We welcome the Grattan Institute’s recent report, “Towards an adaptive education system in Australia.” In it, researcher Peter Goss argues that “our current education system is not fit for purpose given the complex challenges it faces.” These challenges are familiar to anyone interested in Australian education: the flat or backwards performance on important tests, the number of students not finding success after high school and inequality between schools. Goss rightly identifies the two key aspects to addressing these are that changes to education must be systemic and based on real evidence.
Many have been arguing this case for years and championed specific pedagogical approaches such as Problem-based Learning, Understanding by Design and STEM to name only a few. In fact, I have been involved in many of these initiatives – and saw them fail to make the systemic change required and advocated for by Goss. We are past the era of needing “new ideas,” but instead need to put these (and many other) ideas to the test. The “Adaptive Educational” model put forth by Goss will be familiar to those who have pursued a “closed-loop” or “continuous improvement” process. But like Goss, we find few such efforts used in ways that effect whole-school or sector change. This is not for lack of trying on the part of schools and teachers, but from a lack of good data.
Fortunately, the ability to use data as evidence is more possible today than it was a decade ago. The main reason for this readiness is twofold: a growing cultural appreciation of “Big Data” and as well as the sophistication of the tools required to make these data insights available to schools and their communities.
For over four years, Literatu has been developing powerful analytical software for schools and we can confirm a general “flat or backward” direction of student performance in NAPLAN scores. But we are seeing something very powerful as well. School leadership teams and whole staff rooms are excited and energised to engage in just the targeted type of teaching identified as essential by the Grattan Institute’s report. At issue was not an unwillingness of schools to take such action, but the fact that students’ learning gaps were buried in spreadsheets and hard-to-use software. What seems to be a dawning realisation by schools that “there must be a better way” has happily led to a boom in schools’ use of Literatu’s NAPLAN Explorer. This diagnostic tool provides easy access to detailed information in a friendly dashboard so that classroom teachers – not just school leaders – can quickly gain insights that naturally lead to targeted teaching and differentiation. What’s even better is that these teacher actions generate new data on student performance which feeds-back to validate or challenge the effectiveness of the interventions trialled. This is such an exciting time to be an educator because after decades of working “in the dark,” real evidence is at our fingertips and a single-click away. To repeat a very apt phrase, data-inspired teaching “is like what you’ve always done, but unlike anything you’ve done before.”
We encourage schools interested in seeing how easily teachers can grow an adaptive educational system to contact us for a friendly online demonstration.