What are the main challenges facing teacher education in Australia?

Top-performing international education systems value expert teaching and recognise that highly effective teaching improves student outcomes. While there are some
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Top-performing international education systems value expert teaching and recognise that highly effective teaching improves student outcomes.

While there are some reforms in development, further work is required in Australia to lift the quality of teaching by attracting the brightest candidates into the profession and ensuring they receive the best preparation and ongoing support.

The federal government’s new requirement for teacher education students to be in the top 30 per cent for literacy and numeracy is important. However, an effective teacher has more attributes that this.

Of the almost 4,000 teaching students who undertook the literacy and numeracy test in May-June this year, 95.4 per cent met the literacy standard and 93.1 per cent met the numeracy standard. So this measure’s impact is minimal.

This was only one recommendation of the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group (TEMAG). There are 38 others still in the process of being implemented.

With key recommendations around tougher accreditation standards, TEMAG’s framework challenges initial teacher education providers to develop high-quality programs that can be rigorously assessed.

Universities will need to be able to demonstrate the positive impact they have on their graduates and that their graduates have on student learning. The latter is the mark of effective teaching.

TEMAG’s recommendations are not window-dressing. A paradigm shift, deep program reform and university support will be required to tackle current problems in teaching quality.

Too many teachers

Poor workforce planning by governments is further exacerbating concerns about teaching quality in Australia: supply is not well matched to demand.

The uncapping of undergraduate places in 2012 led some universities to exploit the fact that they receive funding for as many students as they can enrol. This has been a factor in the oversupply, giving the impression universities use teaching courses as a “cash cow”.

The largest education department, New South Wales, hired just 6 per cent of the state’s graduates on full-time contracts last year. Education minister Adrian Piccoli made the point that universities:

… have doubled entrants in the last ten years … They should take fewer and do a better job [of training them].

By investing wisely in the best evidence-based teacher education programs, the federal government can foster quality teaching without increasing total funding. This would also overcome the ethical issue of preparing teachers who have little chance of being employed.

Undersupply of specialist teachers

Despite general oversupply, Australia is experiencing a significant undersupply of language, geography, computing and history teachers, as well as secondary maths, physics and chemistry teachers, and qualified teachers in some regional areas.

As a result, more than 20 per cent of secondary mathematics and 17 per cent of secondary science teachers are unqualified in their field. Without even year 12 training in these fields, many science and maths teachers lack the ability to spark enthusiasm for these subjects in their students. This is why TEMAG recommended the introduction of specialist maths and science primary teachers.

The Conversation/ACER, CC BY-ND

Undervalued profession

To attract the highest-quality entrants, we also need to hold teachers in high esteem.

Teaching is arguably the most challenging profession of all, yet unlike Finland – where teachers accrue similar respect to doctors – we don’t recognise that teaching deserves the same respect and trust as the medical profession. Finland also demands graduate teaching qualifications.

Graduate students bring real-world experience, including deep disciplinary knowledge, analytical thinking and personal maturity. These are more powerful attributes for selection than the year 12 Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR).

The Victorian government flagged the prospect of graduate-only entry into teaching courses in a recently released discussion paper.

This would follow in the footsteps of the South Australia Government, which intends to require all teachers to have completed a graduate-level teaching degree. The state will also require government schools to preference the employment of graduates with master’s or double-degree teaching qualifications.

To attract the best candidates, prospective teachers need to see a career progression. Using the current lead teacher and accomplished teacher categories but linked with an appropriate pay level progression would be a good start.

Teachers have a crucial role in improving student outcomes. We need not only to lift course and graduate standards, but also to ensure teachers are well supported so they can contribute fully as highly developed experts in a widely respected profession.

What do you think the challenges with Australia’s education system are? Are you a teacher or former teacher? What challenges do you/did you face?

The Conversation

Field Rickards, Dean of Education, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

  1. Dee  

    The first step is to set the bar at a higher level. There should never be any teachers who don’t meet the grade and even one is too many. There should be more emphasis on practice and less on theory. Why not bring back the old monitoring system where teachers spent a year in a classroom working alongside a qualified teacher before going out on their own. We’d then have more experienced graduates and their presence in classrooms would lift the standards of those they teach. But of course, that would reduce the cash cow for universities and we can’t have that! We will continue to fail unless we stop propping up this current system which is clearly not working for anyone.

  2. Having an overcrowded curriculum is a problem as there is not enough time to teach subjects at any depth is an issue. The apathy of students is one of the biggest battles teachers have to deal with. There is increase in the administration side of education takes up more time with little support from above. Challenging behaviour of the students is an increasing and major concern. How do you teach students who can’t or won’t behave? Often there is little support from parents and more often than not, the parents take their child’s side without finding out the other side of the situation. Society needs to step up to the plate!!!!

    • Sue  

      Very true, Shirley! Society, parental attitudes and discipline (or lack of) are making it far more difficult for today’s teachers to achieve outcomes.

  3. Ele  

    The day that people realise that teaching schoolkids is entirely different to teaching University students the system may recover. Everything went downhill after the Teacers’ Colleges were closed and Universities started to “train” teachers. To teach a child you have to help him and show him how to do something so he understands, This is not how Uni students are “taught” so graduates don’t make good teachers automatically. They may become good teachers eventually but many never do. It hasn’t helped that every year or two the system is changed so that in the late 70’s, 80’s etc kids were told “it doesn’t matter what you do you will get a certificate anyway” and it doesn’t matter if you can’t spell and don’t know the meaning of words and we have stopped teaching grammar in English to concentrate on dissecting the meaning of novels and poems. Jane Austen did not write her books to educate anyone she wrote about people she saw in the community and hoped that the story was good enough to sell for some pocketmoney. I’m sure she would be surprised at how people now dissect them for their “meaning”.People change things to justify their position but sometimes a really good system can be ruined in the process and that is where we are in Australia now.

  4. Interesting comment Ele. I have observed also that University does not prepare teachers at all well. …. this also goes for the nursing profession. The current arrangement does not allow for a sound 2-4 years structure of mentoring and many people fall down the large crevasses along the way. Just passing University exams is not useful in this practical field.
    Most of the teachers in the poorer socio economic areas spend 80% of their valuable time “managing” the children rather than “teaching”, this is often reversed in “better economic areas” .
    This huge gaff is also about “discipline” and goes back to the poor attempt to change the system in the 1980s by well meaning but poorly informed “leaders” in education. There was no brainstorming on variety of potentially difficult situations and options for teachers in “managing” difficult children, no cultural consultation with parents, instead, we were giving the tool of “suspension”. A tool that has given no educational future for many children, and has increasingly lost respect for the teaching profession. This hasn’t worked well for teachers and pupils and I think we need to go back to serious brainstorming solutions, not judgements, of how to assist teachers to establish respect and authority. In a wider social sense children, and parents need to recognise and accept that all actions have consequences. Sorry I didn’t mean to rattle on… that’s been sitting inside of me for many years.

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