Our children are the in-betweeners, writes Dr Fiona McGaughey, Director at the Australian Council of State School Organisations. Between paper and pen, and digital literacy, they are forging a path through new terrain.

The most recent NAPLAN was an example of this. Children across the country sat the NAPLAN online and faced problems with connectivity and other technical issues. One child (who shall rename nameless!) reported, “I lost a chunk of my work mum, it just disappeared because we weren’t connected properly. The teacher said we might get to do it again with pen and paper.  I’d like that – I write well but I can’t type well.” They’re in-between, taught the important skill of handwriting but also expected to be able to express themselves through a completely separate medium.

NAPLAN engenders debate among parents and educators alike. Certainly as a parent, I’m reluctant for my children to be put under unnecessary pressure. When we get the results for our children, I would like to get them in a timely fashion with more meaningful data and detail. It would be great to have baseline data relating to the child and indicate whether they have improved or declined according to the results of objective testing. Yet despite NAPLAN’s shortcomings, some sort of national measurement process seems logical and recent research commissioned by ACARA has shown that most parents are supportive of NAPLAN.

Nonetheless, with a wide diversity of opinions on NAPLAN, at the Australian Council for State Schools (ACSSO), we recognise that it is important not to simplify the parents’ voice on this one – homogeneity of parents’ opinion on this is unrealistic. But here’s the thing. There are lots of topics on which the vast majority of parents will agree – on the importance of good quality, properly funded public education that is available to all children; on education meeting the needs of our diverse community so that children with disabilities, Indigenous children, children whose first language isn’t English are supported in education - to benefit them and their class mates. One concern is that the disproportionate focus on NAPLAN dilutes our focus on more significant topics for debate.

For example, let’s turn instead to consider what the responses are to NAPLAN results. We know that they consistently show that socio-economic profile largely dictates results, what is being done about that? The 2015 results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) show that Australia’s performance in reading, mathematical and scientific literacy has decreased significantly in recent years. Recent reports have all suggested that Australia is ranked 39th out of 41 countries for quality education.

The rising use of technology in schools is another area worthy of more focus. As a parent, it appears that there is a paucity of sound academic research on the impacts of this on pedagogy, educational outcomes, concentration skills, social skills, neural development, and physical development. We also wonder what society will be like for our children and what skills they need to be equipped with. Again, from ACSSO’s perspective this necessary engagement with digital technologies is neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’ but like every other area of public policy – it must be evidence based.

We’ve got important work to do together – governments, schools, educators, parents and families. At ACSSO, we pride ourselves on being the one voice for every child in public education and we are grateful to ACARA and many other key national bodies for having us at the table to engage in a meaningful way. We have broad membership from state and territory parent organisations and we remain open to more members from other states. We’re in the in-between too, an exciting time and as well as real challenges we have real opportunities.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr Fiona McGaughey is a proud mum to three primary school age children, two boys and a girl, who attend their local public school. She is a director at the Australian Council of State School Organisations (ACSSO), who represent the interests of the families and communities of more than 2.4 million children attending government schools in Australia.