This ‘think piece’ draws on some articles in recent editions of the Australian Education Union’s magazine ‘The Australian TAFE Teacher’ and are focused around teachers and teaching issues.
The first, by Valerie Braithwaite, published in the Autumn edition of 2017 (pp 23-25) asks ‘How do we support quality teaching in Australian VET?’ This article draws on her review of the National Vocational Education and Training Regulator Act 2011.
Two others, in the latest edition of the Australian TAFE Teacher, Spring 2023, explore a couple of different aspects of VET teaching. The first, by Griffith University’s Steven Hodge (pp 12-14), suggests that teachers are the key to quality VET and that they need to be trusted. For a range of reasons, he suggests, they aren’t. A second, by Melinda Waters and Hugh Guthrie, on pp 22 & 23, stresses the importance of the teacher voice and the important role teachers play in making transformational impacts in students’ learning journeys.
How can quality teaching be supported?
In her 2017 article Valerie points to a need to “reward RTOs for going beyond compliance to produce quality education.” This, she believes, “provides regulatory authorities with the means to set a high bar and re-define quality in vocational education and training.”
After all, as she points out, “regulation is not only about placing constraints on those doing harm. It is about lifting the standards of everyone in the sector” and needs “to be geared to RTO continuous improvement with the intention of motivating, not de-motivating improvements in quality.” Thus, it’s a balancing act! However, how well are things being balanced? A rebalance towards a greater focus on quality improvement is potentially being attempted, and hopefully will be successful as we move away from a mentality that is too compliance oriented.
How to teachers support the learning journey?
Teachers are faced with a range of challenges, Braithwaite suggests, including “the loss of experienced teachers, reliance on a casual workforce, poor rates of pay and low morale.” There are also recruitment, retention and career pathways issues to contend with.
Valerie points out that “committed teachers and providers are doing an extraordinary job keeping the sector going in spite of the problems it is experiencing.” Waters and Guthrie highlight a good news side of all this.
In the Quality of Teaching project – coordinated through the VDC – that Waters and Guthrie were part of, they
“found teachers’ practical experiences in the transformative nature of learning differs from theory in oftentimes small, but important ways. The project found teachers are responsible for translating training package content into constructive and meaningful outcomes for students and employers.”
Quality teaching was also about the transformative process of “taking students on a journey for work (and other destinations) and changing careers and lives.”
For the educators in community education programs the studies found that:
“They use a range of methods to engage students in transformative experiences, which are mostly conversational and action-orientated (role playing, simulations, problem-based learning, action research and work experience, for example), starting with a disorientating dilemma, to disrupt thinking and promote debate and reflection about the issue.”
Indeed, “Waters and Guthrie heard from teachers in different areas of VET that transformative learning is occurring to some degree across the sector as they shape their students’ attitudes, mindsets and identities for an occupation, career and for life, although they do not name it as such.”
This is all good things, so….
Then, why aren’t teachers apparently trusted?
As Valerie’s 2017 article pointed out: “At the heart of the debilitation of the VET sector has been lack of respect and support in the reform process for the professionalism and skill of teaching.” She believes: “The most important repair job for the VET sector is to encourage, recognise and praise quality education.”
In his recent paper in Australian TAFE Teacher, Hodge explores the history and reasons contributing to this. He argues that “training reforms in Australia that commenced over 30 years ago cast doubt on teachers’ motives and started a long process of reducing teachers’ influence on the sector” arising from a VET system that became industry-driven, competency-based and marketised.
Drawing from Hodge’s work, and at the end of the day, a partial answer may be nurturing a stronger teacher voice and their more active role in VET reform. Hodge, too, suggests that:
“Australia needs its VET teachers to assume much greater responsibility than ever before to translate competencies into interesting, rich, future-focused learning.”