Change Education Social Commentary Tech & Social Media

“The Robots Are Coming!” – Chatting with Dr Jordan Nguyen

A few weeks ago I had the fortune of speaking at an event alongside Dr Jordan Nguyen. And I was even more fortunate that we were able to catch up for a chat once his talk was done.

Jordan is a biomedical engineer, inventor, TV host and general all-round good bloke.

Having already invented a mind-controlled wheelchair, and being deeply invested in the development of Artificial Intelligence and the ethical considerations required when doing this, he assures me we’re safe from a Terminator-type outcome… for now.

We spoke about how his talents were largely left undiscovered at school, and how a freak accident enabled him to find his purpose and spark his intellectual journey.

You can listen to our chat here as part of my semi-regular spot on the TER Podcast. I hope you enjoy it.

You can find out more about Jordan at his website. 

Education Social Commentary

[SNEAK PREVIEW] Chatting with Sir Ken Robinson

Last week I presented at the Future Schools event in Melbourne.

As well as speaking across the program, I also facilitated a panel discussion with former Templestowe College principal, Peter Hutton; the CEO of AITSL, Lisa Rodgers and creativity expert and New York Times best selling author, Sir Ken Robinson.

After the event I sat down with Sir Ken for an interview that will feature in next week’s TER Podcast, but until then, here is a sneak preview of what to expect.

Link to the Sneak Preview

Subscribe to TER Podcast on iTunes

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Social Commentary

Disharmony Day & 18C

Today my kids went off to primary school wearing orange t-shirts.


Because in Australia, it’s Harmony Day, a day the government says, celebrates Australia’s cultural diversity.

“It’s about inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging for everyone.”

So it took incredible comedy timing to decide that today would be the day the government should move to amend Section 18C in the Racial Discrimination Act.

Just a bit of background for my overseas readers…

Section 18C was added to the Racial Discrimination Act just over 20 years ago, with the passage of the Racial Hatred Act. Under Section 18C:

(1) It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

  • the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and
  • the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.

There is a safeguard under Section 18D, that states that: conduct that prima facie breaches 18C will not be unlawful if it is done “reasonably and in good faith” for artistic, academic, scientific or other public interest purposes (or in reporting on any such conduct), or presumably in the form of hilarious social commentary in cartoons etc.

It appears to me that 18D gives people plenty of get-out-of-jail cards if they get caught being a little racially intolerant by those pesky politically correct nut-jobs.

But back to today – Harmony Day remember…

The Federal government backed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act that retain the offence of “intimidate” on the basis of race, but replace the words “insult”, “offend” and “humiliate” with “harass”.

Let’s look at that word… Harass, and how it might open Pandora’s Box. defines harass as follows:

verb (used with object)
  1. to disturb persistently; torment, as with troubles or cares; bother continually; pester; persecute.
  2. to trouble by repeated attacks, incursions, etc., as in war or hostilities; harry; raid

You can call someone the “n-word” at work but how many times do you have to call them that before we can say you’re doing it persistently? 

Or if you inform someone on the bus: “F-off, we’re full!” If it’s only now and then… what’s the problem?

With regard to Indigenous Australians, Federal MP Linda Burnie puts it like this: 

“The racial discrimination that exists towards Indigenous people in this country is still very profound. It is just astounding to me that those advocating any changes to 18C probably have experienced no discrimination in their life and have very little understanding of what discrimination means.”

I’m not sure why the government would want to make such changes, although I feel in some way it’s a move to firm up support from the right of their party. The right is the new black after all – or maybe not.

And I’ve always wondered exactly what it is that those who have campaigned for changes to Section 18C feel they are unable to say or do. But I get the sense we’re about to find out after the decision made today.

Today my kids went off to primary school wearing orange t-shirts.


Because in Australia, it’s Harmony Day, and it appears the government is more interested in token gestures on days like this rather than looking after the interests of our most vulnerable, oppressed members of society.

Harmony Day.

Go figure.

