Canberra schools face shake-up under new 10-year plan

Canberra schools face shake-up under new 10-year plan

In ten years time, Canberra students might be sitting down to classes in "creativity" and "critical thinking" rather than English, or working alongside local experts to help solve problems in their community.

Welcome to the future of learning in Canberra, as envisioned in the ACT government's new and much-lauded education strategy.

Unveiled on Thursday, the Future of Education project is a 10-year road map to bring personalised learning to the centre of every school in the territory - and the product of 18 months of conversations with the community.

ACT Education Minister Yvette Berry with students at the release of the new strategy on Thursday morning.

ACT Education Minister Yvette Berry with students at the release of the new strategy on Thursday morning.

Five thousand Canberrans were consulted in its design, almost half of them students.


While practical detail about the strategy's implementation has yet to be revealed, acting director of school improvement Kris Willis said it was sure to shake up the system.

"And that's a good thing. This is about re-focussing the curriculum, the bones of what we teach, and looking at what students will need in the real-world," he said.

In a modern job market, employers were less concerned with candidates memorising historical facts or knowing the Periodic Table as they were with skills in investigation, collaboration and creativity, he said.

Ideally, classes would no longer just be called Maths and English, he said, though ACT Education Minister Yvette Berry has stressed foundational knowledge such as science and literacy will always have a place in schools.

"If you're going to make significant change, people will always be uncomfortable but we want to take the community along with this," Mr Willis said.

In a new inquiry-based class running this year at Dickson College, students are tasked with investigating problems they find around them - from climate change to the school's less than ideal library lay out. One student came up with a whole new design to fix that, principal Craig Edwards said, though the school's librarian will likely need to have some input.

"There's still room for the classics but there's also so much we could be doing, reaching out to experts in the community...helping develop teacher expertise too," he said.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Minister Berry would not commit to a timeline for the implementation of the plan or say when practical details would be released. More work was still to come, she said.

One of the strongest themes to emerge from talks was a need for more student agency in schools, and to align learning with personal interest or ambition.

While individual learning plans were already used at many schools in the territory, Minister Berry said teachers would be trained in the best ways to put students at the centre of their education.

Mr Willis acknowledged that was no small task but said he was exploring how new technologies, real-time data and professional learning programs could support teachers.

When the ACT launched the Future of Education project in 2016, Ms Berry said she wanted to hear directly from students, who often don't get a say in their education.

Gungahlin College Year 12 student Shaylah McClymont chairs the minister's student congress and said it was exciting to see student suggestions now coming to life in the strategy. Along with personalised learning, a number had called for more support for their wellbeing and mental health at school while others wanted students experiencing disadvantage or disability to have more resources, she said.

At the forefront of the strategy is a focus on equity, and plans to lift students out of disadvantage, but Ms Berry did not say how that will translate into resources in schools.

"Personally, when we're measuring young people, it's a lot about the ATAR now and the pressure of that and I think there's better ways of evaluating someone as a whole," Shaylah said.

"One student really inspired me. He asked what if you weren't just enrolled in one individual school and then another but the education system itself and you could flow through that your whole life, no matter what age you were."

with Daniel Burdon

Sherryn Groch is a reporter for The Canberra Times, with a special interest in education and social affairs

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