From catastrophic bushfires and crippling drought to the globally disruptive COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 is a year that many of us would like to forget and leave to the annals of history.
But despite the ways in which this year has isolated many of us, it has also been a year of collective will, courage and newfound temerity, and to find a powerful example of this, we can look no further than our schools.
Throughout the seismic shifts that the pandemic has brought about, Australia’s educators led by example, demonstrating just how resilient and adaptive they really are in the face of what was unarguably the world’s most unprecedented crisis in generations.
As the impact of this crisis was being felt in various ways across the education sector, teachers, principals, department heads and support staff spared no effort in helping students manage the radical changes to their school (and personal) lives, and innovated to develop new ways of approaching education moving forward into the future.
Not to be forgotten, educators and support staff bravely put their health on the line to serve the best interests of children at a time of historic disruption.
In an interview with The Educator, Federal Education Minister Tehan said every parent in Australia has developed “a newfound respect for the work that teachers do every day”.
“This will be an enduring legacy,” Minister Tehan told The Educator.
“I have been impressed by the way Australia’s teachers and school leaders have demonstrated resilience, innovation and flexibility in the face of such unprecedented challenges”.
A recent survey released to coincide with World Teacher’s Day on Monday 5 October found that of the total 328 posts analysed, nearly half expressed gratitude for the social and emotional support, compassion, encouragement and sense of connections provided by teachers.
A further 37% of posts recognised teachers for their hard work, critical thinking capacity, making connections with students and parents beyond the classroom and their mentoring and leadership.
Minister Tehan said he shares this gratitude.
“On behalf of every Australian, I say thank-you to our teachers and educators for their work this year. We will continue to rely on their passion, experience and wisdom,” he said.
“Our Government recognises that students will require additional support to deal with the ongoing effects of COVID-19 and our Government has a plan to address that”.
In this year’s Federal Budget, the government committed an additional $146.3m to help support students, families, and school communities impacted by COVID-19.
The funding includes $38.2m to support an additional 76,000 disadvantaged young Australians to complete secondary school through the Smith Family’s Learning for Life program and $25m to respond to education priorities arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minister Tehan said 2020 has also highlighted the important role of school leaders, who have been struggling under the weight of huge administrative pressures and complex changes within their school systems throughout the year.
“Principle number one of the COVID-19 National Principles for School Education, that was endorsed by National Cabinet, is that education is best delivered by professional teachers in the classroom on a school campus,” Minister Tehan said.
Minister Tehan pointed to a study conducted by a group of 35 research sector organisations and science leaders, which found that remote learning arrangements had the potential to result in poorer educational outcomes for almost half of Australian primary and secondary students if continued for an extended period.
“So, COVID has confirmed the importance of teachers and the classroom learning environment,” he said.
“From bushfires to COVID-19, this has been a school year like no other and our teachers and school leaders have risen to the challenge. Every student and parent will know how their teacher went above and beyond the call of duty”.
Looking ahead towards 2021, Minister Tehan said the disruption caused by COVID-19 and the education system’s response should be “an opportunity to harness the innovative ideas of Australia’s teachers”.
“What lessons were learnt during the school closures? How can we turn a negative into a positive to improve education? What worked and what didn’t work? Our Government wants teachers to deliver best-practice education backed by evidence,” he said.
“That’s why, this year, Education Ministers agreed to provide $50m to fund a national evidence institute to ensure teachers have access to clear information about the most effective teaching and learning practices, as recommended by David Gonski”.
Minister Tehan said it will also be important to measure the ongoing impact of COVID-19 on students and how the education system is supporting their recovery.
“That is why NAPLAN will be more important than ever as the only national standardised test in Australia that gives parents, students and educators clear and independent information about the performance of our students and schools”.