Education Social Commentary Social Justice

When Dan met Stan

A month or so ago, I ended up sitting next to award-winning journalist Stan Grant on a flight to and from Wagga Wagga. We got chatting about his work, the 12 months since his speech regarding racism in Australia had gone viral, and we discussed the broader issues in Indigenous communities around Australia.

I’m very grateful to Stan for agreeing to catch up again, this time with a mic in front of him for my #OffCampus section on the TER Podcast, and we chatted about the need to change the narrative around Indigenous communities in Australia.

“Even with the best intentions, some people think near enough is good enough for Aboriginal people”  – Stan Grant.

Feel free to listen to the whole podcast below, but my interview with Stan kicks off at 29:32…


Education Social Commentary Wellbeing

**THIS** might just be the biggest challenge facing your school…

Of all the challenges facing Australian schools in the 21st Century, including funding, falling behind Asia, and preparing kids for jobs that don’t yet exist, there is one challenge that is not being afforded the attention it deserves, and in light of the shifting political landscape it might just be the biggest challenge facing schools in the 21st Century; “Do young people feel as though they belong at school?”

In 2015, the NSW Department of Education published a report of the findings of a 2013 pilot survey of 78,600 high schools students in public schools across the state. Using the Tell Them From Me (TTFM) Survey, students were asked to respond to questions about their experiences of school.

This was the standout finding for mine.


It’s referenced against Canada, as this is where the TTFM survey was designed.

These findings suggest that even when belonging is at its “best” – in Year 7 – around 30% of kids feel as though they do not belong at school. I appreciate that this might not represent your school. But what proportion of your students feel as though they don’t belong?

It’s important to recognise that as well as benefits to learning, studies have shown a teenager’s sense of belonging has the strongest link to depression – even more so than attachment to parents (assuming there has been no prior mental illness). This should serve as a prescient warning, given that kids who start school next year will graduate in 2030, the year that the World Health Organisation predicts that depression will become the leading cause of disease in the world.

Interventions that promote school belonging should therefore be a vital part of any approach to enhance student wellbeing, but schools are in an almost impossible situation as they do not operate in isolation. In many ways they reflect the society they serve, and the issue of youth belonging is a hot topic at the moment in light of Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s suggestion that disaffected Muslim youth’s involvement in terrorism and crime is a result of allowing so many Lebanese Muslims into Australia in the 70s. Dutton is seemingly unaware of the irony that his words only further disaffect those of the Muslim faith.

When you feel you don’t belong where you are, you go looking for someone – anyone – who gives you the impression that you matter. This is the modus operandi of every gang in the world.

And of course, Minister Dutton isn’t alone. This year saw the return of Pauline Hanson to the Senate, riding the crest of a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment, supported by the likes – of all people – Sonia Kruger. Ray Hadley, Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt we expect and we can reassure ourselves that young people aren’t listening to them, even if there parents are. But the host of The Voice??? 

And of course it’s not just Muslim youth who might feel marginalised. Cast your mind back over 2016 and think how some young people might be affected by a national newspaper carrying a cartoon depicting Indigenous fathers as incapable of raising their young.

Or how might adolescents being raised by same-sex parents be impacted by the debate about marriage equality? And just how do schools ensure that these young people don’t feel ostracised, when in 2015, education departments banned schools from showing Gayby Baby, a short film exploring what it’s like growing up with same-sex parents. Yep, banned.

And of course there’s the furore surrounding the Safe Schools Coalition – an intervention to promote school belonging for LGBTIQ kids. An issue brought into sharp focus this week with the death of 13 year old Tyrone Unsworth.

The results of the Brexit and US Election campaigns have highlighted that ignorance, fear and “othering” gets votes whilst for and for media organisations, hits, likes and ratings. But at what cost to our young people and society in general?

I was in the UK a few days after the Brexit vote and saw the impact of the campaign. Leaving aside the fact that some of the more ill-informed thought voting “Leave” actually meant that immigrants had to leave, there were countless examples of minority groups being targeted, either verbally or physically. Many of these groups were young people in schools. I can remember when UKIP was a joke.

