The public debate on education in Tasmania would appear to follow a tired pattern. A report is published somewhere identifying a subject area in which Tasmania performs at second bottom of the States or territories (NT always last, the ACT always first). Shock, horror, followed by a Monty Pythonesque diatribe of “when I was a boy the teachers were tough, men were men and we actually learned read’n, writ’n, spell’n and rithmetic!”.
The pattern usually concludes with a newly enlightened, Right wing politician espousing something like “bring back phonics” or those from the other end of the political spectrum calling yet again for increased resourcing to our worst performing schools and reduced Commonwealth funding for private schools (but always neglecting to mention State or Total Government funding levels).
Rarely do media analysts drill deeper to discover that when comparing like with like (Tasmania with other regional areas in Australia) we actually do quite well and when you actually look at the bell curves, we are usually quite close to the larger states Rarely, if ever, do media analysts focus on the special needs of gifted students, despite the obvious potential they may have. The subliminal presumption is “they’ll do OK, no matter what”. The fact is, they don’t.
Instead of focusing on trying to improve our position on meaningless, interstate education league tables, I have advocated the establishment of a selective high school in Hobart (with potentially more to follow). I have been been criticised by both the AEU and the Tasmanian Principals Association for being elitist and lacking research support.
They’re wrong on both counts.
Selective high schools are not elitist. Indeed they are egalitarian, providing equal opportunity to gifted children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Who knows how many more David Walshes or Bob Cliffords are out there waiting to be discovered, nurtured, realise their potential and create jobs? Such a school need not involve large expenditure, with Geilston Bay High School, about to be closed, suggested as being a potential site.
As far as lacking research support I wish to thank and acknowledge NSW Department of Education and the their High Performing Students Unit for providing the following information.
There is a wealth of research evidence that grouping gifted and talented students homogeneously is a strategy which best caters to their educational needs and that failure to do so can lead to under-performance, depression, dumbing-down and even self-harm.
This article at http://www.fountainmagazine.com/Issue/detail/Advocating-for-Gifted-and-Talented-Student-Programs sums it up quite succinctly:
When gifted students are taught in a traditional slow-paced classroom and subjected to an inadequate curriculum, they do not apply themselves, have low stimuli, and even drop out. If schools do not allow gifted and talented students to flourish, their achievement and motivation will fade in a relatively short period of time. Parents of gifted students may choose to enroll their children in alternative programs, such as home schooling or other gifted and talented schools.
Rogers (1991) believes that gifted and talented students should spend the greater part of their school day with others of corresponding abilities and interests. Gifted students benefit from learning together and need to be placed with similar students in their areas of strength so that they can understand their learning differences in gifted classes.
Grouping gifted students cannot be considered elitism or a violation of equity in education. It is an erroneous belief that all students are best assisted in heterogeneous learning environments. There are many grouping methods in which average and below-average students may benefit as well as the gifted do. Rogers (1991) suggests many strategies and grouping options. He recommends a cluster grouping of students if schools cannot maintain a full-time gifted program.
A very interesting article dealing with resistance to accepting that gifted and talented students have special needs is at http://www.smh.com.au/national/gifted-talented-but-its-no-easy-ride-20091018-h2ys.html
Dr Miraca Gross is a strong advocate for ability grouping for the gifted and talented and has written many research papers on the topic:
http://aed.sagepub.com/content/43/1/87.abstract (has to be purchased)
Dr Eddie Braggett, Dr Nicholas Colangelo, Professor Francoys Gagne all support the ability grouping of gifted and talented students
Further research can be found at
In conclusion, Tasmania has an education system set up to fail many of our most gifted students and in doing so, denying Tasmania the benefits of their full potential.
We need selective high schools and we need them now.
Hans Willink, Independent Candidate for Denison, has maintained a special interest in education over many decades, with the Army supporting the completion of tertiary qualifications in several States and the ACT. At the same time my children attended different schools, giving me the opportunity to compare and contrast different school systems. I am married to a primary school teacher with more than 30 years of coalface teaching experience (but with whom I do not always agree!). After leaving the Army in 1997, I joined Tasmania Police as their IT and Communications Director, a position held until 2008. This was a period of major technical change for Police with in-house and external training, critical success factors. This article is the first of several to be submitted in the lead-up to the election, hopefully generating some substantive debate.