Partnerships with school systems must play a stronger role in university education degrees

Professor Michael Singh, Centre for Educational Research, University of Western Sydney


The NSW government has raised serious questions about the quality of teachers being produced by our universities, criticising the lack of opportunities to practice in real classrooms. Without a doubt, this is an issue of great importance. Technological changes have revolutionised the way children learn and the way teachers teach. The rise of Asia and the growing global competition for jobs makes it more important than ever to provide a world class education for our school students. 

With regards to the quality of education graduates, the NSW Education Minister, Adrian Picolli, expressed reservations about the apparent lack of practical training provided by our universities. As the largest employer of teachers in Australia, the NSW Government’s opinion on this matter must be seriously considered, and there’s no denying this is an issue of great concern. Yet I would submit it is the new accreditation hurdles, and not universities, which are the main roadblock to providing future teachers with the skills to nurture our school children’s full potential.

Currently, teacher education courses need to 'cover everything required for a teaching qualification' to meet registration requirements.  This is an ‘inputs’ approach that generates conformity with some idealised, abstract notions of a standard and standardised ‘teacher’, leaving little intellectual space for practical on-the-job training.  If this is the only approach to accreditation that is possible, then the teaching force will never be what schools actually need, and what many universities would like to provide.

Universities are currently working with school systems to provide practical training partnerships that take education students out of uni and put them directly into the classrooms they’ll be teaching during their career. To address Mr Piccoli’s concerns we need to formally recognize and accredit training such as this.

Let me provide an example. The University of Western Sydney, the Ningbo Municipal Education Bureau in China and the local arm of the Education Department have developed a practical, on the job partnership to help train teachers as part of UWS’s innovative Master of Education (Honours).

In addition to having successfully completed a relevant undergraduate degree in language education, this partnership requires all candidates to be bilingual, with proficiency in English and Chinese.

It’s hoped this collaborative initiative will generate interest in, and create demand for, the employment of Chinese language teachers, a boon that would be greatly welcomed by the federal opposition leader Tony Abbott, who recently stated his desire to see more students study Asian languages. Similarly, The NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell, is committed to growing our already strong trade and cultural relationship with China, and teaching Chinese at school is an important step we need to take.

Yet despite these public statements, this relevant and demanding education program does not fall within the existing accreditation requirements for education students. This means the participants who graduate from this this Western Sydney partnership have to undertake a second degree to secure the “right university-based training” to gain recognition as registered teachers.

What a predicament. The entire program was developed in response to the NSW government’s desire to see second language learners being able to communicate in the language of the fastest growing economy in the world.

Each of the students attends a regional school where they can develop their capabilities in evidence-driven classroom practice, as well as supporting the Western Sydney Region’s Chinese language programs in schools. As part of this they also learn about classroom management from experienced mentors and supervisors.

The partnership has been a great success, directly contributing to the learning of Chinese as a second language by 4,017 primary students and 1,358 secondary students in the region’s schools.

With respect, I believe the state government needs to reconsider the way it’s framing the debate. Mr Piccolli is suggesting that teachers aren’t receiving the proper classroom training, but I would argue that accreditation model is holding back such opportunities.

It seems universities are ahead of the state government on this. We are the ones who are researching the best teaching methods, the newest technologies, and incorporating them into our programs. The accreditations system, which reflects an input rather and than an output model, must be reworked to incorporate both approaches.

We welcome the renewed focus on this debate, and will watch eagerly as the government explores new ways of rewarding the education students who are learning the very same skills Mr Piccolli publically laments as lacking. All of us want our school students to receive a world class education, one that will make them competitive and relevant in the Asian century. Instead of laying blame, we should be working together to finally provide a new generation of teachers for the 21st century.


12 July 2012

Contact: Danielle Roddick, Senior Media Officer