Challenging education’s Trump cards 

Part 2 of one of Australia’s most influential directors Esther Hill about challenging the education status quo.

THIS ‘balance’ the TAC of NSW calls for, repeats the need for a game-changing move that can acknowledge value beyond the exams and assessments we associate with senior secondary schooling.

Finally, in our own state, students have been drifting away from ATAR, partly because of how its high stakes take a toll on well-being and mental health: in 2021, only 46.6 per cent of students chose the traditional ATAR pathway. 

Our youth are calling out for a new trump card which lets the game of education see them; which represents and supports their interests, abilities and passions; and which sees their successes – which we all know go well beyond a number – recognised and acknowledged.

This new trump card challenges the traditional methods of acquiring knowledge and skills in our industrial age of education, ensuring that there are more opportunities for practical application. 

This enables a greater emphasis and focus on the development of the complex capabilities and employability skills critical for success in the world beyond school.

Gamechanger #3:

New Metrics – Let the nuanced and difficult to quantify trump a rank and percentage

Most people are aware, even from early childhood, that school reports, ranking and percentage trumps all. 

Clean and clear, easy to quantify, and purporting to be fair and balanced – as all students are measured by the same, impersonal metrics. 

This trump card, for so long a central rule of the education game, must be taken out of play. 

Part of my recent work has been engaging with the New Metrics project with the University of Melbourne to create the new trump card for measuring learning. 

Instead of relying on percentages, grades and rank, this new method relies on sharing the nuanced and difficult to quantify: those important capabilities of collaboration and teamwork, communication, agency as a learner and problem solving, that are not represented in traditional metrics, but are so vital to thriving in the world of today and tomorrow. 

This new trump card will come from two parts of the New Metric project: the first being the development of a set of measurement and assessment tools for enabling the evaluation and reporting of students’ development of complex capabilities. 

The second significant project to help us create a new trump card is the development of a Learner Profile.  

A Learner Profile would aim to represent the broadness of a student’s growth and development in domains that include but go beyond the academic. 

Significantly, students would play a role in developing their own learner profile by selecting and showcasing their distinctive and unique abilities, interests and experiences.  

Such a profile, currently being trialled in South Australia, would offer a relevant and progressive alternative to the outdated ATAR. 

Gamechanger #4:

Wellbeing trumps everything We read and hear about the mental health crisis of our youth, and our schools work hard to address the growing need for support. 

If we have a wellbeing trump card, if ensuring the safety, happiness and mental good health of our students is our priority, we have more of a chance for all students to flourish and subsequently for their learning and growth to flourish too. 

In the global knowledge economy, the OECD has an increasingly influential role to play in determining the goals, practices and outcomes of education systems. 

In 2018, the OECD released its framing paper The Future of Education and Skills: Education 2030 which contains the OECD Learning Framework 2030: a vision and some underpinning principles for the future of education systems. 

The Framework attends to a significant need in education: the need for broader education goals for individual and collective well-being.

“Education needs to aim to do more than prepare young people for the world of work; it needs to equip students with the skills they need to become active, responsible and engaged citizens.”

South Australia has recently taken up the challenge from the OECD of redesigning its Senior Secondary schooling with a focus on flourishing and agency. 

Seen as a first mover in Australia to reimagine their system for a new age, South Australia has placed wellbeing at the centre of their design with six key elements: Zest for Life, Agency, Deep Understanding and Skilful Action, Human Connectedness, Ability to Transfer Learning and Belonging as the key aims of the students’ final years of school. 

In South Australia, ‘Thrive’ is a learning entitlement. 

Western Australian, and indeed our national, education policy makers can learn much from South Australia’s bold moves. 

These are moves that put the moral imperative on supporting students’ wellbeing and aiming for our young people to thrive in, not simply survive in, their education as our first priority. 

Let these New Trump Cards help us change the Game of Education

The stakes in this game are high – on the table are the opportunities for today’s education to enable young people to thrive in the complex and uncertain world.

For our students, teachers, schools and systems to embrace complexity, to put the student and the individual at the centre, moving away from the standardised toward the personalised; and, above all, to prioritise the wellbeing of our young people.

The 2022 list of Australia’s most influential educators includes valued colleagues who are daring to trial new approaches, challenge their school communities to carefully consider the priorities for our young people in this wild world, and to be bold in their approaches. 

These changemakers and ‘influencers’ are supported by organisations like All Saints’ College and The Studio School who are daring to find new ways of playing the education game and changing the trump cards of old to new ones which empower our young people to engage in and ignite a very different world to that which we, their parents, were educated in.

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