AFTER witnessing some of the world’s best education systems on a recent trip through Europe and the United States, Queensland Catholic Education Commission executive director Mike Byrne is pushing harder than ever to advance education back home.
Mr Byrne was one of a dozen Australian educational leaders to embark on a 12-day study tour last November, visiting schools and meeting government officials in Washington, New York, Helsinki, Copenhagen and Brussels.
And, the successful systems of these overseas counterparts – particularly the Finnish, whose students are ranked among the highest achievers in the world – have confirmed three key areas he would like to see improved in Australia.
These are, the use of technology; equality of access to learning; and the social value of teaching.
Mr Byrne said technology was highly regarded in Finland, where a typical classroom contained one computer per student with broadband speed of 10Gb per second.
He said this “extraordinarily high speed” allowed students and teachers to utilise online digital resources, such as television-quality video conferencing, and was “significantly faster” than what is available in most Australian schools.
“Technology is here with us and we need to embrace it,” he said.
“It’s a tool that enables kids to really engage in a more personalised sort of learning, which they can do at their own pace, so I think we need to be looking at providing good quality technology to all our students in Catholic schools.”
My Byrne described technology as a “powerful window for learning”, which he said every student should have equal access to.
“It’s my priority to make sure improvements are made equitably for all children, not just for the ones who can afford it,” he said.
Mr Byrne was also impressed with the great deal of emphasis the Finnish placed on the teaching profession.
In Finland there is a strong demand to get into teaching, with only 10 per cent of applicants being accepted each year.
And, there is a requirement for all primary and secondary teachers to hold a Masters degree and have completed a two-year internship before being allowed to teach.
He felt the notion of “valuing teachers” needed to be improved in Australia.
“Teachers are held in very high esteem over there… it’s hard to get into teaching and they’re rewarded with good wage levels,” he said.
“As a society, Australia should value the work of teachers more because their role is absolutely critical.
“While we are blessed in Catholic education generally to have a well-qualified, dedicated and relatively stable teaching force, along with government, we need to be continually looking for strategies to help attract and retain excellent teachers into the future.”
Mr Byrne thought the current Government initiatives – to install high speed Internet access in schools and provide computers for all students in Years 9 to 12 – were a solid starting point to improving Australia’s education system.
But he insisted more could be done.
“It is pleasing that the Rudd Labor government has recognised some of the key drivers of the success of countries such as Finland and will invest heavily in technology in education.
“These countries really do value education, they put the dollars there, and this is something we need to aspire to.”