Universities Deliver ‘Woke’ Degrees to Trainee Teachers Who Demand More Practical Training

“Woke’’ universities are instructing trainee teachers in gender theory, climate activism and race relations, as young teachers demand practical classroom skills. One in five teachers has warned the federal Education Department that universities failed to teach them all the practical skills required to teach children to read and write, or to manage classrooms. Up to one-third of recent teaching graduates from some universities declared their degree had failed to prepare them for the classroom. Teachers-in-training have been lectured on “postmodernism, existentialism and reconstructionism” in the University of Canberra’s initial teacher education degree. Course materials sent to students show lecturers have critiqued the “social and political content’’ of the Australian Curriculum, mandated by the nation’s education ministers for teaching children from primary school through to year 10. A lecture slide notes “we aren’t even doing a very good job”, tallying up 19 references to social justice, Aboriginal rights, invasion, colonisation, the Stolen Generation, assimilation, social justice and racism.

The course material includes a slide from CNN, with the title “Our World Today’’, linking climate change to aggression and violent behaviour, depression and anxiety, farmer suicide and forced migration. Thousands of students skipped school on Friday to march in “School Strikes 4 Climate’’ protests in Brisbane, Darwin and Melbourne. One protester brandished a misspelt placard declaring “I’M MAD AND DISSAPOINTED”. Two of Australia’s most eminent scientists – Nobel laureate and Australian National University Vice-chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt and former chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel – this week criticised the poor levels of literacy and numeracy among school students and called for greater focus on schools teaching the basics of English and mathematics. One-third of school students failed to meet the minimum standards for reading, writing and numeracy in this year’s NAPLAN (National Assessment Program, Literacy and Numeracy) tests, with students twice as likely to fail than to excel in the tests.

But many teachers are struggling with literacy and numeracy themselves, as universities fill their teaching degrees with lectures on social justice. The federal Education Department has revealed that many teachers fresh from university feel their degrees failed to prepare them for classroom teaching. “A lot of students talked about the need to have more practical on-the-job training as part of the course and some suggested something along the lines of an apprenticeship model,’’ said Lisa Bolton, director of research and strategy for the department’s Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching survey of university graduates. “They wanted to know more about classroom behaviour management, dealing with parents and dealing with students with particular learning needs. “They said the placement was too short, the course was too theoretical and even a bit outdated. A few had made comments about wanting the lecturers to have more recent teaching experience in schools.’’

One University of Canberra final-year student told The Australian the education degree was “teaching us to indoctrinate students’’. “It teaches about gender diversity and critical race theory rather than drilling down on the fundamental skills so we can be really effective teachers ourselves,’’ the student said. “I’m pretty irritated by all the politically correct and woke stuff. “We could learn more in a school classroom than in the university … and save ourselves and the taxpayer a lot of money.’’ At the University of Canberra, a lecturer’s slide about “postmodernist writing’’ includes a rambling and incomprehensible 92-word sentence: “The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.’’

A University of Canberra spokeswoman said the student’s complaints “do not accurately represent’’ the quality and content of its degree. She said trainee teachers were given practicum placements in schools, ranging from a week in the first year to 30 days in the fourth year of study. “Taken together, all units of study that focus on a key learning area of the Australian Curriculum – mathematics, English, science etc. – represent approximately 50 per cent of the total units studied by students in an undergraduate course of initial teacher education,’’ the spokeswoman said. “The other half of the courses focuses on educational and developmental psychology, classroom and behaviour management, the use of data to improve learning, designing learning for diversity and inclusion, and the development of a professional identity well-informed by policy, theory, appropriate sources of professional learning and codes of conduct and practice.’’

Federal, state and territory education ministers have given universities until the start of 2025 to update their degrees to focus more on classroom management, children’s brain development and the teaching of phonics-based reading and writing, as well as mathematics. The detail of what is taught in existing university degrees is kept secret: universities must submit course content to state and territory teaching accreditation bodies for approval, but most only publish a broad outline on their websites. A reporter sought the universities’ course materials from the Queensland College of Teachers but was told they could not be released “for privacy reasons’’. The University of Queensland’s website shows that teaching students spend the first six weeks of their degree learning about “sociological ideas and concepts needed for understanding the complexities of schooling and the social processes that often go on within them”. “We delve into the history of knowledge production in sociology, and explore the need to decolonise, expand and diversify what we know about schools and the processes that go on in them,’’ it states.

Students are assessed, in part, on a 10-minute verbal presentation explaining concepts such as “decolonising knowledge’’, the “myth of meritocracy” and “deficit discourses’’. Another lecture is about “expanding notions of sex, gender and sexuality’’. At Victoria University, the very first subject in its teaching degree aims to “develop understanding for the cultures, histories and languages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and to use this knowledge in the promotion of reconciliation”. The teaching of science, maths and reading is not covered until the second year, and students must wait until the final year of their four-year degree to specialise in subjects such as biology and humanities, or to integrate the use of digital technologies in lessons. Charles Sturt University’s course handbook for its Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood and Primary) has a list of 11 outcomes for its graduates. The top priority is for graduates to be “agents of change’’’. “Graduates from this course will teach for social justice and equity,’’ it states. The fifth priority is that “graduates from this course will teach for student learning’’.

At the University of Adelaide, an introduction to Australian history “treats the development of Australian society to the present through the lenses of Aboriginal deep time history; convicts and colonialism; war and conflict; migration and multiculturalism; landscape and the environment, and the development of democratic institutions”. Despite 13 years at school and four at university, 7 per cent of the 20,000 final-year trainee teachers failed to pass the mandatory literacy and numeracy test in 2021. The Literacy and Numeracy Test for Initial Teacher Education Students was set up as a guardrail to keep poorly trained teachers out of classrooms. The test includes questions that could be answered by primary school students, such as correcting a spelling error or answering: “This year a teacher spent $383.30 on stationery. Last year the teacher spent $257.85 on stationery. How much more did the teacher spend this year than last year?’’

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports.

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