Transcript

The Dean Series: Education

Lorraine LingLorraine Ling
Email: l.ling@latrobe.edu.au

Audio

You can also listen to the interview [MP3 17.2MB].

Transcript

Matt de Neef:

Hello and welcome to the La Trobe University podcast series. I'm your host, Matt de Neef, and joining me today is the Dean of Education, Professor Lorraine Ling. Thanks for joining me, Professor Ling.

Lorraine Ling:

It's a pleasure, Matt.

Matt de Neef:

Now, I thought I might start by asking you a question I've asked the other Deans as well and that's regarding your role as Dean. And obviously, people know that you're the Head of the Faculty of Education. But can you give us a bit of a sense of what's involved in your role on a day-to-day basis?

Lorraine Ling:

Well in a day-to-day basis, I guess that the big picture level, Matt, involves working with staff to set a clear strategic direction into the future for the faculty, to look at ways that we can grow the business of the faculty, ultimate accountability for whatever happens in terms of the handling of finances, and viability of the faculty comes back to the Dean, and of course I've worked very closely with the staff. And I also teach from time to time, but not nearly as much as I'd actually like to.

Matt de Neef:

Vice Chancellor Paul Johnson mentioned that this time at La Trobe is a period of growth. Have you noticed that in the Faculty of Education in terms of student enrolment levels?

Lorraine Ling:

Yes most certainly, Matt, because the Faculty of Education is the youngest faculty in the University having only been constituted in this current form in 2005 even though education has been a part of La Trobe since its inception in the 1960s. So the faculty during its five years has grown more than half as much again as we started out and saw a massive growth and that growth is about to continue in terms of new programs that we're going to bring on board.

Matt de Neef:

I imagine there are certain challenges involved in that in terms of finding rooms and class sizes that sort of thing?

Lorraine Ling:

All of those things are a real challenge. And of course staffing is another issue for us because we're looking to bring on board staff, more highly-qualified staff. And of course the pool of teacher-educators at there is not necessarily large enough for all the people who want to draw on it.

Matt de Neef:

Now you're a bit of a veteran of the La Trobe University podcast series and in a previous interview with Matt Smith you mentioned that the Faculty of Education is going to bring in a couple of new courses in 2011. Can you tell us a little bit about what those courses are and what they hope to achieve for the faculty?

Lorraine Ling:

Yes, in fact when I was talking to him I said two; it's now going to be four. So we're bringing in four new undergraduate programs as of next year, 2011. Three undergraduate teacher education programs on the Bundoora campus: one will be a Bachelor of Teaching-Primary, one will be a Bachelor of Teaching-Secondary, and one will be quite a groundbreaking course – unlike any that I'm aware of certainly in Victoria, if not in Australia – called the Bachelor of Outreach in Community Education which will not only train teachers to teach in schools and particularly in disadvantaged schools, but will also train teachers to work as outreach or welfare workers in other community agencies where there's kinds of things – drug rehabilitation or youth detention or disengaged young people.

So those three programs will be offered as a suite of parallel programs at this particular campus as of next year. On the Bendigo Campus, we're beginning for the first time in the history of this faculty and indeed in education in this University, a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education. And that will be very important, I think, for supplying the increasing need there is for trained teachers in early childhood because day care workers now have to, if they're working in a day care facility, there has to be a trained early childhood person there. So the demand is pretty huge.

Matt de Neef:

You mentioned before there's different courses for someone who wants to teach at a primary level or secondary level; what's the difference in terms of the tuition that you're giving the students there?

Lorraine Ling:

Well, if they're in a primary course, they are training as generalist teachers so they need to be trained in every curriculum area that's taught in a primary school curriculum, so the entire key learning areas. If they're teaching in a secondary context, they need to be specifically trained in a teaching method area and those method areas in their secondary course will be the ones in which they did majors and sub-majors in their undergraduate degrees. So a secondary teacher must have an undergraduate degree or what constitutes the equivalent of an undergraduate degree.

Matt de Neef:

So that must make it difficult for somebody that, say, starts off as a primary teacher that wants to make the transition to a secondary teacher. If that's what they want to do, does that mean they have to go back and retrain in their area of specialty or is there a sort of pathway program they can take there?

Lorraine Ling:

Well, technically they would need to have the ability to teach the method subject, but particularly if they wanted to teach up to VCA, they would need to have that background in their own education. However, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in Victoria is making the shift between primary and secondary much easier and is placing quite a lot of emphasis on the middle years which of course spans primary and secondary because that's years five to nine. And therefore, these kinds of transition problems that used to exist for teachers, as well as students, are being somewhat minimized.

