Educators faced with steep learning curve

ROSITA Gallasch says: Tasmania's education sector has experienced the ups and downs of a year that started with a cloud over many schools and ended with seven choosing to close.

Talk of school closures was never far off the radar, yet the University of Tasmania also made waves when it revealed a major restructure was under way and possibly hundreds of staff may go.

However, there were many high points through the year at both a school and tertiary level, with Tasmanian students and educators leading the nation academically and in research pursuits.

Looking back at 2012 -

Viability issues linger: After 2011, which saw the government backflip on school closures, the end of January saw the much- anticipated report on school viability handed to Education Minister Nick McKim.

Businessman Royce Fairbrother worked with a select group on the reference group to consult with every school and association around the state.

The result: the most comprehensive look at the state's education system in many years, which recommended the government take on eight "important" recommendations.

These included a look at school catchment areas, enrolment numbers and transport.

Reports are being carried out on each of these areas.

Do you give a Gonski?: The much anticipated Gonski report into Australia's education system was well received by educators around the country, but the only question left lingering is: Who is going to pay?

The report recommended an immediate funding boost to the sector of $6.5 billion (on current figures), 30 per cent of which was to come from the federal government and the remainder from the states.

In Tasmania's case, Mr McKim said it would cost about $90 million to implement the reforms.

Despite Prime Minister Julia Gillard's endorsement of the recommendations, a funding model is still being nutted out among state education ministers.

Literacy woes: Tasmania's adult literacy rates have not altered since an Australian Bureau of Statistics survey in 1996 found just 49 per cent or one in two people, did not have the basic skills to read a newspaper, magazine or their mail.

Through the government, literacy volunteers who work directly with those struggling to read and write, have been rolled into LINCs around the state and in October, 26TEN was launched to tackle the problem and the impact it has on the state.

Major restructure: The state's only university revealed plans in July to begin a major restructure and reduce the number of professional and academic staff around the state.

The restructure will result in the establishment of administration, finance and HR hubs to reduce duplication of roles and academic staff with research backgrounds are being sought from overseas to replace those stepping down.

The National Tertiary Education Union believes the university was seeking to get cut staff numbers by 140.

However, the university revealed more than 300 staff had put up their hand to go.

The university is yet to reveal exactly how many staff will go, but it is understood a number have been notified they are getting a redundancy. However, their departures will be staggered over the next year.

Gongs: Numerous school and tertiary educators have been recognised nationally over the past year, picking up awards for teaching and research excellence.

The university has scored some well-earned gongs, having picked up two Commonwealth Government Office for Learning and Teaching grants, improved on its 2012 Academic Ranking of World Universities to 326th place and been recognised nationally by the Australian Research Council for some of the best research in the country.

Education for the future: Following widespread consultation on the vocational, education and training sector, the government announced a return to the TAFE system with TasTAFE in June.

Around the same time, SenseT, a data sensor network that brings together information straight from the source, was launched by the university, government and private industry.

The university also got final sign-off for its new $75 million Academy of Creative Industries and Performing Arts in Hobart, which will be headed by the Launceston School of Visual and Performing Arts' Professor Marie Sierra.

In the last business week of December, the university also managed to convince the Launceston City Council to sign off on the $18 million, 120-unit accommodation complex for students at Inveresk.

School closures: On the back of a failed attempt to close schools, in the 2012-13 budget the government announced the $3.5 million School Transition Fund.

The fund was set up as an incentive to help schools already thinking of closing to make the decision themselves and provide funding for parents for new uniforms and infrastructure works.

So far seven schools, including four in the North-West, have put up their hand to close and at least another three in the North are seriously considering their future.

None of the seven schools that closed on the last day of school, were on the government's original hit-list of 20 named in 2011.

Coming and going:

Scotch Oakburn College has farewelled principal of 10 years and Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia chairman Andrew Barr, who has moved to The Geelong College.

The university's chancellor, Damian Bugg, also handed over the gown and mortar board to former Labor premier Michael Field, as he takes off to cruise Route 66.

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