3 June, 2022


While attending a New Metrics partnership seminar at the University of Melbourne with Sarah Lillywhite and Fiona Auton last week, I had the pleasure of listening to a panel of experts from across the education sectors, discussing the importance of helping our young people to develop complex competencies by having robust systems in place to recognise these and assess them. Complex competencies can be likened to what we call the Learner Attributes here at Scotch Oakburn and go way beyond the understanding and mastery of content. Skills such as collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, enterprise skills, intercultural understanding and communication are increasingly becoming the focus of education to ensure that learning is relevant.

Early childhood expert Toshiko Kamei pointed out that the approach in the early years is already very holistic and therefore it is quite easy to integrate these attributes when children are between the ages of 2 and 6. After moving through the primary and secondary years we unfortunately become more siloed in our approach and by Year 12 we risk students becoming quite dispersed because of the separate subjects that they focus on. By keeping a focus on attributes and capabilities we can provide the connective tissue to bring the whole person back together. Toshiko Kamei proposes that we can do this by continuing to provide opportunities for students to flourish on projects that make it easier to develop these competencies. This means that the student is at the centre of the learning process rather than the system being there.

Also on the panel was Pascale Quester, Vice-Chancellor of Swinburne University of Technology. She promoted the importance of ‘just in time education’ which means that the focus should be on providing a scaffold around the learner that provides what they need, as they need it. Swinburne is one of the universities moving towards a non-ATAR entry point as they believe it is a reductive measure of people. They have introduced a degree in design that is ungraded. Students progress through the degree based on their capacity to move to the next phase. Pascale reminded us all that learners now are not the same as they were when we were at school and that inflicting the same treatment on them seldom works. More authentic recognition of competencies is becoming more important than the scores students achieve on tests and exams. Pascale Quester suggests that the current university model is not going to get us to where we need to be.

When asked to nominate the things that are most likely to accelerate a reform agenda to change learning to what students need now, the panel highlighted the importance of the partnership between teachers and universities. It was suggested that more autonomy and power to make decisions must lie with the institutions rather than sticking to a system-wide approach. A question of whether current learning practices prepare young people with the complex competencies that they will need was posed. It was also emphasised that there needs to be a seamless relationship between schools and tertiary education institutions and for this to happen we need to stop incentivising the focus on score. A revolutionary suggestion of making university offers at the end of Year 10 was made as this would allow students in Years 11 and 12 to take more risks and challenge themselves intellectually in the last two years of school.

This panel discussion not only affirmed for us that Scotch Oakburn is heading in the right direction with the emphasis on our ten Learner Attributes but reminded us that we need to be embedding them (and other complex competencies) into everything we do, at every opportunity. Watch this space!

Stuart Walls
Head of Senior School