And since Trump’s election win, US media are reporting a significant rise in hate crimes including episodes of racist or anti-Semitic, pro-Trump graffiti along with threats or attacks against Muslims, many of which are occurring in schools. I can remember when Trump was a joke.

screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-12-11-10-pmI also remember when the likes of Pauline Hanson and Cory Bernardi were something of a joke in Australia. But given Bernadi’s “dog whistle” tweet on the evening of Trump’s win, featuring a red baseball cap with the slogan “Make Australia Great Again” (which is still “pinned” to his Twitter profile) we would be foolish to dismiss them out of hand.

Whilst many have suggested that Australia’s compulsory voting laws mean that such right-wing rhetoric will never win the top job, that misses the point. Brexit and Trump have given increased legitimacy to such views. We even have terms for it now, “Post Truth” and “Alt Right.” It legitimises bigotry, it trickles down to our young, and whilst Attorney General George Brandis believes this is an inalienable right, I’d suggest we need to recognise the impact it’s having across society, not just in politics.

I know schools are constantly challenged to better prepare students for a world that doesn’t yet exist, particularly as we appear to be outperformed by our Asian neighbours in education league tables. Maybe that’s why we’re seeing an increased emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) or it’s sibling STEAM (A is for Arts), whilst also developing their so-called 21st Century Skills of communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking (The 4 Cs).

But if kids don’t feel like they belong when they walk through the gates at school, we’ve got Buckley’s chance of any one of these acronyms or approaches having an impact. And then we’re going to face much bigger social issues than just losing the “Education Race” to Asia, and in my opinion, it won’t be the schools that are to blame.

Even though – of course – they will be by politicians and the media.

Education Social Commentary

Do Schools Kill Learning?

Ten years ago, a talk by Sir Ken Robinson was published on TED. Having being viewed over 41 million times on TED alone, it has become one of the most – if not the most – viewed TED talk ever.

It was provocatively titled: Do Schools Kill Creativity? 

The popularity of Ken’s talk catapulted him into the Public Speaking Stratosphere, not only in education, but also more broadly with many corporate and multinational organisations engaging him to present to their communities.

Clearly his message resonated. But as his message spread, many took issue with him. Such as Tom Bennett – the UK Government’s Behaviour Tzar and founder of researchED – who in his review of Robinson’s latest book Creative Schools dismissed his TED talk as “a lie” and dismantled pretty much every argument Robinson has made about the shortcomings of education. The reader is left in little doubt that Bennett is not even on, let alone driving the Robinson Bandwagon. And he’s not alone. A quick online search will turn up plenty of others who take issue with Robinson’s stance.

And I’m all good with that. I have no problem with open debate about ideas.

But the vast number of people who do resonate with Robinson’s message indicates to me that for some, schools did kill their creativity. Or at least that’s how they perceive it. However, for this to be a debate worth having we first need to agree on whether or not creativity is core business for schools, and even if we assume it is, it then begs the questions, “What is Creativity? How do we measure it? How many kids’ creativity is being killed, and is it enough for us to worry about?”

Again, an online search will demonstrate that these questions perpetuate a merry-go-round of arguments, the proponents of which seem disinclined to learn from each others position, and to be honest, the more I see of these arguments, the less inclined I am to engage. And this isn’t a defence of Sir Ken. I doubt he needs me to fight his battles for him.

Rather I’m interested in what might happen if we changed the question.

What if the question was: Do Schools Kill Learning? 

I’d hope that most would agree that learning is core business for schools. And I’d also hope that most would agree that we wouldn’t want too many of our kids leaving in the manner reported by Eryk Bagshaw in the Sydney Morning Herald after the first of this year’s HSC exams:

Rote learnt or not, for the thousands of students who walked out the door on Thursday, many would rather not think about the poetry of Robert Frost ever again, just as those who buried Clueless and Coleridge’s Kubla Khan before them.

I contacted Eryk over Twitter to see how he had come to this position, and his response was:


Imagine, for a second, if that really is the case.

Imagine if, after 13 years of learning the skills required to read, interpret and appreciate poetry, you never wanted to read poetry again.

