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August lead stories


Plain English Speaking Award

Group of seven young people standing on stairs smiling and with thumbs up after being in the final of the Plain English Speaking Award

PESA National Finalists. L to R: Emily Kim, Matisse Reed, Esther Nixon, Adele Burke, Matthew Shaw,
Fergus Dale, Aditi Tamhankar. Photo: Nicole Cleary

The 2017 National Final of the Plain English Speaking Award, hosted by the VCAA, took place on Monday 14 August at the National Gallery of Victoria. Seven Finalists gathered from around Australia to share the winning speeches from their state and territory finals. The competition was extremely close and saw Emily Kim from North Sydney Girls’ High School in New South Wales take out top honours, with Aditi Tamhankar from St Peter’s Girls’ School, South Australia as the runner-up.

Parliamentary Secretary for Education Judith Graley MP was present to announce the winner and runner-up. She commended the students for their outstanding skills in public speaking, and acknowledged their hard work and dedication in reaching the National Final.

Emily Kim, whose winning speech ‘The P word’ unpacked the stigma around menstruation, will go on to represent Australia at the English Speaking Union’s 2018 International Public Speaking Competition (IPSC) in London. The IPSC is one of the world’s largest public speaking competitions, attracting more than 50,000 students from up to 50 countries across the globe.

Runner-up Aditi Tamhankar used her speech, ‘The Game Changer’, to show audiences that mindset can be more powerful than luck and circumstance in determining the course of our lives. Adele Burke, from Canberra Girls Grammar School, spoke about reproductive rights and the impact they can have towards the resolution of numerous global issues, such as inequality and socioeconomic disparities. Esther Nixon from Ursula Frayne Catholic College, Western Australia revealed why ethics in business is more important than ever before, and how consumers can empower themselves when confronting big corporations. Matthew Shaw from Darwin High School shared his experience as a foreigner in a strange land, and why cultural understanding is of paramount importance in our current social and political landscape. Matisse Reed from St Monica’s College, Queensland explored experience and understanding as the most valuable form of knowledge in her speech ‘Knowledge is power’.

Victoria was represented by State champion Fergus Dale, Caulfield Grammar School, whose speech ‘The disregarded identity of regional Australia’ challenged the long-held stereotypes of rural Australia by highlighting the innovation that occurs within regional multicultural societies.

This year the award celebrated an astounding 40 years of national competition. To mark the occasion, the award returned to the venue where it all began in 1977 – the NGV International. Inaugural winner and honoured guest Dr. Mary-Rose McLaren was head adjudicator alongside adjudicators British Consul General Chris Holtby OBE and David Adams LLB. Winner of the 2016 PESA National Final and 2017 IPSC Winner Luke Macaronas acted as MC and interviewed fellow alumni and keynote speaker Isabel Crawford, who won the National Final in 2012 and the IPSC in 2013.

In the weekend leading up to the National Final on Monday, the finalists enjoyed a program of activities and workshops that showcased the rich cultural make up of Melbourne. This included a workshop run by Isabel Crawford, a trip to Malthouse Theatre to see VCE Drama listed performance The Real and Imagined History of the Elephant Man, Traditional Yum Cha at the Oriental Teahouse and a Birrarung Wilam Walk by The Koorie Heritage Trust.

The VCAA congratulates the finalists on their impressive speeches and involvement in this special anniversary for the Plain English Speaking Award.

Registrations for the 2018 Plain English Speaking Competition will open in March of 2018. Information is available on the PESA page.

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VCAA perspectives go global in the name of science

Maria James, VCAA’s Science Curriculum Manager, was invited by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan (MEXT), to present at the 19th OECD/Japan Seminar on ‘The Future of Learning – Scientific Literacy and Proactive, Interactive and Deep Learning’ in July. We sat down with Maria to ask her a few questions about her experience, and what we can gain from this kind of cultural exchange.

What was the purpose of your visit?

MJ: The Japanese curriculum is currently being redeveloped. Programme for International Assessment (PISA) results show that Japanese students are among the top performers in science, but interest is well below the OECD mean (for 15 year-old students across the world). This is a significant issue, so MEXT looked globally to inform its curriculum redevelopment. The equivalent Australian student cohort performed well in international science tests and also reported high engagement with science, being well above the OECD mean, so we were invited to unpack our curriculum to explore elements that contribute to high engagement.

What did you present on?

MJ: The title of my presentation was ‘Engaging students with science: Australian and Victorian perspectives’.

What else did you do while you were there?

MJ: I met with researchers from the National Institute for Educational Policy Research (NIER), visited the Shibuya Ward Nishihara Elementary School and attended a workshop with the Innovative Schools Network 2030.

What can we learn from the Japanese education system?

MJ: Several interesting observations I noted were:

  • the practice of ‘lesson study’, where teachers prepare and deliver a lesson in class while other teachers and pre-service teachers observe, provide feedback and discuss
  • a strong evidence-based approach to curriculum review and development, including consideration of national and international test data
  • the development of a mapping tool to record student progress in capabilities and attitudes in all learning areas
  • the establishment of learning community partnerships between schools, universities and curriculum bodies to engage in action research
  • proactive endeavours to globalise education.

What was the highlight of your visit?

MJ: There were two main highlights: being able to immerse myself in the PISA data presented by Andreas Schleicher (Director for Education and Skills) at the seminar – particularly mulling over Australia’s relative rankings globally – and visiting the National Museum of Emerging Science and Technology.

The only thing that could have made this experience even better was if it was scheduled for late March … that is, cherry blossom season!

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