A year like no other, 2020 has brought with it major disruption and dislocation, but also stories of communities uniting and connecting against the odds. Our alumni community’s experiences are vast and differing, and yet you remain connected by a shared educational experience, your stories as alumni are intertwined with that of your University.
As an organisation we have been shaped by drought, bushfires, floods and the COVID-19 pandemic in our home communities, at the same time as the collective experiences of our students, staff and alumni.
There are so many stories of strength, resilience and determination that have inspired us and we are delighted to share these with you in the 2020/2021 edition of UOW Outlook Magazine, which captures three key themes facing the world we live in today.
Never has there been a time in our recent history where we have had to dig this deep to intellectualise, rationalise and manage the challenges that 2020 has delivered. From the extremes Mother Nature unleashed via drought, bushfire and flood, the rawness of the Black Lives Matter protests, through to the global pandemic.
Out of all of this, however, we have seen demonstrations of great strength and kindness. It has been a time of reflecting, reassessing, adapting and rebuilding.
The Australian bushfire crisis prompted community unity like never before. Hundreds of volunteer rural firefighters joined their professional counterparts to help battle the deadly blazes across the country, including our very own alumni. Doors were opened to those who had lost everything. Our UOW Campuses on the NSW South Coast reacted quickly, providing shelter to the community, staff, students and community members supported the wildlife rescue efforts and performed sacred Aboriginal healing ceremonies to help heal Country, and UOW staff opened their wallets to donate to the bushfire recovery efforts, matched dollar for dollar by the University
Governments, universities, communities and Indigenous knowledge holders are working together to devise innovative solutions to stem future large scale bushfire disasters. UOW is leading the charge by driving research into bushfire management and community resilience being undertaken at the NSW Bushfire Risk Management Research Hub and the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre.
No sooner had we extinguished the last bushfire embers, before the Coronavirus swept across the globe, consuming our daily lives and psyches in a way we’ve never before experienced. And whilst challenging, many silver linings emerged, including remote teaching, learning and working capabilities we never knew possible – becoming the new normal for many.
Our collective consciousness was re-awakened to the persistent and inherent lack of equality in the world, as the death of African American man, George Floyd, sparked the global Black Lives Matter protests. In a year that has forced us to re-examine how we live and behave, this prompted a deeper reflection on how we are managing diversity and inclusion in our workplaces and daily lives.
Health in a new era
It no longer takes just a simple call to make a doctor’s appointment. And reading the dog-eared gossip magazines in a practice waiting room is a thing of the past.
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted all aspects of our lives, including the way we seek and receive medical treatment and healthcare. Just as patients have had to change how they access help and support, healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and educators, have had to dramatically rethink the ways in which they deliver services efficiently, effectively and equitably.
Innovations in healthcare delivery have been accelerated and bureaucratic red tape dramatically wound back as governments of all levels and across the globe have had to collaborate and consolidate to try and slow the spread of this novel coronavirus and design a vaccine to stop it in its tracks.
From the most basic concepts of social distancing and lockdowns to the uptake of virtual health and private-public partnerships, policy makers, healthcare professionals and politicians have put aside bipartisanship and self-interest to tackle the biggest global health crisis in a century.
The speed with which changes that had long been on the horizon were instigated, showed that, with the perfect storm, healthcare could move into the 21st Century with few challenges. Seemingly insurmountable obstacles which were once touted as impossible to overcome were not as big as they once appeared.
The pace of reform in healthcare during the pandemic, in Australia and around the world, should mean that when the immediate threat has diminished, a more efficient, socially responsible system will remain. Changes such as the expansion of telehealth, the creation of pop-up clinics, cooperation between public and private systems and recognition of the scientific community’s vital and life-saving input should become the new normal, ready for the next time an international crisis unfolds.
The changing nature of education
The future is the product of the decisions we make today. This is a sentiment swirling around the corridors of Australia’s education sector.
However, equipping the march of new generations of school and university students for a challenging new world that encompasses cutting-edge technology, a changing workforce and the impact of global warming is no easy task.
A major shift towards 21st Century learning skills started in 2008 when the Labor Federal Government launched its Digital Education Revolution, an initiative aimed at spending more than two billion dollars over the next seven years on equipping every secondary student with laptops, as well as providing improved internet infrastructure and a boost to teacher training in technology.
Four years after that roll-out, an expert advisory group, chaired by Professor Shirley Alexander in its assessment of DER’s achievements, also identified a strategy for future development stressing “pedagogy must drive innovation in digital education”.
Still, the education community remains divided on how to move forward.
One of the more recent Australian Federal Government papers, Through Growth to Achievement, published in 2018, stated that since 2000 student academic performance across public, Catholic and independent schools had declined when compared to other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.
“The extent of the decline [in key areas of reading, maths and science] is widespread and equivalent to a generation of Australian school children falling short of their full learning potential,” it says, and goes on to outline eight recommendations for consideration.
However, many senior educators and researchers disagree and maintain international comparisons are flawed, and that schools and universities are evolving in the right direction with an efficient balance of technology and face-to-face teaching.
What is generally agreed upon is that technology, which proved to be a lifesaver during the height of the coronavirus disruption, will continue to play a significant support role at all levels of education.
Its role to future-proof jobs, however, is now a topic of vigorous discussion, with some experts and industry leaders maintaining the skills most sought after by employers will be those shaped by vocational training and human creativity rather than purely technology.