Now I appreciate that wanting to read poetry is not synonymous with learning, but it must provoke thought about what, why and how we teach and assess – surely?

But imagine if, after 13 years of being in schools that aim to encourage life-long learning, our “best” students who entered tertiary education, felt compelled to cheat – rather than learn – at one of the countries most prestigious medical schools. Can you imagine? Well, you don’t need to.  

A couple of years ago I witnessed first-hand the lack of learning in tertiary education. I was a casual tutor on a Graduate Diploma of Teaching course and I was struck by how many of the 200+ post-grads were focused solely on whether their assessment task was a Pass, Credit, Distinction or High Distinction. Rather than discuss how they might improve their understanding of pedagogy or teaching in general, feedback sessions were dominated by “Yeah, but why did I lose marks?” or “What do I need to do to get a Distinction?” and even occasionally, “Doesn’t matter, I only need a Credit on this one.”

I do wonder if this attitude might be the by-product of the emphasis placed on grades by teachers, parents and students in school. It seems to me that such a focus on performance can sometimes diminish the focus on learning. As Dylan Wiliam suggests, grading work results in students not reading the teacher’s feedback (which one assumes would enhance learning). He argues:

“Students who get high marks feel they don’t need to read the comments, and those who get low marks don’t want to.”

Imagine if one of our most common practices in school was actually diminishing learning.

And can you imagine if students with learning differences believed they were dumb and lazy?

How many of our students leave school feeling they do not need to learn, or in fact they are incapable of learning?

I acknowledge that all the examples I have used in this post – with the exception of Wiliam’s quote – could be described as anecdotal, and I agree that a series of anecdotes does not necessarily an evidence base make. Indeed, one of the arguments made against Ken Robinson is his over-reliance on anecdote.

But, look through the anecdotes I have highlighted.

Do you know anyone who might have a similar tale to tell?

How many readers of this post would have to say, “Yes” before we deemed it appropriate to at least consider the question: Do Schools Kill Learning?

Or perhaps, whilst it might be more confronting, it might be more appropriate – assuming we’re willing to act on the answers – to focus on particular groups of kids in our community and ask, for these youngsters:

Does Our School Kill Learning?


Education Social Commentary Tech & Social Media


dollar signA couple of months ago I was – along with other bloggers and “industry influencers” – invited by a large tech company to attend a free workshop showcasing their new tablet and software. They were happy to “donate” to me (and by extension I assume others) a tablet worth over $1000 in return for my blogging about how I used it in my work.

I declined.

I’ve been receiving these types of offers since people started reading my blog. Many start-ups recognise that bloggers/tweeters who – in return for swag* – blog/tweet enthusiastically about said start-up serve as an extremely effective PR team as they have the added advantage of appearing organic. (Seriously… go back and read that link – Educators… look who is the parent company!)

I decided from the outset to avoid such relationships with companies (it’s on my contact page, but some still ignore it). I figured if the four people reading my blog were reading it because they valued my opinion, the least I could do was make sure that opinion was as objective as possible. It’s also for this reason that I don’t take ‘referral’ fees from other speakers/consultants which is also a common practice. If I recommend someone to you it’s because I think highly of their work.

Now to be clear, I’m not saying that bloggers/tweeters shouldn’t engage with companies in the manner I’ve suggested above (although many educators and most state education departments do say that), rather I’m saying that disclosure is a must. In fact it’s  not just me saying it. Last week I asked Twitter what it thought…

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 4.05.51 pm









As expected the majority of respondents believed that disclosure was important but I was surprised that nearly 20% of respondents were not aware that this happened.

The fact that nearly 20% of tweeps who responded were unaware of this happening suggests a couple of things to me.

  1. Perhaps it doesn’t happen. Perhaps every blogger who is approached by a company turns them down, and I’m merely assuming the worst.
  2. Perhaps it does happen, but bloggers aren’t disclosing. Because I reckon if every blogger was disclosing then surely these 20% would have – at some point – seen such a disclosure.

And I’d really love to know the reasons behind the 4% voting that bloggers “need not disclose.” If you were one of them, please comment below – I’m interested in your POV.

