By Melissa Keogh
Science education expert and new South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE) chief Professor Martin Westwell is leading South Aussie school kids into the future.
No longer will our children hit the classrooms armed with just textbooks, pencils and papers.
Instead its about 21st Century learning involving online examinations, contemporary subjects and self-directed assignments.
As the SACE Board’s incoming chief executive, Prof Westwell will oversee a $10.6m program set to transform SA classrooms and prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow.
Changes include a move away from handwritten exams to electronic tests – a move that reflects how students are already learning and working.
English Literary Studies will be the first to undergo the transition in 2018, with more subjects to follow by 2020.
“We are meeting the 21st Century needs of our students … the idea of writing essays long hand is outdated,” Prof Westwell says.
“But we don’t want to do electronic exams for the sake of it, we want to make sure it works well for us.”
More than 60 subjects have been reviewed to ensure they are relevant and meet the needs of a changing society, meaning Digital Studies will be taught for the first time in 2018.
“We always ensure the curriculum is up-to-date,” Prof Westwell says.
“We’ve looked at more than 60 of our current subjects to make sure they’re modern and fast-paced.”
SACE is awarded to students who complete their senior secondary schooling in SA.
The certificate is administered by the SACE Board, which is independent of the State Government.
Among other changes to SACE is a rebranding of the authority body, including a new logo to be publicly revealed at the 30th Merit Ceremony, in early 2018.
The 30th Merit Ceremony recognises Year 12 students who have achieved a perfect score in one or more subjects.
A total of 1196 merit certificates were awarded to 920 students – including 107 students from country SA – in 2017.
“It’s a cause for celebration when we have this many students achieving excellence,” Prof Westwell says.
Prof Westwell’s appointment to the role comes at a record time for SA high school education with a record number (15,175) of students completing Year 12.
The proportion of Year 12 students who successfully completed their final year of school is also at a record high, rising to 97% in 2017.
The number of Aboriginal students completing their SACE also hit top levels with 377 students finishing high school.
Prof. Westwell will also build on the success of the Research Project, a compulsory subject most Year 12 students undertake.
It allows students to choose a topic of their interest, carry out analysis and research, before creating an entrepreneurial project, scientific study, art piece or historical investigation.
“We are asking them to research information, to question, to apply their knowledge and make a judgement – and we let them do that in an area they feel passionate about,” Prof Westwell says.
“We need young people who have got the knowledge and know how.”
While the Research Project was partly designed to allow students to gain skills needed at university, Prof Westwell says the SACE structure is for students pursing all pathways.
“Students might choose to do a trade or go straight to work and then go to uni, the pathway into university is not as restrictive as it used to be,” he says.
Prof Westwell is originally from the UK and in 1999, British newspaper The Times named him the ‘Scientist of the New Century’.
The father-of-two moved to SA 10 years ago after visiting in his role at Oxford University’s Institute for the Future of the Mind.
“I went back to my wife and said, ‘the students are so articulate (in SA), our children will love it there’,” he says.
“So when the opportunity came up, I grabbed it.”
He now has a decade of experience in SA education, as director of the Flinders Centre for Science Education in 21st Century and Flinders’ strategic professor in the Science of Learning.
Prof Westwell has been on the SACE Board since 2012.
He says the education system will always be a relevant job provider in SA.
“One of the things I see time and time again is the list of jobs that are irrelevant and teachers are never on the list,” Prof Westwell says.
Prof. Westwell replaces Dr Neil McGoran.
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