top of page

Art and its Impact on Education

Up till now, I have resisted wading in on the whole teacher shortage thing, possibly because I am no longer part of the education system in Queensland. But as one of the many ex-teachers who has no intention of ever returning to classroom teaching, but someone who regularly visits schools, I feel emboldened to have my twenty-cents worth.

Empty Classroom

Just as for the staffing crisis in health and other industries, the teacher shortage is due to two things: conditions and pay. So, none of the band-aid solutions various branches of the government have suggested are going to help at all. These include making it easier for people to enter teaching degrees, tweaking university courses for pre-service teachers, and just this week suggesting a four day working week. All that will do is cause more stress as teachers try to fit an all ready overwhelming workload into a shorter time.

And for all of you who think teachers work 6 hour days, 5 days a week for forty weeks a year, let me assure you that most teachers I know work at least 60 hours per week and are lucky to get 4 weeks leave a year - a condition every one else takes for granted. That was certainly the workload I dealt with, even when I was being paid for 0.6 of a FTE. It should also be noted that despite suggestions that it should be made easier to become a teacher, they are increasingly subjected to higher standards of professionalism as a way to resolve increasingly poor academic performance of Australian students.

The other day, I was in Woolies and I heard an announcement on the internal speaker system saying that aggressive behaviour towards staff would not be tolerated, that offenders will be asked to leave the premises and police may be called. I heard a similar message in Bunnings. And it is right that employers seek to protect their staff's wellbeing in this way. But again, in Education; an industry where most staff experience harrassment, aggression and abuse on a daily, if not hourly basis, there is no such protection. If, in fact "offenders" were asked to leave the premises every time they exhibited agressive or threatening behaviour towards school staff, student populations would drop by about 10% (or more) across Australia within a week.

Aside from perhaps paramedics, police and A&E staff (also experiencing staff shortages) few other professions experience this kind of treatment as part of the course of their working day. Recently, on commencing some work with Ed Qld, I was asked to sign a Code of Conduct which stated that I should not behave in a threatening or aggressive way towards students. That's as it should be. But there is no reciprocal arrangement ensuring that students exercise the same courtesy towards staff, or indeed, each other.

Struggling teacher with students

Various reports have indicated that the problem is getting worse, both in terms of student behaviour and academic performance. This is not a surprise to me. In terms of behaviour, violence is on the increase with students often becoming physical with each other and, unfortunately teachers and other staff. Recently, I conducted a workshop in a private primary school. Although the year one and two students I dealt with were reasonably well behaved, there was an incident that morning that resulted in a young man (I suspect a preservice teacher) being stabbed with scissors by a student. If he was a preservice teacher, it is likely he is now studying something other than education at University! This is by no means an isolated incident - teacher friends have been reporting violence towards them and around them for decades and of course, I have experienced it first hand.

Similarly, academic performance is dropping. This is in no small part due to the over-exposure of students to technology, screens and social media. They have become reliant on these modes of communication and I believe this has resulted in a collective "dumbing down" of emerging generations. The ability to think for yourself is less necessary when you have AI or some Insta-influencer to do that for you. Neither are youth generally equipped to navigate the emotional ups and downs that come with your average adult life. Don't get me wrong...there are some wonderful young people in every school - probably the majority, but there are simultaneously increasing problems with youth crime, and widespread issues with anxiety and depression in young people.

I'm not suggesting for a second that young people should lose the freedom to live without the protection that their rights in today's society allows them. The measures that have been put in place for their protection are important and necessary. What I am suggesting is that students be allowed to learn that as citizens of the world they have responsibilities that go along with their rights.

In general, schools are powerless to teach this lesson. There is a limit to the extent to which they can impose consequences for poor behaviour. And although this will undoubtedly make me unpopular, I have to say that many parents are clearly part of this problem. They rush to their children's defence whenever it is suggested that they have done or said something that is not for the greater good. They also refuse to set boundaries for their kids, at times completely relinquishing responsibility for their children's actions.

Think that's too harsh? Believe me, I think parenting these days is pretty tough going. But, I was once told by a parent that her child's behaviour at school was not her or her husband's responsibility. Period. The implication was, of course, that this responsibility was mine (and the school's) and if he wasn't behaving well, it was my fault and therefore my problem. (As an aside, that student was later expelled from that and several other schools). I have even heard of students turning up to prep that haven't been toilet trained!

Stepping into the role of parenting other people's children would suggest that teachers are paid handsomely for their efforts. They are not. The most you can earn as a senior teacher is less than $115K. Most teachers never reach the six figure mark in their entire careers. Compare that to an A grade footballer who starts at $175K with potential earnings from endorsements and the like being much more than that. (It is worth noting that figure does not apply to female professional footballers).

Yeah, okay, footballers earn people money. I know. But teachers are educating people's precious offspring, in some cases as I have mentioned, tasked with virtually their entire upbringing. Way too many parents have this attitude, to the extent that many children learn that they can do or say whatever they want and there will be no real consequences. I believe this creates children who graduate into adulthood with the same attitude. Hence the youth crime issue. And, of course, unless they are caught, there are no consequences.

Crime scene tape

Often, though, they are caught, largely due to the urge that many young people seem to have to video their every move and post it on social media. To what end, I don't know. As well as perhaps indicating a less than razor sharp understanding of cause and effect, this also indicates a detachment from an understanding of the impact of their actions on other people. Regrettably, a number of my past students have spent time undertaking custodial sentences; some for very serious crimes. And I fully expect that number to increase as time goes on. This is without question the direct consequence of a lack of boundaries in their developing years.

So small wonder that teachers are leaving in droves. At the risk of being a negative Nelly, this is going to continue as long as governments persist in propping up the education system as it currently stands, making tweaks here and there, and resolutely insisting that teachers facilitate improvement in the outcomes of education. Simultaneously, politicians are using standardised testing (heavy sigh) to tell them whether or not education is improving by insisting that we concentrate on the "important" skills like literacy and numeracy. In so doing, they diminish the importance of the arts which, as well as creating skills that are not built by any other means, also contribute to developing the kind of thinking necessary for good literacy and numeracy. Critical thinking, problem solving, inquiry learning, collaboration and imagination are in the DNA of arts subjects, and as such, they should be seen as equally important as Maths or Science.

In short, we need to rethink education entirely. We need to educate the whole student - and actually develop skills like creativity, socialisation and collaboration, rather than giving lip service to their development which is what I believe we currently do. A system developed to create conformists for an Industrial Workforce and maintained under a neoliberal patriarchal ideology such as ours, is unlikely to produce the adults our society allegedly wants. If we follow the advice of educational experts of the calibre of the late Sir Ken Robinson, and embed the arts in the foundations of education, then we will be some way towards working for a more productive education system and more functional society. And more teachers may be inclined to stay at their posts as a bonus.

Sir Ken Robinson. In 2006 he said: ‘Our education system has mined our minds in the way we strip-mined the earth for a particular commodity.’

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page