Australia: Universities told to raise bar for teachers

December 24, 2012 Comments Off

australian UniversitiesBy Stephen Matchett

Universities relying on training teachers for income should “put the national interest first” by cutting enrolments of poor-quality students and closing courses.

But the call for higher standards by Brian Caldwell, a former dean of education at the universities of Melbourne and Tasmania, and a leading schooling consultant to government, is undermined by Canberra’s open-access policy, which funds a place for every Australian any university will accept.

Last year, there were 65,000 people studying teacher education across the higher education system.

According to Professor Caldwell, “teacher education faculties are the life-blood of rural universities and high standards might lead (to) their having small enrolments or no enrolments at all”.

Professor Caldwell also questioned the accreditation of university teaching courses by the commonwealth and states.

In a scathing attack on government and universities, he argues that poorly trained teachers willing to work for internationally uncompetitive salaries makes it all but impossible to lift school performance.

“Universities have complained for years about not getting teaching students with maths, science and language skills, but there is no point in hand-wringing unless we are prepared to set the highest standards in teacher education,” he said.

Professor Caldwell’s calls for a root-and-branch reform to the selection and training of teachers follows Australia’s disastrous scores on international measures of primary school literacy and numeracy, released this month. Australian pupils ranked lowest among English-speaking nations for reading and lagged in maths and science.

His demand for higher-quality trainee teachers is endorsed by Lawrence Ingvarson, principal research fellow at the Australian Council for Education Research. “The recent results on primary performance were a big wake-up call. We have to attract and train better people,” Dr Ingvarson said.

School Education Minister Peter Garrett blamed teacher training faculties this month. But Dr Ingvarson said the Gillard government was undermining its own policy of raising student teacher standards. Canberra encouraged universities to increase enrolments by funding a place for every applicant they would accept, while minimum school-leaver standards for entry into teaching degrees were being undermined by universities accepting poor-performing students under alternative entry programs.

“This does not happen in medicine,” Dr Ingvarson said.

Brenda Cherednichenko, president of the Australian Council of Deans of Education, rejected claims poor-quality school leavers were being accepted into teaching courses.

“We welcome a national conversation about standards, but the ATAR (university entrance score) discussion is a furphy. (But) how do we tell that this score or that score indicates who can teach? How do we make that decision about a 17-year-old?”

Professor Cherednichenko also rejected accusations academics were out of touch. “There is no question we are constantly working with education systems to ensure we have current experiences of learning in our programs,” she said.

“Most people in teacher education faculties have years of classroom expertise.”

Professor Caldwell said his review of teaching in Queensland found universities passed up to 95 per cent of education students and that academics were in denial over the quality of teaching.

“There is a reluctance in education faculties to admit other countries are doing better,” he said.

He also questioned university course accreditation by the commonwealth and the states. “If all they do is rubber-stamp existing programs, a target of being in the top five countries is a waste of time.”

A spokesman for the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, said that every university that trained teachers had courses accredited and that he was not aware of any degree program ever losing approval. (The Australian)

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