As parents, teachers and students were settling into the routine of the new school year during some of the most sweltering conditions we have experienced, they were greeted with the news of another round of “new and improved” testing for all Australian students.
Some children had not even returned to school when Federal Minister for Education Simon Birmingham announced his plans to introduce wide-scale literacy and numeracy testing in Year 1 in coming years. In making the announcement, Minister Birmingham was at pains to point out that these are not tests; rather a literacy and numeracy check or a “light touch assessment,” as he described it.
On the face of it, it is hard to argue with a nation-wide assessment of infants’ ability to count, recognise numbers, name shapes, decode words and read accurately. The intention is good: that is, to pick up gaps and support students who need assistance in reaching the year level, parents and educators working together to set the young student up for success in their academic life.
If that is the case then all will be well, but what we have seen eventuate with tests like NAPLAN is a distortion of its purpose and application. As we know, in spite of the push to resist results being used as league tables, some teachers have succumbed to teaching to the test, or even worse skewing results. And parents are making school choice based on published results.
This raises the question: what are we educating our children for?
In the 2008 Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young People the educational goals were broadened from previous agreements to ensure a focus on the role of the student as successful learners, confident and creative individuals, active, informed and responsible citizens.
In his parting speech, US President Barack Obama also focused on the role of citizenship for young people calling on them to “accept the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power swings”. And in the encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis talks about “ecological citizenship” and how education about environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us.
On a global scale, the push is even more urgent to educate students for tomorrow. The 2016 Report from the Centre for Global Education Monitoring, which supports the monitoring of educational outcomes worldwide recommended that “we must fundamentally change the way we think about education and its role in human well-being and global development”.
“Now, more than ever, education has a responsibility to foster the right type of skills, attitudes and behaviour that will lead to sustainable and inclusive growth.”
If we want to equip students, our future citizens to fill an infinite variety of roles in science, health, hospitality, education, aged care, public service, technology, sport, the corporate arena or not for profit sector; parenting and childcare; then we need to nurture their particular talents and gifts so they may best play their part in this complex ecosystem in which we live.
Literacy and numeracy are the fundamentals of learning and it is the role of the school to work with families to ensure each child is confident in these areas, they are the building blocks for their further learning. But that is not where the role of education stops, it is to prepare good citizens with good hearts who value their own difference because it has been valued at home and school.
So as we begin the new school year, let us celebrate our youth and support them not just to “perform” in the classroom but to develop their own gifts so they can take their place in society and make a difference in our world.