Challenging education’s Trump Cards 

(no nods to Donald)

Named this month by The Educator Magazine as one of Australia’s Most Influential Educators, Esther Hill, Director of Djoowak, The Beyond Boundaries Institute and Dean of Teaching and Learning at The Studio School, Fremantle and All Saints’ College, writes about the most pressing issues in education. It’s a big issue and we can’t fit it all in this week, so look out for part 2 next week.

IN Australia, our education systems and the traditional grammar of schooling the wheres, whens and how’s – have remained largely unchallenged for decades, whilst the world beyond school has changed rapidly.

Education needs to change the rules of the game and the trump cards of the past. 

With a new set of trump cards the game of education becomes accessible, relevant to current times and better for all. 

Imagine an adaptable, flexible education system where the trump cards of the Individual, Capability, and Wellbeing replace the trump cards of the past, which use system-led directives and numbers, marks and grades as the only hallmarks of success.  

Gamechanger #1: Let the Individual Trump the System

In the past, systemic needs have always trumped the needs of the individual.  

All educators will speak of the limitations and hindrances that the system puts in the way of truly supporting an individual in their growth and development.

In the name of efficiency, equality, standards and proficiency, educators are often positioned to support a culture of competition with a regime of testing and exams dominating in senior secondary schools. 

Educators must have the agency to attend to individual needs, to shape their curriculum and their delivery of curriculum to enable and empower students. 

Enable and empower

Instead, they often feel hamstrung by a system that focuses on the numbers and data associated with standardised tests rather than the emotional, motivational, and individual needs of students and schools. 

We need a new trump card of the Individual: where interests, talents, well-being, growth trump the traditional industrial models of education.

This trump card will have a domino effect upon the dogmatic trump cards of the past.

Prioritising the individual, their capabilities, their wellbeing, and their uniqueness will cause their growth and development to accelerate. 

Gamechanger #2: Let Capabilities and Gifts Trump the Top of the Bell Curve 

Under challenge

The dominant trump card – securing a place at the top of the ATAR bell-curve – is under challenge, and we have an opportunity to create a new trump card that prioritises capabilities.

Three big shifts in recent years call for a new trump card in the game of education to replace the bell curve as the measure of learning and ability. 

Firstly, the Covid crisis led universities to provide new entrance opportunities for students. 

These new and emerging ways to enter university include pathways programs, VET entry, special consideration processes, early offer schemes and portfolio entrance schemes. 

This undermines the dominancy of exam results in determining a student’s entrance into university – we have now been dealt a new hand of cards with which we can change the game. 

Secondly, the ATAR is losing its power as a trump card, because while “the ATAR is an efficient and effective measure of academic achievement and potential. . . it does not consider equity issues and says nothing about a student’s life goals, passions and broader personality, beyond being resilient, motivated and organised enough to have achieved the High School Certificate.

What’s missing in the current debate about ATAR is balance” (Tertiary Admissions Centre of NSW). 

This is central to the need to let capabilities trump the bell curve. 

Continued next week

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