What is a ‘good education’? This is a question we constantly explore at Matthew Flinders Anglican College as we strive to provide an education for excellence in learning and life.
And it’s pertinent recently as Flinders celebrates a number of academic achievements, including our top ranking as the best primary school on the Sunshine Coast, according to independent education website Better Education. Our NAPLAN results for 2021 also identified Flinders as the highest achieving school on the Sunshine Coast and 15th in the state overall, with our Year 3 cohort in the 12th ranking.
These impressive academic results validate the wonderful work of our Flinders Primary teaching team, our commitment to evidence-informed instruction and our dedication to ensuring our students gain the strongest possible foundation in literacy and numeracy. Such a foundation is a springboard to deep learning in all other subject areas and we will continue to further refine and embed the teaching and learning strategies which deeply engage our students whilst enabling them to flourish academically.
However, such results are but one aspect of a Flinders education. I spoke at our Awards Ceremony at the end of last year about what defines a ‘good education’. An edited extract from this speech is outlined below and speaks to the critical importance of character education.
Excerpt from the Flinders Head of Primary speech at the Primary Awards Ceremony, 26 November 2021
“What better occasion than an Awards Ceremony to ponder the question: What is a ‘good education’?
For each person asked, the answer would differ considerably. A few key phrases that figure into my response are most certainly ‘character’, ‘values’ and ‘the greater good’.
My definition, in part, would address the need to develop within each student the character traits and dispositions that encourage them to seek challenge, aspire to success and to risk and learn from failure; to know that each one of us has a moral obligation to not only understand our own ‘individual wellbeing needs’ but also to contribute to the wellbeing of the communities to which we belong; to instil within each student the values, habits of thinking and ways of being which compel them to serve the greater good through a firm sense of knowing they are part of something bigger than themselves, and to act in ways that benefit more people than just themselves.
Raising Generation Alpha: The challenges and opportunities
Students born between 2010 and 2025 are referred to as ‘Generation Alpha’ and are mostly the sons and daughters of millennials. To quote Mark McCrindle (2014): “…they are the most materially endowed and technologically literate generation to ever grace the planet and they will enjoy a longer lifespan than any previous generation of Australians!”. Generation Alpha kicked off the same year that Apple launched its iPad, Instagram was created and ‘app’ was the word of the year. As educators and as parents, it is important to understand the generation we are raising and educating. Social researchers have developed a list of generalisations of Gen Alpha and I’ll outline some of these for you. Some are exciting and heartening, others are challenging. I reiterate, these are not my words, but are from those in the field, so please don’t shoot the messenger.
- It is expected that Alphas will be a highly aspirational generation, having grown up admiring the lifestyles of influencers, thinking they can triumph over life's many obstacles while pursuing their passion with purpose.
- To Alphas, innovation is having the ‘latest’ and ‘newest’, which drives their innovative spirit. They will seek continuous improvement, whilst also desiring recognition for their successes. It won’t be enough for them to innovate; they need their peers to see that they are innovating to have a sense of fulfillment.
- With an early introduction to smart tools and an affinity to voice, Augmented Intelligence and machine learning, they will learn at a faster pace and be able to apply that learning in new ways.
- LinkedIn suggests they will have an incredibly strong desire for constant social validation.
- Screens have been placed in front of them from the youngest age as pacifiers, entertainers and educational aids and growing up logged on and linked up, aided by Siri and Alexa, and engrossed in YouTube and all things visual can lead to greater digital literacy and adaptability. However, screen saturation can also result in shorter attention spans and impaired social formation for Gen Alpha.
- Gen Alphas will stay in education longer and start their earnings years later, and so they will stay at home with their parents longer than even their predecessors, Gen Z and Gen Y.
- The role of parents, therefore, will span a longer age range, with many of the Gen Alphas likely to still be living at home into their LATE 20s! (Let’s just give that comment a moment to breathe).
In The Complete Guide to Generation Alpha, The Children of Millennials, author Christine Michel Carter outlines that:
- Over 40% of parents admit they consider themselves a parent who praises their Generation Alpha child too much;
- It has been suggested that Gen Alpha have a greater chance of growing up selfish, particularly impatient and expecting instant gratification; and
- Gen Alpha will be the best educated and wealthiest generation ever.