I don’t know if bloggers and tweeters consider themselves broadcasters, but just as commercial broadcasters disclose their arrangements and relationships, (granted – some needed some encouragement) maybe budding edu-stars should do the same as it might go a long way to maintaining/enhancing their credibility as their stars continue to rise & shine.


When I used #aussieED in the original poll, I used it believing the hashtag identified teachers online who had an interest in Australian education, who as they were browsing, might stumble across the poll and have their say. However, as Brett’s tweet suggests, #aussieED is more of an entity than I’d realised, and as such I wish to stress I was not singling out the entity that is #aussieED or its founders/moderators.

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 4.42.32 pm










*Swag* – Used here to describe anything that includes, but not limited to: high value products, low-cost/discounted products, travel, accommodation, a platform at a conference, sponsorship of events etc.


Education Social Commentary

Why the Federal Government’s Education Policy Misses The Mark…

educationWith a fair amount of fanfare this week, Australia’s federal government announced that it would invest an additional $1.2 billion from 2018 to 2020 that would be tied to a needs-based distribution of funding and reforms in our schools to “help every parent have confidence that their child is receiving the teaching they require.”

Most of the commentary around this decision has been around the fact that the figure of $1.2 billion falls some way short of the $5 billion that the Gonski report suggested was required in order to achieve a level of equity in education across Australia.

I’ve written before about the high levels of inequity in Australia, and whilst I’m no expert in these matters – and I’m aware that state governments carry the majority of the funding burden – it does strike me as strange that a search of the MySchool site tells me that a private school in my local area whose net income for 2014 was $52,000,000 (yes, fifty-two million, and that’s by no means an anomaly) receives three-and-half times the amount of federal funding that my local public high school gets, despite not having 3.5 times as many kids… curious.

But the seemingly inequitable funding of independent schools this isn’t just a Liberal government issue, as it was the then Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who in 2012, was the first to state that no private school would lose a dollar in any future funding agreements, when perhaps it might have been more prudent to ask private schools if perhaps – just perhaps, they might wish to curtail their spending on capital works, such as new dance studios, learning centres (always makes me smile that we need these in schools) or olympic size swimming pools, just for a year or two. After all as Prime Minister Turnbull pointed out this week,

“While Bill Shorten has promised more money for schools, Labor is ignoring the decades of significant funding growth yet declining performance. For all Labor knows, their extra funding will be used to build a second or third sports shed or pretty up a school gate rather than addressing the generational deficiencies of our schooling system.”

Hmm… quite.

But rather than just adding to the chorus of “Show me the money” , I want to have a look at some of the other aspects of the federal government’s approach to education that I believe are flawed.

First of all I take exception to the rhetoric that surrounds education in Australia. Politicians of all persuasions appear to want to reduce education to a competition, with Turnbull stating the aim is for our kids to “get ahead” and sprinkled with the usual dose of political xenophobia, the kids we really need to get ahead of are those from overseas. Particularly Asia.

Performance Related Pay (PRP)  is one of the pillars of the government’s policy with teachers being rewarded for meeting the criteria of the Australian Teaching Standards. I have a number of concerns about this, not least the fact that in a lot of cases results have been mixed to say the least. As the OECD states:

Performance-based pay is worth considering in some contexts; but making it work well and sustainably is a formidable challenge. Pay levels can only be part of the work environment: countries that have succeeded in making teaching an attractive profession have often done so not just through pay, but by raising the status of teaching, offering real career prospects, and giving teachers responsibility as professionals and leaders of reform. This requires teacher education that helps teachers to become innovators and researchers in education, not just civil servants who deliver curricula.

Incentivise high-performing teachers to work in disadvantaged schools. Leaving aside the insulting implication that there aren’t already high performing teachers in these schools, I’d argue that what constitutes “high performance” in one school might not cut the mustard in another. Every single school community is different, and with that come different challenges. We need to be clear what high performance means before we talk about this any further.