Matt de Neef:

You mentioned before a little bit about the Bendigo Campus and new courses starting there, and historically there's been a bit of a problem in trying to get teachers to teach in rural areas. As someone who's been stationed in Bendigo for quite some time, have you found that by educating teachers in Bendigo, it's easier to get them to stay in Bendigo as teachers?

Lorraine Ling:

Yes, we certainly do find and that's not just with Bendigo, but with all of our regional campuses because we have a four-year Program in Primary Teaching at Mildura and the Middle Years at Shepparton and a Master of Teaching in Albury-Wodonga. So we have a teaching program a bit slightly different on each campus which we think is a strength in that we're not duplicating the same thing across the various campuses. But yes, the people who undertake those courses don't always come directly from the region. But in coming to the region to study, many of them do decide that they will stay there and teach. And so, yes, it does help to provide teachers for hard-to-staff schools in regional rural areas.

Matt de Neef:

La Trobe Uni's strategic plan is called 'Vision 2015' and it's all about ensuring the University's place in what they've described as a changing higher-education landscape. How do you see the Education Faculty developing in the next five years? Where do you see it being in five years time?

Lorraine Ling:

Well in five years time, I believe it will have grown significantly again. It's growing rapidly on a yearly basis and of course the new courses, the four new undergraduate courses will take four years to roll out because they're four-year programs, each of them. So by five years hence, we'll have all years of those programs established and be entering into an entirely new cycle with those programs. So I think it will be a very exciting period of growth.

I think it's somewhat of an unknown territory after 2012 because if indeed the Labour government gets back in, they will continue with their plan to take off the caps on the number of undergraduate and post-graduate students that universities can take. This will mean of course that the students will have the Commonwealth Supported Place given to them to take with them to any university that they wish to cash their voucher if you like in order to study.

So the onus is on us to make the programs that we are offering incredibly attractive, highly competitive, and the ones that the students want to come to. So, word of mouth, advertising, getting a program that is high-quality, all of those things are going to become absolutely critical in the years following 2012. If the Coalition gets in, I think we're still a little unsure as to whether they will leave the caps on or take the caps off. So we'll be watching eagerly to see where we go in the next little while with that election.

Matt de Neef:

So we're coming up to the time of the year now, as well as the election we've also got the University Open Days. What will you be doing and members of the Faculty of Education be doing to try and make, as you say, La Trobe appeal to students?

Lorraine Ling:

Well, we'll certainly be telling them about the variety of courses that we have because as I've said to you on each of our campuses we offer something different. It's always in pre-service teacher education or post-graduate education for teachers or others who wish to upgrade. So we'll be talking about the fact that we can provide them with opportunities from the time that they leave school right through until the time they finish their PhD and beyond if they have those aspirations.

We'll also be talking about the fact that at the moment there is a projected shortage of teachers in some areas. So therefore it's a good vocational choice for people to be taking at the moment. Unlike a few years ago where we were graduating people who just simply didn't get jobs because there were too many teachers being graduated. The situation now is completely different.

And we'll also of course be trying to give them some choice about the way that they study so that these people that we know have to earn some money to get themselves through a university and through a course will have the ability to have some choice and some flexibility about how they undertake their courses. I think that's going to become an even more critical thing to be able to offer people those choices.

Matt de Neef:

Early this year we saw the Graduate Diploma of Education middle year students at the Shepparton Campus being loaned iPod touches to assist them in their studies. What sort of role do you think technology has played and what role can it play in teaching education students?

Lorraine Ling:

Well it's hugely important but we have to remember, I think, that we need to make it our tool rather than have it doing the work for us. So, it is critical that we use it for the pedagogical purposes with a good rational as to why we're using it and not just because it's there. But in Shepparton, it's been an absolutely amazing experience, a groundbreaking experience because their students in fact only attend face-to-face classes for five weeks of the year. Every part of the course from there on is either done online or is done through an interactive medium called "Elluminate" which is a virtual classroom which allows all of the students within the group to be online together at a time that suits them or at a scheduled time and you can therefore break people into groups virtually and all kinds of things.

They've also instituted lots of blogs and wikis and of course now, the iPods which are proving to be hugely important. And Dr Caroline Walta who runs that program who's just been awarded the Australian Teacher-Educator of the Year Award has really said that she's never seen learning anything like it in terms of the excitement of the learners because they're interactively involved, they're learning from each other and they're not relying on the teacher to kind of stand up there and fill their heads with all the good news and hope that it all sticks.

