Our politicians must learn what actually makes a difference in education
I can clearly remember my favourite teacher. He was a jovial and portly history teacher, who would get incredibly excited when telling us about the different personalities at play in the Elizabethan era, Vietnam war, or Tsarist Russia. These are generally the teachers that stick in our memories – those whose passion for their subject was contagious, inspiring their students to think more deeply, ask better questions, and grapple with challenging ideas. It is these teachers that we remember years later, and so the research says, it is these teachers that we should be investing in if we want to improve our education system.
Over the past week Labour, National, and the Greens have all released education policies, and yet none of them focused on developing the best teachers possible for our young people.
Instead, Labour has introduced a tertiary education policy that increases student allowances by $50 a week, removes the limit on post-graduate borrowing, and introduces three years of free tertiary education. National announced an education policy that introduces second language classes in all primary schools, digital learning opportunities for students in their final years of high school, extra investment into raising maths achievement, and online tools for parents to track their child’s achievements. The Greens have focused on providing supports for students with high needs, including funding “children’s champions” to coordinate these supports, school camp funds for students with additional needs, and finding new processes to cut down the number of excluded students. While teachers are mentioned in these policies, it is as a byproduct of raising maths achievements or supporting students with high needs rather than as a goal in itself.
This lack of focus on effective teaching is a problem. Whether at primary school, high school, or university, teachers matter. Teachers make the biggest difference in the achievement rates of our young people. Class room sizes, the number of languages or computers available, or even the cost of a tertiary course will never have the same impact as quality teaching. That’s not to say that these other ideas are bad, or wouldn’t help. Far from it. But when we have a finite amount of money to invest into the education of our young people, we need to be spending that money on what is going to be the most effective. We need educational policies that invest in the quality of teaching that our young people receive.
This might not sound as exciting or glamorous as new languages, digital classrooms, or increased student allowances. But it would be great to see our political parties calling for what is best for our kids rather than what is most click-worthy. Rather than focusing on what might make a good headline we need to be advocating for changes that will be the most effective for our young people. This means that we need to be talking about the quality of teaching, as it is through teachers that we provide our young people with the best chance of success.