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Schools are not what they used to be - and for good reason

One of the biggest challenges facing parents when their children start school is coming to terms with changing educational norms. Schools are not what they used to be—but in many cases, there are sound, evidence-based reasons for these changes.

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Ever found yourself thinking ‘It wasn’t like this in my day’? Consider some of the benefits of the changing face of schooling in Australia.

Entrepreneurship: preparing for the jobs that haven’t yet been invented

A popular statistic says that around 65 per cent of today’s primary school students will work in jobs that haven’t yet been invented. This means the role of schools is to teach children how to learn, as much as what to learn.

Australian children continue to study the ‘3Rs’, but they are also introduced to broader, transferable skills such as leadership, entrepreneurship, teamwork and resilience. Schools now provide multi-disciplinary assessments, innovative team building projects, and opportunities for self-reflection alongside traditional learning areas.

Technology: IT, STEM and BYOD

When many of today’s parents were at school, Information Technology (IT) was a once-a-week class in a remote computer lab. Now, it’s a crucial dimension of teaching and learning across all subject areas.

Following the release of a 2015 report from COAG (Council of Australian Governments), the government developed strategies to encourage teaching across science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) across all age groups. Over time, this will see subjects like coding, robotics and high level problem solving introduced right from the early years.

At the same time, textbooks are increasingly being replaced by e-resources—from apps to websites and subscription services. Some schools supply class sets of tablets; others run BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) programs, where parents must supply the tools.

For our children, computers are not an optional extra for playing games—they are the contemporary equivalent of pen and paper, setting them up for a future in a fast-changing world.

Flexibility: getting out from behind the desk

As we’ve learned more about educational psychology, we’ve come to understand that sitting still in a desk for 7 hours a day is not an ideal learning environment for most children. The response has been the emergence of flexible classrooms, which may include a bank of standing desks, break out spaces for teamwork, or lessons conducted outside.

Flexibility also applies to the daily routine, where children may be encouraged to go for a morning run, eat a fruit snack before their usual break time or enjoy some meditation before an exam. These innovations can seem like diversions from the curriculum, but they in fact make children far more productive.

Punishment: behaviour management and encouragement

Behaviour management in contemporary schools is focussed on guidance, rather than punishment. Research has shown that many of the traditional methods of correcting disruptive behaviour or poor academic results, such as corporal punishment or writing lines, were simply counterproductive. Children are better learners when they feel included and supported.

Contemporary approaches to managing behaviour vary widely between schools, but may include accessing learning support services, making use of a school counsellor or working with parents to devise a reward plan. Whilst suspension or expulsion are still possible, schools try to work with teachers and parents to ameliorate circumstances before excluding an already disaffected child.

Families as clients: private school tours, school open days and interviews

A modern Australian school is a business, although not for profit, which means every family is a client. Schools want to grow and retain their student numbers, whilst developing a reputation for excellence. This will be reflected in marketing strategies, private school tours and open days, where current and potential clients have a chance to see the school ‘in action’.

The benefit of this business-like approach is accountability, with more opportunities than ever for parents to discuss their child’s progress with teachers. Many schools use social media or a communications app to keep parents up to date, some also have an online ‘parent portal’ where attendance records, end of term reports and newsletter communications are easily accessed.

Whilst some of these changes can seem radical, and the technology can be intimidating, the result is a more transparent education system with one eye on the wellbeing of children and families, and the other on the brave new world yet to come.

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