Matt de Neef:

It seems like you're providing an unprecedented level of flexibility in terms of how students can learn and target it toward their own strengths and also fit it in with what else they might have to do in their daily lives.

Lorraine Ling:

Absolutely, in fact we've got students from several states of Australia and there would actually be no reason that you couldn't have overseas students undertaking the program. They would just have to have the equivalent of the five weeks attendance dealt with in different ways. But we see this program as being almost limitless in the ways that can be made flexible.

Matt de Neef:

Now as you've mentioned before, the election is going to change the landscape of education in Australia a little bit and in the last couple of years we've seen the Rudd government $16.2 billion 'Building the Education Revolution' package being rolled out. What's the state of play at the moment in terms of education in Australia? Are we sort of on the right track or have we still got things that we can improve on?

Lorraine Ling:

I think we've still got a long way to go in terms of education because whether in fact the building of buildings, sometimes where there were already perfectly good buildings, didn't necessarily seem to be where the need was. I think some of the money that's been put to education has been – and I've said this in a previous podcast, but I've hold the same line – I think it's been given to schools with a lot of strings attached.

So many strings attached, in fact, that they've had to spend that money in very, very narrow ways which might not necessarily be where the growth is neediest in many of the schools. So instead of allowing schools to try to work towards fulfilling the needs that they feel they have, they've been given money for something that perhaps is not where they should be putting their effort.

Having said that, I think we have seen since the Labour government had got in we have seen more of an emphasis on trying to strengthen education in Australia because for 11 years whilst the previous government was in, we saw a decline in the percentage of the Gross National Product that was put into education in Australia, when every other OECD country was in fact seeing an increase. So, we were one of the very few countries where the amount of money, the percentage of money devoted to education nationally fell rather than rose.

Matt de Neef:

You mentioned briefly before about the actual building of buildings as part of this Education Revolution package and in April The Australian newspaper put out an article saying that Catholic schools have been far more efficient in their building of buildings than their public school counterparts. In fact only a handful of Catholic schools haven't started new construction whereas a little on the half of public schools have actually started. So why do you think there's such disparity between the two there?

Lorraine Ling:

Well, I've been making a bit of a study of this recently because I'm about to go overseas to give a paper on some of these issues at an international conference just in a couple of weeks and from what I can gather – and there's been all kinds of inquiries into this in most states of Australia – and what it seems to be pointing to is that the government schools have been, again, very constrained and haven't had the control of who these contracts for buildings get elect to. And so there's been a whole lot of insider trading. There's been a whole lot of less-than-transparent processes which have gone on in terms of who gets the tender to build the buildings. And it's been quite clear that there's been a really inflated cost attached to some of these buildings.

Now the Catholic school system, and I was reading something about a Catholic school principal who said we have been allowed to have much more control over who these tenders get elect to and therefore we've had more discretion to choose the ones that are going to be the most suitable and obviously the most beneficial for the school and what comes out of the building project. So I think that what we've had unfortunately is a less-than-transparent process of how this occurred. And of course, that's held it up tremendously.

Matt de Neef:

Is that something governments are aware of or is it still very much a case of in need of more research to be able to provide the government with some way of acting on this?

Lorraine Ling:

I think the government is very aware of it. What they will do about it is another thing. They can't not be aware of it because there have been very public inquiries. The media has been full of it. If you go online, you'll find an absolute deluge of information from school principals who have put things there. But of course, the other problem for government school teachers and principals to an extent is that they're somewhat gagged over what they can say. It can be a very career limiting move in fact to come out to damningly against the government that actually employs you.

Matt de Neef:

You've been at La Trobe for 25 years – you've told me just before – as an education academic, what would you like your legacy to be?

Lorraine Ling:

Well, as an educator the greatest thing we can do is to empower other people to be able to take charge of their lives and to be able to continue to learn endlessly throughout their whole lives. So, what I'd like to leave behind me is a lot of empowered educators here who are able to empower the people that they teach, who in turn being teachers, would go out and empower the next generation.

And empowerment is a bit of a gimmick word, but by that I really mean genuine empowerment where people are in control. People are not being controlled by others. People have the ability to learn independently. And people can feel that they have some agency in terms of choice about the way that their life goes and how they manage that.

Matt de Neef:

They say you never stop learning.

Lorraine Ling:

Well, if you do, I reckon it's when you're going out feet first.

Matt de Neef:

Professor Ling thanks so much for your time today.

Lorraine Ling:

Thank you, Matt.

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