Adapting teacher education to the future needs of Australia
Australia/March 12, 2022/By: Joanna Barbousas/Source: https://www.theage.com.au/
Unforeseen changes in the past two years have demanded a rethink of priorities that have shaped teacher education in Australia for more than 30 years.
Before the pandemic, producing “classroom ready” teachers was considered the top priority. Then we were faced with a combination of events and circumstances that no one really could have predicted – social isolation, remote working and learning, unpredictable politics, climate-related disasters and economic depression.
More recently, there has been the global uncertainty caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
As we moved into 2020, classrooms for teachers in training to demonstrate their classroom readiness were not available, and they became unable to graduate or to take up teaching positions.
To put things into perspective, Victoria needs about 5000 teaching graduates each year to meet workforce needs, but university data in early 2020 suggested the state would be lucky to produce 1500 qualified teachers if changes weren’t made.
But more than that, it forced everyone to consider the type of teachers needed for a world facing great change and uncertainty and a community increasingly transformed by the effects of isolation and the pandemic on mental health.
The lesson is that we need to prepare the next generation of teachers to be not only “classroom ready” but “catastrophe ready” too.
Firstly, initial teacher education requires its own curriculum. And like all good curriculums, it is necessary that it is reviewed and updated based on changing demands and the social landscape. It is now well and truly time.
Teachers today are expected to do more than just teach children how to read and write. The rise in mental health issues experienced by young people is among one of the many complex issues to which teachers need to respond. New teachers need to be equipped with welfare and mental health support strategies to have the confidence to manage this.
As well, given that teachers have proven they can deliver education online – putting aside the benefits or otherwise for the moment – we should now extract the best parts of online education and incorporate these into the curriculum.
Teacher placements need to become a mix of classroom learning and remote learning, in both metro and regional areas, to truly build resilience and create a workforce that is capable of teaching in times of unpredictability.
In saying that, a refreshed curriculum is not a silver bullet. We also need a renewed focus on attracting the right candidates to the profession, through innovative pathways, diverse placement opportunities and mentorship.
La Trobe University’s Nexus program, for example, is government-funded and enables student teachers to complete a master’s program with paid employment in schools. It aligns with the recent release of the Quality Initial Teacher Education Review recommendations, which acknowledge that prior learning of well-qualified, suitable, mid-career changers with skills in areas of high demand should be better recognised.
Nexus, and similar programs, offer pre-service teachers with great understanding of the diverse work that teachers do, and valuable classroom experience.
Above all, teachers must possess the attitude that they can never stop learning. Education providers would do well to offer short courses that offer specific skills and ongoing knowledge to the education community, as research and circumstance continue to build and change around them.
This is a time to listen and act. It is not a time to cast blame or point the finger. It is a time to unravel a schooling system that was designed for a society in the late 1800s moving into an industrialised world – which is no longer quite fit for purpose.
*Professor Joanna Barbousas is the dean of education at La Trobe University and president of the Victoria Council of Deans of Education. She is a panellist at The Age’s Schools Summit at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre on March 23.
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