What a great name! “Learning Futures.” This is the name of a “group” at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia where I am having the great fortune to spend my sabbatical. I would say I’m here for “spring 2018” but it’s actually the fall semester in this hemisphere. I promise not to discuss differences in weather because you wouldn’t want to read any further if I did. But I will describe some of the other similarities and differences I’m observing in education systems in Western Australia (the largest of Australia’s six states and two territories) and Maine.
A colleague of mine, David Gibson, that I’ve known for 15 years is UNESCO Chair of Data Science in Higher Education Learning & Teaching here at Curtin and heads up the Learning Futures group that is part of Curtin Learning and Teaching. Within the Curtin Learning and Teaching center there are two other groups: “Digital Learning” and “Course and Teaching Quality.” It would be like combining all the great work of the UMaine System’s University College with each campus’s assessment programs and faculty support programs along with the work of TRIO, Upward Bound, and any support systems in place for students who aren’t ready for traditional pathways into college. It’s a small but talented team doing a massive amount of great work.
My first thoughts in coming here were that the only commonality Maine could have with Western Australia would be that we both have large rural areas which have similar issues when it comes to PK-12 education as well as college prep. I quickly found out we have much more in common. Both states have a high secondary school graduation rate and a low college-go rate. Both have a small percentage of indigenous people and a long history of Europeans and those of European descent trying to eradicate the indigenous. Both have a LOT of ocean coastline. Both have desolate areas, only a few major municipalities, and a low population density in the rest of the state. The socio-economic curve for both states is NOT a bell curve. And my favorite: the people in both states are friendly and helpful (WA folks are proud of that, Mainers prefer nobody knows that about them).
Learning Futures is working within those parameters to increase the college go rate and successful graduation rates as well. Programs include:
There is much to learn from our colleagues “Down Under.” More to come in a future blog post.