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Looking back to the past reminds us about how far education has come.

Formal education has its roots in the Greek civilisation. It was organised by priests and kings for male scribes and clerks so they could administer and lead on behalf of the ruling class. In Plato’s time, education was almost entirely for male students with rare exceptions.

It was not until the Roman Empire that learning became more widespread and schools were established for the elementary education of boys and some girls.

Fast forward to the 19th century in Australia, we find that convicts were the first teachers. In 1872, the Education Act set out a course of free instruction which covered reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, geography, drill and needlework. Latin, French and German lessons cost one shilling per week while Science, Geometry, Algebra and Trigonometry cost sixpence per week.

Fast forward a little further to the 1930s, the Great Depression caused mass unemployment around the world. In Australia, this was followed by the rapid spread of polio (poliomyelitis) infections through schools, forcing many children to stay at home for months. More than eighty years later we find ourselves in a similar situation. Due to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, our children were learning from home, and many Australians have become unemployed and financially impacted.

Looking back to the past certainly reminds us about how far education has come, particularly in regards to the equal access to education for women in some parts of the world. While our past informs where we are today in education, it does not define how learning will be perceived in the future. Indeed education is strongly influenced by socio-political circumstances. For example, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a mini revolution in education. For schools across Australia, it necessitated a reactive response to ensure that meaningful learning could continue offsite.

Ivanhoe Girls’ has used an online learning management system, known as hive, for many years. The benefits of hive, as a support to face-to-face learning, paid great dividends during the offsite learning phase this year. Teachers reimagined, reconstructed and reviewed every aspect of their practice with an eye to maintaining the quality and rigour of teaching to their students.

We are all changed in subtle yet fundamental ways. That is, the education of the future will be impacted by our collective experiences during the offsite learning of 2020. At no time in our living history have teachers been asked to reflect on their pedagogy and rapidly reinvent and redesign learning opportunities and experiences so extensively.

No educator could have gone through this experience and not be profoundly aware of how learning is best facilitated and use that knowledge to enhance how learning is facilitated in the future.

So how will education be changed in the future? Our students have now had an opportunity to take on greater responsibility for their learning. They will also be more aware of the importance of the whole school experience in their learning journey, including the Co-curricular experiences that were so greatly missed by students during offsite learning.

None of us know with certainty what circumstances educators and learners will face in years to come, or how learning needs to change in order to be responsive and relevant to serve the needs of a future society. So as we move forward, we need to continue to foster a growth mindset in every member of our school community. A growth mindset will provide us all with the enduring desire to embrace learning, challenges, and setbacks as sources of growth that in turn create the motivation and resilience to influence success in our lives.

At Ivanhoe Girls’ we have embraced the growth mindset of generations of teachers, leaders, parents and students to adapt and facilitate relevant and engaging learning for 117 years. I look with great optimism to the future of Ivanhoe Girls’.

Dr Deborah Priest

  • Blake L.J. (Ed.) (2004) Vision and Realisation: A Centenary History of State Education in Victoria, Ed. Dept. of Victoria.
  • Dweck, C. S. (2016) Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Random House USA Inc, New York
  • Frost S.E. (1966) Historical and Philosophical Foundations of Western Education, Brooklyn College, The City University of New York.

This article originally appeared in the July 2020 edition of Lux Mea Magazine.