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Faculty of Education and Arts - Occasional Speaker: Valerie Gould

Sunday, 13 September

Mrs Valerie Gould

Thank you to the Vice-Chancellor for the invitation to speak and welcome to all distinguished quests and the most important people in the room the graduating students and those receiving higher awards.

I recognise today’s ceremony is for the Faculty of Education and Arts and it is evident we are celebrating a range of achievements here and the results of some very interesting research. I have spent most of my life in Education, though I did spend seven years in the corporate world in New York City, and that added a great breadth to my personal and professional education. While the learnings at university are very valuable, so is the use we make of them, how we build upon them and the difference we may make to others as a result of them.

To all graduating students in education you are about to embark on a rewarding and exceptionally important career. Teaching young people of any age means you make a difference to their lives as they learn, develop and become young adults and, for some, leaders in society.

To the students in the Arts, what a wonderful area to be in.  The opportunities that will be open to you both professional and personal are there for your making. My daughter, who did start her university study in Education, planning to be a teacher of Arts, changed direction after completing Honours in Fine Arts and continued on to the University of Melbourne to do Masters in Arts Curatorship. She is still there 7 years later and has had various roles running galleries, working for the Melbourne Fringe Festival, project officer for Regional Arts Victoria small towns project, and now still works for RAV 0.6 getting Arts events into schools and is CEO of Going Down Swinging a small Arts organisation. This is not what she would have thought she’d be doing 8 years ago but it is important to take opportunities and be willing to try something different … you never know where it will lead.

So, how can we make a difference?

For the educators in the room, many of you will teach young people how to read and gradually understand more difficult texts and to appreciate everything from the literary classics to modern forms of communication.  We all know that the ability to read provides everyone access to a world of possibilities and opportunities and without this skill people of all ages struggle. You can thank a teacher for that ability to read.

Many of you will teach the basics of mathematics and numeracy, and a range of mathematical understandings and concepts. For some of you, you will teach up to multivariable calculus and high level statistics. For all, understanding numbers, and mathematical calculations is key to a successful life and the opening of a range of career opportunities. Not all young people strive to be mathematicians but all need those fundamental skills to succeed in life today and the future. Very few careers do not use some aspects of numeracy skills and our day to day life uses them all the time. You can thank a teacher for these skills.

Most of you in this room will contribute to young people’s understanding of other cultures, belief systems and an appreciation of the diversity of the Australian people. These systems are communicated through the written word, art, music, dance and a range of media. While we all bring with us our own belief systems, we know that understanding and appreciating others’ belief systems is key to a harmonious society.

When I worked in a commercial organisation in New York City in the early 80’s my understandings of other cultures was greatly challenged … I had left a very mono cultural Australia in the late 70’s to live and work among a range of ethnic and religious backgrounds. The company where I worked had 5 public holidays a year and 4 floating days so the various religions could take Good Friday, Passover, Yom Kippur, Ramadan etc. as appropriate days offs when their background required it. That the company did not automatically have Good Friday, let alone Easter Monday, as a holiday shocked me but their solution suited their workforce and it was in that way I learnt a lot about other cultures and beliefs. Today's classrooms and workplaces are full of a range of diverse cultures and while this can present a challenge to all this diversity is also a great resource to build greater intercultural understandings.

During my time in New York I was able to immerse myself in the Arts with season tickets to New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, concerts at Lincoln Centre, and I regularly attended theatre on and off Broadway. Much of this was unavailable in WA when I left in 1978 but that has changed tremendously over the last 30 years and with that, the varied opportunities in the Arts that I am sure the students graduating today will avail themselves of.

My youngest brother is an artist and a scientist and while he makes a good living as an environmental scientist working for mining companies and the government it is his great love of art and the ability to combine the two through technical drawings of flora and fauna that he loves. This pursuit of science and art was nurtured by his Year 2 teacher at Forrest Street Primary School in South Perth and he went on to be Dux of his secondary school and was one of very few high achieving students that had humanities subjects, including Art, in his suite of Year 12 subjects. Thank you Mrs Pusinjack for nurturing this in him.

My brother has just returned from England where he, and our cousin, held an exhibition called the artful Gene. This is coming to WA in November. The Artful Gene combined his artworks with those of our grandfather and the similarity of style and technical aspects of the flora and fauna drawings gave rise to the name of the exhibition. My brother’s son, a graduate of this university in Creative Industries, did the publicity through a website, Facebook page, videos, etc. and the ongoing blog. A real family affair combining everyone’s talents. 

Today's teachers face another challenge and that is educating young people for an ever changing world. While statements that teachers are educating students for jobs that have not been invented yet have been around for a while, it is now a reality. All young people face a labour market with decreasing manual and low level white collar jobs as technological developments replace these roles. Think of the changes in banking and travel and all the jobs that no longer exist because of ATMs, self check in at airports, and self-checkout at supermarkets, smart gates at immigration etc.

Those of you studying communications will be only too aware of all the changes in forms of communications and how technology has impacted this industry.

Young people today enter a very different labour market and we all are impacted by technology and a very different way of working and living as a result of technological developments. It is essential we strive for a good balance in our lives, and look after ours and others, health, enjoyment and relaxation. This can be done in a range of ways and will look different for different people and the areas of expertise we see represented today will contribute to the education of young people and to the provision of a range of activities that can contribute to that balance in all our lives.

For the teachers in this room all of you will provide support, care and encouragement to all young people in your direct and indirect care. You will help young people develop relationships, settle differences, grow in confidence, take risks and proceed along a path into adulthood.

For all of you – take the opportunities presented, take a job outside your comfort zone, make the most of your qualifications and keep learning new things – that is how you will all make a difference.

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