By Belinda Willis
Space, technology, creative industries, healthy ageing, all careers dominating the state’s future – but South Australia also wants its students learning to be first rate human beings.
It is a bold message from the chief executive of the hugely important SA Certificate of Education (SACE) Board, the group shaping more than 100 subjects available to Year 11 and Year 12 students.
Professor Martin Westwell says the board wants the state’s students to have access to important subjects but also to learn to be flexible, solve problems and importantly, apply their knowledge.
He quotes the esteemed director of education for the international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Andre Schleicher, who was in Adelaide for a national conference for educational assessors in April.
“He warned that if we keep focusing on proficiency alone we will be developing second class robots and not first class humans,” the SACE Board CEO says. “We want to develop first class humans.”
Prof Westwell says there are high-profile industries developing in SA including world-class health research, the space industry, advanced manufacturing using high technology, and creative industries ranging from festivals to film.
More traditional industries like mining and resources, education and healthy ageing are also likely to remain strong employers, but Prof Westwell says students must be prepared for uncertainty.
“There was a Deloitte report that came out a few years ago showing the shelf life of skills is getting shorter and shorter,” he says.
That is why young people need skills to have careers rather than long-term jobs, Prof Westwell says.
“(For example) teams will become more important so we’ve got diversity, having proficiency in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) will be important. But you will also need skills to influence people, to support decision making to help people to imagine the imaginable so that it becomes (possible).”
Prof Westwell’s own career has followed unexpected paths; he was born into a long line of electricians in north-west England but turned out to be more academically suited.
He studied at Wigan Mining College before winning a place at the esteemed Cambridge University to study chemistry including completing a PhD in biology chemistry before moving to Oxford University as a research fellow.
Work at a drug company spun out of the university followed, then Prof Westwell led a research project looking at how technology changes the way people think for the Research Institute for the Future of the Mind at Oxford University.
In 2007, he was lured to Flinders University after having visited SA with his wife who is a teacher, and the two deciding it was the right place for their careers and also bringing up their two sons now aged 17 and 21.
Prof Westwell was made director of the Flinders Centre for Science Education in the 21st Century, working on getting research to have maximum impact on the community. One project involved improving education results in schools.
“We worked with every public school in Port Augusta, pre, primary and high school, looking at young people’s cognitive learning to improve numeracy,” he says.
“In the high school when we started they were getting just over 60% of students reaching the national minimum for proficiency and that changed to more than 90%.”
Prof Westwell was a board member of SACE for five years before taking on the role as CEO in January 2018, tasked with overseeing $10.6 million in funding to transform the SA Certificate of Education.
In this time there has been renewal on the SACE Board, the first of Year 12 electronic exams and work on subject renewal for more than 60 subjects with one major focus.
“We’ll be asking students to put their knowledge into practice,” Prof Westwell says.
“We now quote Tony Wagner from Harvard University, ‘the world no longer cares what our students know, it cares about what they can do with what they know’.”
There are also plans to involve industry in developing new future jobs subjects including cyber security. Prof Westwell wants to build a system where employers and investors can know students who study the SACE know more than the basics, “I want them to be able to really infer something about young South Australians”.
“When we have a complex and uncertain job future we need expertise, we need flexibility, diversity,” he says.
“I think professionally, SA education is world leading in many ways and the way in which we go about it in this state is unusual, it is done by partnership, there’s a real feeling that we are all in this together for the success of our students.
“I think personally, one of the key drivers for us to coming to SA is we wanted our kids to have their childhood here, it’s a fantastic place to grow up, there’s a great education system here.”
Industry in focus: Careers of the Future
Throughout the months of May and June, future careers in South Australia will be explored as part of I Choose SA.
Embracing innovation, creativity and an understanding of building quality partnerships with technology is key to ensuring career opportunities in the future. SA is taking necessary steps to equip future generations with the skills for future careers and current workforces to transition to the future industries.
Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.