It is quite the picture….so, how do we respond to this world of Instagram, reality TV, YouTube, online gaming and being connected virtually? A world where Gen Alpha is immersed in a culture of recognition and praise-seeking, of instant gratification and self-promotion (after all, the selfie was termed in Australia)? Where individualism is often heralded above and beyond a sense of one’s role in supporting the ‘greater good’, and where ‘winning at all costs’ and the obsession with protecting ourselves and those we love from any form of ‘displeasure’ or ‘failure’ is a reality.
What a ‘good education’ prioritises
I believe, wholeheartedly, that a good education MUST prioritise character development, it must aim to instil strong moral values and provide contexts and opportunities that compel our children to develop dispositions to serve the greater good.
Without doubt, it is easier for adults raising and teachers educating our little Alphas to provide every child in a race with a prize. It is simpler to praise a substandard effort so that discomfort does not result. It is more peaceful to give into irrational demands advocating for an individual at the expense of others, and it is less stressful to agree to unreasonable requests or not to ‘call out’ poor behaviour. But it is not right.
In an increasingly litigious and more acutely ‘self’ focused society, it is becoming more and more challenging for teachers and schools to provide a ‘good education’. But it is a challenge that we must continue to embrace with a forthright conviction. To do any less, is to accept that entitlement and individualism are the new acceptable form of humanity.
For Gen Alpha to graduate as young men and women of strong moral character, accomplished learners, and ethical and responsible citizens, we must hold firm that they receive a ‘good education’ where character development, values and the greater good figure into the daily rituals, culture and routines.
How we teach character development, values and the ‘greater good’ at Flinders
We aim to do this in a myriad of ways in the Primary School at Flinders, such as through our pastoral programs, the values addressed during the daily Flinders Way time, our annual mantras (in 2021 it was ‘Work Hard, Be Kind, Show Gratitude’), Chapel services, Religious and Values Education (RAVE) lessons, assembly messages, the Flinders Friends program, the role modelling of our staff, our intentional selection of literature, and through involvement in sport and the learning of sportsmanship.
Our i-Impact design thinking program explicitly teaches empathy, gives students agency and propels them into acts of service to make a genuine difference in the world. This year our students have assisted residents of a nursing home by ideating ways for them to pick up their glasses which are dropped on the floor, our Year 6 students empathised with vulnerable people in designing for their needs, and students have explored how to keep our indigenous culture alive at Flinders. Both the implicit and explicit curriculum at Flinders not only enables students to achieve academic excellence but also provides a ‘good education’.
For each acknowledgement awarded at this afternoon’s ceremony, be it academic or character based, I wish to acknowledge those who may not be on stage today; you have been noticed and have gained the respect of both your peers and your teachers. Thank you. It is through the daily demonstration of decency, generosity, gratitude, kindness, resilience, courage, integrity and respect that we all flourish.
We are most grateful to those parents who support us in developing, in each student, a sense of their role in serving others, who stand with us when we teach students to delay gratification, draw on resilience, embrace failure and to act with kindness and take responsibility when mistakes have been made. Thank you on behalf of all staff to parents who appreciate our efforts to ensure students develop a sense of self-worth through taking responsibility and being open to honest feedback, and who understand and share in our view that we must balance personal wellbeing with the wellbeing of the community to which we belong. Most importantly a heartfelt thanks to parents and families for appreciating our staffs’ incredibly generous, gracious and dedicated efforts on a daily level and for sharing the view that to live well we must develop in our children a strong sense of moral character that serves both self and others equally. Thank you to parents who trust us to provide a ‘good education’ for your children.
Today is also a time to acknowledge our teachers, as a good education is the result of the dedicated and humble service of our incredible teachers and staff in the Primary School. As a community of educators, we know that we can never rest on our laurels, and the number of small and significant achievements this year are thanks to you. To each staff member, thank you for your ongoing commitment to our students, our vision, our mission and for the grace in which you take on the challenges inherent in providing a ‘good education’.
And to you, our little Alphas, you are the best thing about our College, and I feel truly fortunate to spend my days with you. Year 6 students, my final message is particularly for you. It was written by English cleric John Wesley over 300 years ago.
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”
In doing so, we will know that you are the recipients of a ‘good education’ in both mind, heart and spirit.”
Speech by Mrs Trudi Edwards, Head of Primary, Matthew Flinders Anglican College
Carter, C. M. (2016). The Complete Guide To Generation Alpha, The Children Of Millennials. https://www.forbes.com/sites/christinecarter/2016/12/21/the-complete-guide-to-generation-alpha-the-children-of-millennials/
McCrindle, M. (2014). The ABC of XYZ: Understanding the global generations. Sydney: UNSW Press.