Could e-learning help solve Australia’s teacher shortage?

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On Thursday, thousands of teachers went on strike in New South Wales over “unsustainable” salaries and workloads.

It comes amid growing concerns over Australia’s teacher shortage.

The federal government has suggested incentivizing high-achieving students to teach degrees with extra payments, while education experts say teachers need more time, more pay and more support to do their job. work.



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One option that could free up teachers’ time and ensure students get the education they need is ‘blended’ learning, in which some learning happens online and some face-to-face. We know it can work in other settings – at university level, I have three decades of expertise in distance and blended learning, with several thousand students across multiple subjects at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. cycle.

Crisis

The standard set in Australian schools is one teacher for every 25 students, with learning taking place face-to-face in a classroom, five days a week.

But a growing shortage of teachers means we may no longer be able to accept this as the norm. According to a recent study by Monash University, 59% of primary and secondary teachers surveyed said they intended to leave the profession. Heavy workloads and health and wellness issues were among the top reasons given for their responses.

Public and Catholic school teachers took to the streets on Thursday.
Nikki Short/AAP

Blended learning involves a mix of traditional face-to-face learning and distance learning. This online element can be done anywhere, such as at school, at home, or in small groups.

COVID meant remote learning was in the headlines around the world, but it’s been happening behind the scenes for some time already, especially in remote parts of Australia through distance schools.

When learning is done remotely, it still needs quality teachers. Unlike university students, school students need significant support to help them learn. Teachers need to know their students and design lessons specific to their context, whether in inner-city Sydney or remote Arnhem Land.

The silver lining of COVID

Any teacher or parent will tell you that COVID quickly changed the way school was structured and learning delivered.

Despite the stresses of this time, the pandemic has shown us that it is possible to teach students online, and that despite the well-known challenges of learning from home, there are some benefits. This has been the case when distance learning is planned and delivered at a high level, allowing students to use the technologies they love.



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As the World Bank recently discovered, COVID has created many opportunities to “reimagine how education can be delivered and enriched.”

One of my education colleagues likes to cite the example of a 12-year-old from Rockhampton, who had four people helping her learn in March 2020 when the pandemic started in Australia. This included teachers and friends.

This group grew to 35 over the next year, along with other classmates, parents, grandparents and other similarly-aged students at her school. His literacy, numeracy, technology and social skills skyrocketed, along with his well-being. This was a direct result of the distance learning required, as the student asked for help from others and it quickly snowballed.

It can work for all levels of the year

Queensland Senior Educators told me it was best to teach up to a quarter of the curriculum content online. This concerns all levels of the year and in particular from the 4th year and includes basic knowledge and skills in most subjects.

Teachers indicated that student learning could be more personalized online. Students with the ability to go fast can do it – and not get bored. Students who need more time can take it.

A mother helps her young children learn at home.
COVID has forced schools across Australia to switch to online learning, with no warning.
Dean Lewins/AAP

It can also be used to facilitate peer-to-peer learning and group activities in ways not easily achieved in traditional classrooms. This includes collaborative projects using things like shared Google Docs and educational video games.

Achievements in this learning can be assessed in the online environment using high-quality techniques that involve automated grading as well as some teacher judgement.

This has the added benefit of freeing up time for teachers with fewer face-to-face contact hours, but without adding to the work of parents.

However, this means that all students doing some of their school work remotely will need to have good access to a computer or tablet with a good internet connection. And while this is generally already the case, some students did not have it during the closures and some schools must guarantee such access as they did during the NAPLAN online tests in May.

Let’s reinvent schools

A hybrid model will only benefit students and teachers if it is implemented correctly.

In its assessment of COVID learning at home, the World Bank found that remote learning was necessary to have appropriate technology, targeted professional development for teachers and to ensure that students are engaged.

Under a new hybrid model, Australian schools would still use face-to-face learning when most appropriate and distance networked learning when most appropriate. This can free up instructional and physical resources (such as classrooms) and potentially improve student learning and teacher well-being.

As the teacher shortage continues, we need to get creative and use the existing models that we have already seen work.

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