The evidence gathered in this Review indicates clearly the important issues which need to be dealt with in teacher education. In summary they are:
While these are substantial issues, their dimension is probably similar to those faced at critical times by many other professions, vocations and occupations in their cycles of development and change. Other professions and occupations in our society have adapted their structures and practices to better serve the public. Teaching needs to do the same.
In charting new directions, nothing is achieved by apportioning responsibility or blame for past failures or present inadequacies. In any event, the passage of time has reduced the usefulness of some traditional approaches and made it more necessary for change to occur. Systems have to move on as much as the people in them.
The fundamental issues confronting teacher education and teaching in New South Wales are readily identifiable in other contexts, nationally and internationally. These are how:
These are just some of the important matters which teacher educators, teachers, employers and unions have had to address in other countries, just as New South Wales is doing in this Review. Debates about these issues have centred on the importance of standards of professional practice. Such standards are unlikely to be developed and applied by teachers unless the profession itself has ownership of them. Teaching must be a profession with an unambiguous commitment to quality in practice and service. Only then will teaching have any possibility of being a vital and creative calling in contemporary society.
Many of the issues which need to be addressed are long-standing and complex. In some areas, such as establishing closer links between universities and schools or establishing a process to accredit professional teaching standards, change will not occur overnight. The long time frames, however, cannot be accepted as a reason for inaction. In any case, across the large education community within this State there are sufficient people of talent and ability who believe this revitalisation is realistically achievable. Many have given their valuable time and intellect to provide highly considered advice to the Review. They have suggested innovative solutions to the problems and issues which confront them on a daily basis.
The directions proposed can be followed and the recommendations made can be implemented successfully if there is commitment across the education community to quality teaching in our schools and other educational settings. This commitment must involve a willingness to work together, no matter how complex the State’s education structure, to guarantee the future of our most critical profession. While this Report is to Government, it has implications for many jurisdictions where they must be dealt with in local and specific contexts.
The limited impact of past reviews of teacher education over two decades carries a stark lesson. Telling evidence was gathered over that time about the need for change to develop a quality profession focused on delivering effective learning. Why was it that those with responsibility to transform teacher education and the quality of teaching did not meet the challenges? Why was it when so much was asked for, so little was given?
Almost unwittingly, responsibility for change was placed in the hands of traditional systems, both of schools and teacher education. These had become so focused on perpetuating themselves that they proved unequal to the task. They had become so divorced from teachers and teaching that they were incapable of creating the conditions in which the required changes could flourish. Had these challenges been met as they arose over the past 20 years, this Review would have been unnecessary. Some may say that this is too harsh a judgement: that the structures were inadequate to bring about change; that universities, over two decades of reorganisation, had other priorities; and that resource constraints in both universities and schools prevented issues from being addressed adequately. Whatever the reasons for inaction, the mistakes of the past must not be repeated.
Key structures and systems must be put in place to revitalise teacher education and teaching. Quality education for all our young people must be the goal and it will occur only when sustained by a strong and effective teaching profession. Too often in the past when educational problems arose, bureaucratically-conceived solutions were imposed in the hope that a ‘quick fix’ would work. It rarely does. Short-term solutions often lead to long-term problems. Real change involves a long haul of constant effort and too readily, as we have seen in the past, people give up if there is no on-going driving force.
Yet there are signs as we enter the new millennium that key educational leaders are engaging with these challenges. The New South Wales Government has shown its commitment to quality teacher education and quality teaching by taking a lead in establishing this Review. Universities are looking to redress past inaction. School systems understand that the quality of student learning depends fundamentally on attracting and sustaining quality teachers.
Comment was made during the course of the Review that it has generated debates which previously would not have been possible. The observation was made that great expectations are held for the Review and what it can achieve for teacher education in New South Wales. While this view is understood, those who shared in the Review or who have a stake in teacher education and teaching also need to form a clear view about the role they and their institutions have in fulfilling these expectations. Change and improvement in teacher education will not occur unless this happens.
Teaching is the critical profession. A teacher influences every person who goes on to further study, training or employment. Teachers have been prominent people in at least the formative years of the lives of all the State’s citizens. The quality of their work matters in ways matched by few professions.
An investment in quality teaching is an investment in improving the society teachers are called to serve.
3, Bridge Street, Sydney, NSW 2000
GPO Box 33, Sydney, NSW 2001
TEl: 02 9561 1132 Fax: 02 9561 8406