Maths for Everyone! The government has stated that every student will need to study a Maths or Science subject up to Year 12. Welcome to the #IdeasBoom! Leaving aside the fact that this is merely a narrowing of the curriculum, based on some fairly spurious claims that “the most exciting jobs of the future will require maths and science,” I can’t see this doing anything to raise standards can you? If anything mandating that all students study maths or science will only bring down levels. Then won’t we be panicking!

Standardised Tests for Year 1 Students. If you listen carefully, that distant cheering is the sound of publishing companies rejoicing that they now have a whole new market of anxious parents to target. For too long these parents have gotten away with reading the Gruffalo or Possum Magic… but no longer! Already NAPLAN preparation guides are among the best selling books in Australia and soon it will be the Year 1 preparation guides. To be clear, OF COURSE we should know where kids are at, and identify those at risk of falling behind. But I’d wager the vast majority of schools do that already, but then face the challenge of trying to help those kids with minimal resources. If only there was some way we could get more money and resources to these schools and communities…

But I’m not all about picking holes. I’m here to offer solutions too.

So Malcolm Turnbull and Simon Birmingham, if you’re reading this, perhaps you might glean some ideas about how we can win the Education Race from the advice I offered your predecessors some years ago.

Social Commentary Wellbeing Youth

Wrapping Kids in Cotton Wool

dan on projectYesterday I was interviewed by the panel on Channel 10’s The Project with regard to ‘Cotton Wool’ kids…

It stemmed from a story in Melbourne where a father was suing a school because his son ran into a wall whilst playing tips. The father’s argument was – the school should ban running in the playground.

Hmm… I’m not so sure… as I said the panel, if the first thing we do when our kids do something ‘daft’ is look to blame someone else, then perhaps there’s the issue.

We have seen the evolution from Helicopter Parents to ‘Helicopter Gunship Parents’ who launch pre-emptive strikes against anything or anyone that might pose the risk of disappointment, risk, challenge or failure. That’s why so many parents do their kids’ homework for them, or why now – if you’ve attended a young child’s birthday party you’ll have seen this – EVERY layer of Pass the Parcel has a prize!

Helicopter Gunship Parenting

Learning from failure, a setback or a poor decision is a crucial aspect of growing up. It’s how kids learn to be resilient. It’s how they learn to take responsible risks and understand the consequences of their actions. You don’t learn these things simply by being told about them.

It’s as though parents want their kids to be happy all the time. 

But being happy all the time is in itself a mental health concern.

In our bid to have happy kids, I wonder what we might be robbing from them later in life?

So, next time you want stop your child from “making the same mistakes you did” – we’ll assume those mistakes didn’t land you in jail or the emergency ward – why not let them learn a little by stuffing up*.

After all, those mistakes helped you become the person you are today. And you’re not all that bad are you?

*You might have noticed I stuffed up earlier be sending a post entitled “UK” – with nothing on it… oops… I learnt something there too! 🙂 It’s actually a page for UK based schools/organisations who might be interested in doing some work with me…

Social Commentary Wellbeing


Last week I saw a tweet in my timeline from a teacher who was moving schools.

A little earlier in the week I had been thinking the same thought, albeit with regard to a more solemn circumstance than Steve’s journey to pastures new.

Watching the coverage of Philip Hughes’ funeral, both on TV and in print, I couldn’t help but feel incredibly emotional as those that knew him spoke of the impact he had in their lives.

As a son, brother, friend, teammate, cattle farmer, cricketing hero or friendly local, Philip Hughes appeared to pass through his life enhancing those of the people he met, by doing nothing more than being himself.

And as I watched this unfold last week, I started to wonder if Philip Hughes had the slightest inclination that people thought so highly of him? I hope so.

But it got me thinking.

I wonder how often we leave it too late to tell those closest to us how much they mean to us, or the impact they’ve had in our lives.

OK, you might be better at that than me, but what about your work colleagues, friends, parents?

Do we get too caught up in the mundane or the petty so as to leave little time for the important stuff?

For a lot of us Christmas will provide a natural opportunity for us to have these conversations. Or write a card, or a letter… or heck it’s 2014 after all… why not tweet it! #tellsomeonetheyrock