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Mission Statements

Every once in a while you find something in your inbox that sounds interesting overall but doesn't really say much on what it's actually all about. The invite for the launch of Eidos, a new Queensland-based network of educational institutions, researchers, social policy planners, and industry was such a message - so, on Wednesday I spent the day at the Queensland Art Gallery forecourt to work out what's happening here. (And I'm back-dating this post to Wednesday - didn't get around to posting it immediately because of the promotion application which had taken over the rest of my life...)

In keeping with the overall goal of 'education for social change', the first panel session sketched out some broad goals for education in the present environment, and later ones followed on in much the same vein; the format here was to bring together a pretty diverse group of panellists to outline one by one what 'big idea' they'd talk about if they suddenly found themselves stuck in a lift with the prime minister and premier. (Some of these have been posted on the Eidos Website.)

Many of their contributions sounded not unlike mission statements to me. For example, Bill Brown from the Global Institute of Learning Development suggested that we needed to work towards realising better network structures in education, also involving industry partners; Garry Everett from the Queensland Catholic Education Commission noted that in posititing a goal of social change the question of change towards what?, of what we would aim to be (and why) still needed answering. Interestingly he suggested that the development of a multicultural, multi-faith Centre for Global Ethics could be a stepping stone in this process, and that it might help Queensland become not only the Smart State (as per present state government policy), but the Wise State.

Aniko Hatoss from the University of Southern Queensland added to this that cultural diversity remains an important factor in this, and that students now need to be educated to be global citizens (and that language education might be a useful tool in this process), with the aim of enshrining what she called a deep multiculturalism beyond the more shallow current model (which sometimes begins and ends simply with an appreciation of ethnic culture in the form of food and other consumption practices). The social planner and self-described 'imagineer' Angela Mulgrew suggested that an integrated physical as well as social planning policy might also help Queensland face the challenges of the new century, while Rob Simons from the Smith Family charity returned to the overriding goal of reforming educational systems for the knowledge economy of the early 21st century. He noted that there is a great need for this reform especially for learners from the lower socioeconomic levels, and that this reform would crucially need to involve a shift of focus away from measuring the knowledge attained by learners to tracking learners' interest in continuing down the paths begun through their education.

The midday keynote session allowed Eidos chairman Colin Power and executive director Bruce Muirhead to outline their vision of the opportunities and challenges ahead. Colin described what he called the challenge of the five Ps for education:

  • privatisation
  • productivity
  • polarisation
  • politicisation
  • power

He called for a shift in policy development from being based in ideology (as is so painfully evident especially at the federal level at the moment) to becoming open, evidence-based, and participatory for all stakeholders. Policy implementation similarly needs to move from confrontational approaches to a recognition of the legitimacy of key stakeholders' concerns. Only this shift can lead to the development of

  • world class education and social sector policy
  • world class research (in both excellence and validity)
  • world class practice (in both relevance and diversity)

and bridge the gap between these three areas as well.

Good education is about helping people have a dream and giving them the skills and knowledge to realise it - and this is the goal of Eidos. In this, then, it is a key component of the Smart State agends set by the Queensland government - it takes a bigger-picture approach which encourages collaboration between the areas of research, policy, and practice.

Bruce Muirhead followed on and described the setup of Eidos in some more detail. Eidos is a networked organisation, not a centralised institute; it takes collaborative, and where possible open-source approaches to its work, and in doing so hopes to sharpen the focus of and increase funding for Queensland and Australian educational research organisations. At present it aims to engage in a set of twelve capacity-building projects (which hopefully will be listed in the Eidos Website soon).

Some other interesting ideas from some of the panels: John Boustead from the Queensland Department of Education and the Arts suggested that there needs to be a stronger focus on learning for life skills. While this has been curriculumised in the past, it actually happens mostly outside schools - so how can it be better addressed? Helen Schwencke from the Lifelong Learnig Council Queensland similarly pointed out that most learning happens in non-formal settings, and that there are important distinctions between learning to learn, learning to do, and learning to be - in life-long learning, these kinds of learning further happen in formal (curricular), non-formal (extra-curricular), and informal (accidental) settings. Life-long educational approaches must be aware of these distinctions. Ross Homel from Griffith University pointed out that school education must recognise children as beings, not merely becomings, and better understand the impact of micro-level policies at an individual level for each student.

QUT's Robin Keast noted that it is important to recognise and address the network structure of modern knowledge societies (in both its good and its bad aspects); education today is not business as usual. Wayne Delaforce from QUT Carseldine suggested that universities must get more involved with the communities which surround them - amongst other things, universities are a major source of infrastructure, and by removing artificial boundaries to access they could develop much stronger community interaction. Further Derek Foster from the Queensland Department of Primary Industries pointed out the need for change in rural and regional communities. Here especially government must be skilled at servicing the innovators, in order to develop regional learning communities.

Finally, Queensland arts and education minister Anna Bligh formally launched Eidos in the evening. All in all, a day filled with aspirations (and occasionally also inspiration) - I don't necessarily feel much the wiser about what Eidos will be or do, but I look forward to seeing it do it...