The Educator Weekend Wrap: NAPLAN begins, play enters disputed territory & calls for ‘urgent’ plan

by The Educator14 May 2016

In this week’s top story, more than one million students sat the National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) exams this week, the final one to involve pen and paper. A key focus of this year’s exams is on students’ performance in the discipline of numeracy, following reports of a downward trend in this area. Speaking at Brookvale Public School, located on Sydney’s northern beaches, NSW Premier Mike Baird and Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, announced a plan which would see the NSW Board of Studies partner with the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Macquarie University and the University of Sydney in an effort to bring hundreds of specialist teachers into the state’s classrooms. Premier Baird said that given the direction of the 21st Century economy, student performance in science and maths was crucial, as many future jobs would require these skills. “Technology is going to grow at seven times the traditional economy over the next 15 years,” he said. “These kids are right at the forefront of where the economy is going and the skills going in today is going to make a difference tomorrow.” 

In other news, a school play that will be studied as part of the Victorian Certificate of Education came under fire this week for being “anti-Israeli propaganda”. The play – called Tales of a City by the Sea – is centred on two people who meet and fall in love in the besieged Gaza strip. Palestinian playwright, Samah Sabawi, told The Educator that people rarely stop to think how people in troubled and war-torn parts of the world live their daily lives under such extreme conditions. “We live in a beautiful peaceful country, and we only get bits and pieces on the news about people affected by war in war torn areas be it Syria, Yemen, Gaza or elsewhere,” she said. However, B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission – a human rights organisation countering anti-Semitism, racism – said the play depicted Israel as a “bloodthirsty, evil war machine”. A review by The Australian Jewish Democratic Society described the play as a “stunningly theatrical experience" that portrayed a "lovingly wrought, gentle tale”. On Monday, Merlino said he was “confident that drama teachers will ensure students understand the full context surrounding this issue”.
Finally, Australian Centre for Educational Research (ACER) chief executive, professor Geoff Masters, called for “a new level of cooperation” between governments to address worrying trends – such as declining reading, mathematics and science outcomes – in Australian schools. Masters’ calls follow a report, titled: Five challenges in Australian school education, which aims to prompt cooperation by identifying the kinds of interconnected strategies schools need to address recurring problems. “Australia’s productivity and our national ability to innovate and compete globally in the next 50 years will be largely in the hands of students currently in our schools,” Masters said. “But as recent public commentary has made clear, on a number of fronts our educational performance is in decline.” He added that while the challenges we face are “beyond the control of individual schools or classroom teachers”, governments had the resources and influence to make change. “They require changes in policy. We cannot keep doing what we have been doing and expect performances to improve,” he said.