Asking the hard questions

By Greg Whitby, 14 November 2018


Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

For more than a 100 years, there has been a view in schooling that students are empty vessels and teachers need to fill them up with facts, figures and knowledge about the world. Yet we know that even in kindergarten, young people come to school with their own unique experiences and an intense curiosity about the things that interest them. If we look around at the world in which we live, we see that the ‘user experience’ drives business models. However, when it comes to schools we don’t give enough time to understanding and responding to the user which, in our context, is the learner.

Schooling should never be about the adults; it should always be about the learners. That’s why I enjoy the opportunity of going out when I can to schools to talk to students – primary and secondary. I always find they are astute observers and refreshingly honest when you ask them what they like or dislike about the current model of schooling. Even when they offer a critique, they do IT with great respect for their teachers.

Recently, we introduced a new initiative to promote student voice using social media. It is designed to give students the opportunity to directly ask me questions that are important and relevant to them. The event was streamed live via YouTube.

The experience reminded me how interested students are in the future of schooling. Our first group of Year 10 and 11 students from five secondary schools were articulate and critical thinkers who recognise the world has changed even if schools are lagging behind. What they are asking of us – school and system leaders, politicians and even the media –  is to focus on creating schools that better reflect what it means to be a learner in today’s world.

We have to find new ways of hearing from students of all ages and involving them more directly with decisions that impact on them. As parents, we can also go beyond the usual ‘How was your day?’ questions by asking them to reflect on what they are learning, what aspects are most challenging and what things teachers and schools can be doing better to make school more meaningful and relevant for them.

Greg Whitby

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta



Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Schools - Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta
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