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Faculty of Education and Arts - Graduation address

Emeritus Professor Patrick Garnett

Sunday, 2 March 2008, 1.00pm


Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor
Thank you Chancellor and good afternoon everyone. It is with considerable pride and humility that I accept an honorary Doctorate in Education from Edith Cowan University. As you will have gathered, most of my working life was at ECU or its predecessor institutions. During these 34 years the institution has changed profoundly, and today is a very fine university. I am extremely privileged to have been associated with that development.

I am particularly delighted to present this address to graduates of the School of Education, because I commenced my working life as a secondary science teacher and my initial appointment at ECU was associated with the preparation of secondary science teachers. I add my sincere congratulations to all today's graduates - your qualifications are wellearned and you should have great pride in what you have achieved.

As Education graduates you will probably be engaged in teaching at the early childhood, primary or secondary levels. Regardless of your role, it is my view that there is no more important profession in society than that of teaching and education. We are well aware that there are some professions that are better paid than teaching, but it is difficult to believe that there is any more important job or responsibility than to prepare our children and youth for their futures.

Importance of Education

Some visionaries recognised the importance of education many years ago
Five hundred years ago, Erasmus, a Dutch philosopher, said:
"The main hope of a nation lies in the proper education of its youth."
And much more recently John F Kennedy stated:
"Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education."

Today, increasingly, governments around the world are seeing education as the pathway to economic progress and well-being. This is occurring within a context characterised by the globalisation of industry and business and increasing demands for a skilled workforce. Unfortunately, some governments see education primarily as a "cost" whereas the more enlightened regard it as an "investment in the future". Now is not the time to discuss the politics of educational funding, but in any event, education is increasingly seen as the key to securing our futures, at the individual, business, state and national levels.
As one of my real heroes of the current generation, Nelson Mandela, stated:
"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

Change

On the topic of change, it is sometimes interesting to contemplate what the future will bring. How will the future be different from today? I don't know the answer to that question but the key to the future often involves looking at the past.

When I look back to when I was a boy (I can hear my daughters, two of whom are in the audience, saying here he goes again)but it was not really that long agothere was

  • No TV
  • No iPODs; no CDs; not even tape recorders; only 78 rpm records - now a collector's item
  • No satellites
  • No computers to speak of; and when mainframes were introduced you had to feed them with hundreds of meticulously punched cards
  • No electronic calculators; only slide rules
  • No automatic teller machines
  • No mobile phones
  • No expectation of air travel
  • No vaccine for polio

It sounds primitive, but there were good things about it too

  • No police radar guns
  • No hanging on the end of a telephone working through an endless menu of choices and assurances that your call is important to us'
  • No emails; which until recently used to be the scourge of my life

We are currently living through a period of extraordinary change - sometimes referred to as a revolution. At school you may have learnt about the agrarian revolution in the 18th century - which witnessed the introduction of systematic farming; and the industrial revolution - in the 19th century - which totally changed our approach to manufacturing and the organisation of labour.

Today's revolution is driven by an explosion in knowledge. This revolution is occurring in many areas of human endeavour including biotechnology and molecular biology - Jurassic Park is just around the corner; materials technology; and, probably most significant of all, information technology - driven by the development of computers and the convergence of computer and communications technologies. Where all this will end I don't know and I don't think anyone else can tell us. However, it is an exciting time to be alive - and, from my perspective, it certainly beats the alternative!

In periods of rapid change there is inevitably some turmoil and turbulence, employment is less certain and the types of jobs that are available will inevitably change. For many, this will result in several job changes during their careers. It is also certain that your role as teachers will continue to change and to evolve. Given the pace of change we will all need to be more flexible, more innovative, more resilient, and committed to lifelong learning.

Education, Change and the Future

I would like to say just a few words about education, change and the future. In terms of education and teaching it is worth thinking about what we expect our students to gain from their education. Clearly we expect to provide our students with the essential knowledge, skills and attitudes they need to be happy and productive citizens. Every child needs to acquire basic knowledge and skills in literacy; numeracy; science; ICT; the humanities and so on. This knowledge needs to be acquired by all - boys and girls, Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, students in cities and those in rural and remote communities, and students from lower socioeconomic areas as well as the more affluent.

As well as the knowledge required for citizenship and employment I would like to stress the importance of students developing appropriate values and attitudes. In particular I'd like to highlight two values which I think have universal applicability and just happen to be core values of ECU. These are integrity and rational inquiry. Integrity can be thought of as behaving ethically and (importantly) pursuing rigorous intellectual positions;

Rational inquiry can be thought of as being motivated by evidence and reasoning.

These are two critically important values that all citizens should acquire as part of their education if society is to successfully address some of the important issues confronting this generation and the next. Issue such as:

  • The Environment - water issues; the greenhouse effect and climate change;
  • Genetically modified crops, genetic engineering and medical ethics;
  • Developing a sustainable energy future;
  • Enhancing Indigenous outcomes in housing, education and health;
  • Dealing with the creeping insidious drug epidemic within our society; and
  • Reversing the increasing divide between the haves' and have nots'.

While it is not possible for everyone to be expert in all these fields, the citizens of tomorrow do need to be able to critically evaluate information using rational inquiry and evidencebased decision-making rather than basing decisions on sensationalised newspaper reports, five-second TV news grabs, emotion or superstition. In the words of that great forensic scientist, Sherlock Holmes:

"It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."

What has all of this to do with your roles as teachers? A lot, I believe! By modelling these values of integrity and rational inquiry and providing appropriate frameworks teachers can encourage students to engage in rigorous (and vigorous) debate about important issues and the importance of evidence in decision-making.

Research in Australia and overseas confirms that a highly skilled and professional teaching force is the most important factor in student achievement. The teacher does make a difference - in fact, the teacher is the key!!

May I conclude by once again congratulating you on your fine achievements and wishing you all the best for your careers and for your futures.

Good luck and thank you!

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