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2014, the year that was: Education

Higher education got the most attention it’s had in decades, thanks to the proposed shake up by this man. AAP

While 2013 was all about schools and their funding (remember Gonski, anyone?), 2014 was the year of higher education reform. Or, at least, proposed higher education “reform”.

With cuts to higher education funding and the prospect of fee deregulation being some of the most maligned aspects of the May federal budget, it was surprising that as much attention was being paid to Australia’s institutes of higher learning as is usually paid to our schools, hospitals and transport.

Most vice-chancellors, albeit a few glaring exceptions, were in support of fee deregulation. They argued that the current funding system of unlimited student places (which was reviewed in April and found to be a keeper) and decreasing government support was unsustainable and universities needed to be set free.

However, many of our experts feared Australia’s politicians were unaware of the drastic effect this could have on our world-class system of higher education, and especially access to it for all groups of Australian society.

After months of debate, negotiation and much hand-wringing, the Senate finally voted down the bill in parliament’s last sitting week, only to have the bill’s champion, Education Minister Christopher Pyne, reintroduce it the very next day.

So, is another tumultuous year on the horizon in higher education? We’ll have to wait and see.

The debate separated university staff from their leaders and prestigious universities from middle-tier ones. There was never a question that the prestigious Group of Eight would have more pricing power in a market system. One of our most-read pieces of 2014 outlined the worth of attending an elite university, which research found results in a slight salary increase across a lifetime.

Prestigious universities tended to be in support of fee deregulation - because they would have the pricing power in a marketised system. AAP

Paying for education was an important focus this year. We closely examined private schooling and whether the cost pays off. We found public school kids do better at university than private school kids with the same tertiary entrance score, and post-university employment prospects and wages were much the same.

We didn’t only look at public and private schools, though. There’s been an increased interest in doing education differently, so we looked at alternative forms of education and options outside of public, private and Catholic schools.

Steiner, Montessori, and Democratic schools are on the rise, and we looked at how these work in our alternative schooling series.

While thinking about different ways of doing things, our authors challenged what we thought we knew works in education. Misty Adoniou asked if we should scrap homework altogether, and Rebecca English asked if parents should stop punishing and rewarding their kids, and instead teach them to be good just for the sake of it.

The biggest news in schools this year was the government-commissioned review into the national curriculum. The review was just as controversial in its recommendations to have more of a focus on Australia’s “Judeo-Christian” heritage as it was for its appointments. However, we’re yet to see changes actually reach our classrooms, and could be waiting for a while.

You guys sure do like spelling, or at least reading about it. Shutterstock

What you seemed to enjoy the most though was looking at language: spelling, grammar, Aussie slang, annoying misuses in English, Americanisms, and whether your kids were using language in the way they should and at the right ages.

You also enjoyed our series on bullying in schools, including what is actually bullying and what is just the argy bargy of everyday life. Our exam guide, which led up to end of year final exams, let you know how to study, what to eat, and how to support loved ones during this stressful time.

But in case you missed them, here were our top five education stories for the year:

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

  2. State school kids do better at uni

  3. Private schooling has little long term pay off

  4. ‘Gentle parenting’ explainer: no rewards, no punishments, no misbehaving kids

  5. How to tell if your child has a speech or language impairment

And finally, we realise the education section has bombarded you with close-ups of this man all year. So here we pay homage to that with a few of our favourites. We’ve called it “The Many Faces of Pyne”:

The Many Faces of Pyne. AAP images

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