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2013, the year that was: Education

This year saw turbulent times –from childcare centres to universities. AAP Image/Dan Peled

2013, the year that was: Education

For most education watchers, this year has rushed by in a policy blur. So much so that we thought we had better launch our very own shiny Education section just to help you keep on top of things.

The launch of the Education section – an area close to our hearts – meant we could finally give education issues pride of place.

And what a time to do it – yes, this year was the year of Gonski. And whether it was a conski or goneski, this one word – derived from businessman David Gonski’s review into schools funding – went from symbolising a policy vision to becoming a political football in a few short months.

In amongst some spectacular political flip-flopping and mishandling from both sides of politics, the basics of the funding reforms managed to hold on – sort of. Our authors tried to cut through the morass and explain the equity and disadvantage problem in Australian education and the reasons the Gonski panel looked into schools funding in the first place.

As inequity hit our policy debate, private school girl Ja'mie hit our airwaves, reminding us of the stereotypes that we still harbour about private and public schools.

Our best-read education story since our launch was one that went back to basics – why some kids can’t spell and why spelling tests won’t help.

In fact, literacy and student performance became a flash-point this year because Australia’s results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests and National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) were underwhelming to say the least.

Because of this, we saw the revival of an old debate about the best way to teach children to read and write. Some said phonics, some said whole of language but back in the classroom, the best approaches still weren’t getting to where they’re needed.

In all that pessimism about literacy, the big picture globally is quite different, in fact literacy rates overall are on the up. So we wondered – what would a more literate world look like? It turns out, pretty much everything from crime rates to global health would improve.

National reports confirmed the importance of early childhood education at a time of big change in the sector. But reforms to increase salaries for some childcare workers and to improve the quality of early childhood education began to unravel.

After having five ministers in just one year, Australian universities also saw their fair share of ups and downs. Despite promises of smooth sailing for the sector, we saw funding cuts announced, moves towards deregulation and cutting red tape, the prospect of a Commonwealth takeover and a review into the uncapped system just for a start.

But the higher education stories you were interested in looked at the real life experience of university life, including for those poor lonely PhD students, and a reality check on the use of so called “smart drugs” and academic doping.

Technology in education was another a big ticket item. If last year was the “year of the MOOC” – as the New York Times put it – then this year saw some of the hype around so called Massive Open Online Courses fizzle. In fact, one of our best read articles took a closer look at one of the MOOC experiments – Udacity – and why it’s failing to fulfil the big promise of democratising higher education.

The prospect of getting rid of teachers and replacing them with “schools in the cloud” also got you reading, as did our continuing coverage of all things open access.

We also shed some light on the state of maths and science education in Australia with our series of expert articles – culminating in some heavy-hitting policy talk in Canberra. And it was a good thing too, as it turns out not many young people really understand climate change.

So without further ado, here’s our top five best read since Education launched…

The top five most-read stories since launch

Why some kids can’t spell and why spelling tests won’t help

Lost for words: why the best literacy approaches are not reaching the classroom

Doing a PhD can be a lonely business but it doesn’t have to be

Ditching Gonski: what’s so unfair about funding based on need?

Gonski is gone but can anything be salvaged?