SMEs are calling for more innovation in Australia’s education sector following the passage of the Gonski school funding reforms into law.
With the reforms aiming to deliver equitable funding for Australian schools, entrepreneurs are calling for the multibillion dollar education sector to become more innovative in how they deliver core lessons.
Justin Matthys, a maths teacher and co-founder of Maths Pathway, an e-learning start-up, told StartupSmart: “The key with this level of innovation is about fixing these problems without fixing the whole system. You need to work with constraints, even if they’re not sensible constraints.”
“The more equitable model of funding that focuses on metrics and helps students get what they need will help a lot with resourcing, and for teachers to plan and execute new plans.”
According to business research company IBISWorld, the education sector has annual revenue of over $50 billion.
Nearly 35% of Australian children attend private schools, with annual revenue of $16 billion. There are just over 2723 schools, which employ more than 162,500 people.
The government schools sector caters for the rest of the education market, with 2.29 million students currently moving through the system. The 6677 schools employ 277,742 people and have annual revenue of $38 billion.
Innovation for core subjects
Matthys’ teaching platform provides teachers with an efficient and measurable way to create and manage tailored journeys through the maths curriculum for every student, to make sure no one gets left behind. Students still work in their maths books, but the program requires access to computers.
“Because we move through maths in big groups based on age, you get gaps in your understanding. Everyone does. But you have to fill those gaps, and it’s very, very difficult for teachers to support everyone to fill those gaps,” Matthys says.
“Too many students just switch off and disengage.”
Education system needs creativity and innovation
Matthys says creativity needs to be a focus on the education system, and innovation in education will improve core subject’s ability to encourage this.
“Creativity and maths is disconnected because of the system that we’re in. The more creative side of mathematics is in the curriculum and it’s meant to be covered,” Matthys says, adding that maths skills of problem solving and reasoning allow creativity to flourish.
After a successful pilot program in Caroline Chisholm Catholic College in Braybrook, one of Melbourne’s most socio-economically disadvantaged suburbs, Maths Pathway will be running a full pilot year in 2014 with seven schools already signed up to take part in the program.
According to Matthys, schools are ready for innovation in core subjects.
“We were concerned people wouldn’t be ready to consider this kind of idea and change. But when you speak with teachers who have been teaching maths for years, they’ve been battling with the problem of gaps for years and had to accept there are a certain number of casualties. So the opportunity to do it differently is amazingly exciting.”
Reforms present opportunity to evolve
While Gonski focuses on improving access and equality in education funding, and focuses on core skills, entrepreneurs say the new funding provides an opportunity for Australian education to evolve.
Sam Birmingham, the chief organiser of an upcoming Startup Weekend in Perth, exclusively for high school and university students, says the education system is not designed to encourage people to be creative or entrepreneurial .
“We churn our young people out to become accountants or scientists or teachers but the workforce is changing fundamentally, we don’t do just one job anymore,” Birmingham says.
Birmingham told StartupSmart schools needed to do much more to equip young people with the practical skills and creative attitudes they’ll need in the new economy.
“We haven’t evolved education beyond a piece of paper that says you’re smart enough to finish school or do a degree. We need to teach how to take on real world, real-time challenges,” Birmingham says.
“There is a bunch of things we can do in primary and secondary schools. Most importantly, we need to get people thinking about programming at a much younger age. The rest of our lives will be dominated by computers, so we need to be able to talk to that computer and work with it.”
Birmingham welcomes fairer educational funding, but is concerned a narrow focus on standardising education will see Australia miss the opportunity to develop the parts of the curriculum that could encourage an innovative next generation of workers.
“Standardising education, putting every kid in Australia through the same tests, is great for bureaucrats, but is that standardisation really the best way to go?” Birmingham says.
“By giving kids the chance to actually create something as a student would be really empowering at any level, primary, secondary and tertiary.”
Parents, educators seek creativity
International research by Adobe Education this month found parents and educators were concerned that education systems were failing to encourage creativity.
The report, Barriers to Creativity in Education, found a majority of Australian parents (85%) and educators (67%) surveyed said creativity in education will fuel economies in the future. Seventy percent of Australian educators believe they can do more to teach creativity.
Wayne Weisse, Adobe’s Education Business Manager for Asia Pacific, told StartupSmart businesses were increasingly looking to employ tech-savvy people with strong creative skills.
“Creativity in education comes back to what’s required in the workforce,” Weisse says. “We need to prepare students for career success, and develop these lifelong skills in creativity to match what business requires.”
The report found over 80% of Australian parents and 82% of teachers believed the role of creativity has increased over the past 25 years and will continue to do so.
“In all our dealings with Australian schools, they’re very aware of the need for creativity and they’re well down the track to addressing this. As much as creativity is stifled by the way the curriculum is structured, more and more tools are being deployed to encourage and spark creative thinking,” Weisse says.
“We know we can provide a more immersive and engaged learning experience with engaged technology, which enables to us create a more interactive and self-paced curriculum and allow students to express their understanding of the lessons through technology in new ways.”
Weisse says e-learning is a great example, building contemporary skills needed by business, and says more innovative education leading to creative and tech-savvy students will be a boost for the economy.
This article first appeared on StartupSmart.