2000. In science, 15-year-old students are 10 months behind their 2006 scores – which is when Australia first participated in this test.

Educators are under pressure to explain what is going wrong. Yet as IPA research has found, this is a fundamental problem facing our teachers, schools, and students and it starts at universities.

A school is only as good as its teachers after all, and teachers are only as good as the universities that provide their teaching qualification. There clearly is a crisis if barely half of the students who begin a teaching degree complete it.

The radical about-face in how teachers are trained at least acknowledges this reality. Teaching degrees are packed with woke content and trendy new teaching techniques that fail teachers and students alike.

The IPA’s research – Who teaches the teachers? An audit of teaching degrees at Australian universities looked at every subject taught by the 37 Australian universities offering teaching qualifications this year.

The audit found that teaching degrees have only 10 weeks of classes across a four-year Bachelor of Education degree dedicated to the teaching of core literacy and numeracy skills. Yet nearly one-third of all teaching subjects relate to ‘Woke’ ideology, equivalent to one-and-a-quarter years of a four-year Bachelor of Education degree. Teachers in training are currently taking three times as many Woke subjects than core curriculum subjects. This ratio must at least be flipped if we want to see the decline in student scores reversed.

Core academic curricula including reading, writing, mathematics, history, and science have taken a back seat in teaching degrees. Instead, teachers in training are being coached by their university lecturers to become masters in critical social justice, identity politics, critical race theory, radical gender theory, social and emotional learning and sustainability.

These ideas have trickled down from the universities to schools. We see this in the national curriculum which teaches children to see the world through the prism of class, race, and gender.

The focus on identity politics, critical race theory, and green ideology in schools can be traced back to Marxist Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. His critical pedagogy taught that most human interactions are underpinned by oppressive power structures built around group identities. Even a superficial reading of teacher training subjects reveals the extent of his influence. Before it made its way into schools and the national curriculum, critical pedagogy was promoted enthusiastically by Australian universities.

These ideologies do nothing to prepare teachers for their role in the classroom. University teaching degrees focus on woke issues and activism at the expense of core literacy and numeracy skills. The system is doing no favours for teachers, or the students they teach. It is in dire need of reform.

That is why these new amendments introduced by education ministers this week are so important. After 20 years of declining PISA scores, politicians have been dragged kicking and screaming to acknowledging there is indeed a problem.

The return to techniques used 50 years ago also highlights the key point that all change does not lead to progress. Proven ways of doing things can be better than the latest fad or trend. In a world obsessed with the next new thing, we must remember that sometimes what looks like a step back, is in fact a step forward. If teaching degrees continue to fail teachers, then schools will continue to fail students and academic standards will continue to fall.

Next on the agenda should be classroom behaviour. A recent Senate committee report found Australian classrooms are among the most disruptive in the world, ranked 69 out of 76. It is no wonder, despite the record amount of money being spent on education by all levels of government, that student performance is falling, and teachers and trainee teachers are leaving the profession in droves.

The failure of teaching degrees reflects a broader failure of the university sector. Increasingly, university departments are prioritising activism over education in their course offerings. Instead of imparting useful skills and knowledge that will benefit society, they are imparting a postmodern view of the world that provides little practical benefit for their students.

Graduates leave university ‘Woke ready’ rather than ‘work ready’. This was the finding of the Productivity Commission’s five-year inquiry found highly variable and poor-quality teaching was leaving students unequipped to meet real world demands.

Australia’s falling academic standards on the world stage reflected in the PISA test highlight a glaring issue with our universities. It is to the credit of our politicians that they are addressing this issue. More action is needed if we want to see this trend reversed.

The mission of a university is to impart knowledge and hone the mind. It is to be expected that if universities are failing to do this, then so will schools. The PISA results were a red-light warning for the tertiary sector. However, only time will tell whether the latest government response is ‘too little, too late’.

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